Page 9 of 22
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:26 am
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. 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."
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?"
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?"
Grinning widely, our mutual friend with the bleached hairdo barges into the room, still holding the cell phone that gave away her presence.
"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.
"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.
"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."
"If it's not an inconvenience."
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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"It's a shame that today is our very last day here or you could have borrowed the club's camera again."
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.
"Are you alright, Hanako?"
"Yeah, you look a little bummed."
"You've been a little gloomy over the last few days."
"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?"
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."
"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.
"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."
"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?"
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?"
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."
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.
Final Chapter - cont.
Posted: 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."
"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."
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."
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.
"Is it possible to spontanously drop dead from sheer nervousness?"
"Are you sure?"
"That's a relief."
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.
"I guess this is it."
"The moment of truth."
"We've worked a whole year towards this."
"A whole year."
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! We've gotta go do something."
I suddenly feel my right hand being grabbed followed by a sharp pull on my arm.
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..."
Naomi's mouth curls up into a grin that starts out small, but then slowly starts stretching until it nearly connects her ears.
"Naomi, what are you...?"
Naomi's eyes start sparkling.
"What am I supposed to...?"
"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, flawless victory!"
"YEAH! OH YEAH!"
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.
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.
"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?
"Ah, s-sorry. What did you say?"
"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."
I turn around and see my therapist standing there. Miss Yumi makes a deep bow as she approaches me.
"I think Mister Satou is correct. You deserve to be proud of yourself today. Try to allow yourself at least this much."
"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?"
"You'll come along, right? It wouldn't be the same without you."
I suddenly feel Naomi's hand on my shoulder.
"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!"
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.
"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."
"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.
"So, Hanako... What would you like to do now? Pick up your diploma?"
"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.
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."
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."
Final Chapter - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:27 am
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.
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."
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."
"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?"
"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."
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.
"That's good to hear. I was wondering if you'd give me the pleasure of one final session - and perhaps one last game."
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.
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!”
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.
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?"
“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.
"How did you feel during the ceremony?"
"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."
"I felt proud... of Jun. And happy for her. But I also felt s-sad for a moment."
"S-So many parents in the room. Feeling proud of their children. I... I missed m-mine today..."
"There's nothing strange about that, Miss Hanako. It's perfectly natural."
"Were you very surprised at the results this morning?"
"A bit. I... finished all questions on the answer sheet this time, but still... passing s-seemed too good to be true... I think."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"Now would probably be a good time to say hello to each other, don't you think?"
"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.
"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."
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?"
"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."
Miss Yumi grins playfully at me.
"Amazing coincidence, is it not? Or maybe it was meant to be. Fate works in mysterious ways."
"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?"
"Could you help me move this table to the corner and make some fresh tea?"
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.
"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?"
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."
Final Chapter - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:27 am
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?"
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.
"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?"
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.
"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."
Miss Yumi closes her eyes and seems deep in thought for a second. Then she nods.
"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.
"T-Thank you... for the beautiful speech. It was... r-really touching."
"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."
"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."
"You seem awfully nervous all of a sudden."
"I... I... I would l-like to s-say something."
I look around the room and then back at Miss Yumi.
I nod silently.
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.
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.
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.
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... s-still feel a little bit guilty though."
"Because of your parents? Your birth parents, I mean."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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.
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.
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?"
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...
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.
"...and thank you."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:28 am
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:28 am
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:28 am
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:29 am
(Attachments go here, are linked to elsewhere)
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: 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.
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: 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.
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: 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.
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: 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.
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 10:41 am
Mixed feelings here. On the one hand, I loved the original and am happy to see more. On the other hand, you just took my free time, dumped it out a window, and set it on fire. Hanako pun not intended
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 11:46 am
Uh ? why a title edition ? what happened ?
Re: Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:17 pm
Zarys wrote:Uh ? why a title edition ? what happened ?
There appear to be many, many differences between this and the original story.