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Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:38 am
As I put on my pajamas and take my dose of pills for the night, my mind continues wandering on Lilly's revelation and what it means for us and especially for Hanako. Until I came to Yamaku, Lilly was the only friend Hanako had here, possibly the only person Hanako had here or pretty much anywhere else. What kind of effect would the loss of such a person have on Hanako?
After getting into bed, I spend some time staring at the ceiling and trying to digest this evening's events.
Maybe it's still too early to jump to conclusions.
Tap - tap
Lilly said she was still deciding, and I doubt she'd just say that to ease our minds while she's already certain what she's going to do.
Tap - tap - tap
Especially not with Akira sitting nearby.
Tap - tap - tap - tap - tap
It takes another moment before I realize the strange sound is coming from my door. It's as if a dog is scratching it on the other side.
Is that Kenji? It's kinda late for him to try and bug me about something.
Tap - tap - tap
At least he's being more considerate than usual. Usually he bangs on the door with enough force to wake up everyone in the building.
I get out of bed and unlock the door, but before I can prepare a lecture about the importance of someone's daily eight hours of rest, the door flies open and someone zips past me before I can even react.
"Dammit, Kenji, what the fu- Hanako?"
Sure enough, the unexpected visitor who forced herself into my room in such a blunt manner is none other than my girlfriend who's standing in front of me with a nervous expression on her face.
"Ummm… D-did I w-wake you up?"
"The noise you made was hardly enough to qualify as knocking. If I had already been asleep there's no way that would have woken me up."
"I-I didn't want to r-risk waking up anyone else."
Good point. Sneaking across campus and into the guys' dorm at night was already a risky move, especially on her part, but causing a ruckus in the middle of the dorm hallway would be a scandal in its own right. Kenji would probably flip if he found a girl knocking on doors here at night. He's already convinced Hanako's burns are the results of a bra-burning gone horribly wrong. He'd probably take her presence here as a sign that the feminist movement was getting ready for nocturnal deportations or something equally outlandish.
I'd ask her what she came to do here, but I already have a pretty good idea.
"Do you want to stay here for the night? I'm okay with it if you do."
She gives me a faint smile and nods softly.
"T-thanks. I could use some… comfort."
She sits on my bed and starts removing her shoes and stockings. I swallow a lump in my throat. Does she mean THAT kind of comfort? She's not even asking me to turn around.
"H-Hanako, by 'comfort', do you mean COMFORT?"
She unbuttons her blouse and pulls it off in a single move, revealing her…nightgown? Looks like she was wearing it under her school uniform.
Looks like I just dodged a bullet there. I try to recall what I've been reading lately. Whatever it was, I'd better avoid it in the future.
After Hanako has finished taking off her blouse and skirt and putting them in a neat pile beside my clothes, I turn off the lights and get back into bed. Moments later, I can feel her lying down next to me and snuggling up to me. For several minutes, we just lie there, holding each other, lazily playing footsie and me softly stroking her hair and scalp; something I've lately learned she really likes. On my first impression I didn't really have Hanako pegged for a very physical person. She already tended to get nervous when people came near her, and I expected being touched would probably cause her to flee the scene in a heartbeat. I started having second thoughts about that impression when she got drunk and really clingy with me during her birthday party. And after I started dating her, I discovered that beneath her skittish nature, Hanako's actually quite the snuggle bunny in private - a somewhat ironic thing seeing that part of her body is numb to sensations.
I continue running my hand through her hair until I can feel her relax and lay her head on my chest so she can listen to my heartbeat; another thing she likes to do. I'm not sure if she wants to talk to me about this or simply wants physical comfort. In a way, it's already a good thing she came here instead of pretending nothing's wrong and bottling up things inside.
"Do you want to talk for a bit?"
"How do you feel about Lilly's announcement."
"I f-feel sad. My first thought was 'why now?'
"L-lately I've started to become more motivated to turn my life around. L-like you have. That i-includes my friendship with Lilly. B-but now I wonder if I'll even get the chance for that."
"Maybe you should tell her that. Your word might just tip the scales. I wouldn't be surprised if you were one of the main reasons she's still not sure what to do."
"M-M-ME? What do you mean?"
I take a moment to put my thoughts in order. I don't think I'm wrong about this, but how do I best explain this to Hanako?
"Akira made her choice with her career in mind, but Lilly doesn't seem to have any ambitions of getting a big-shot corporate job. The last time we spoke about figuring out what to do after Yamaku, you mentioned Lilly wanted to study English, didn't you?"
"Yes. She wants to be an English teacher."
"She can study English in Scotland as well. It doesn't matter what she does concerning her education. Heck, her parents might just hire private tutors, seeing that they seem well-off. And she can find a job as a teacher either here or there. Over there, she could also teach Japanese if she liked."
"So what else could determine her choice? There's relatives, I guess. Lilly said it's been six years since she last met her parents before that last trip. I had the impression this evening that Lilly and Akira are estranged from their family. Did Lilly ever mention them to you?"
"N-no. She talks about Akira all the time, but never brings up her parents. I don't think she talks to them very often. She phones her sister every few days, but I've never seen or heard her talk to her parents either."
"How do you think she feels about them? Akira doesn't like them, that's impossible to miss. But Lilly wasn't that blatant with her opinion."
"I'm really not sure. I think she's neutral about them."
"Neutral? Is that even possible?"
"She seemed uncomfortable by Akira's outbursts about their parents, but didn't defend them in any way."
"She's definitely not neutral towards Akira though. And Akira will be migrating. The only other family she has contact with around here seems to be Shizune and that's hardly positive contact. So if she doesn't dislike her parents and the sister she loves is leaving for a country where Lilly herself will have no problems finishing her education, why exactly IS she still trying to make up her mind? Shouldn't the decision be easy?"
"S-she has many friends here too."
"True, but the two of us seem to be the only ones she regularly invites to her room, and we're the ones she took along to her family's summerhouse in Hokkaido. And while I'm sure Lilly considers me a good friend, I think the title of best friend goes unavoidably to you. If there's one person she could be considering staying here for, it has to be you."
Hanako falls silent for a long while, the gentle rubbing of her feet against mine the only indication she hasn't spontaneously fallen asleep. I don't think she disagrees with the logic behind my argument. It's probably her own unsteady sense of self-worth that's denying the possibility someone else could consider her important enough to decline an emigration opportunity for. Still, after a long deliberation, she silently nods.
"So I think if you don't want her to go, you should consider asking her to stay. Or if that prospect makes you uneasy, perhaps I could…"
Her sudden exclamation startles me a bit which in turn startles her as she quickly corrects herself with an embarrassed 'Ummm… I mean, p-please don't.'
"Why not? I realize it's not a competition and Lilly's not a prize to be won, but her parents don't seem to mind doing their part to help her reach a decision if Akira is to be believed. You don't have to nag her about it, but making your position clear can't hurt in my opinion."
"B-because… ummm… Because…"
She hesitates for a bit, then mumbles something.
"I can't hear you very well."
"B-because that would r-ruin what our f-friendship is about. Or rather… what I'd l-like our friendship to b-be about."
"Could you explain that to me?"
"S-sometimes I wonder if Lilly thinks of me as a true f-friend or simply as someone who needs looking after. Because despite her always being there for m-me, I haven't been able to do anything for her. Even now, while she was struggling with this s-summons, I couldn't help her."
"But you can now. She wasn't planning to tell us, but we found out and now we can be there for her, right? You can be there for her just like you're here for me."
"M-maybe. But I don't want to ask her to stay for my sake. W-what if she would rather live with her f-family and m-me asking her to stay would make her stay here out of a s-sense of duty towards me? W-what kind of friendship would we have then?"
"In the end, the decision remains with her, Hanako. If we're not going to ask her to consider staying here, the only other thing we can do is cross our fingers and support her choice, no matter what it is."
"A-and provide some distraction when she needs it."
"According to Akira, the departure will be soon. Maybe we should postpone our dates for the time being and focus on hanging out with Lilly."
"If… the two of us… hang out with Lilly all the time… she'll feel like… the third wheel and might b-back away from us."
"Then maybe it should be just you spending some additional time with her for a while."
"B-But you're my boyfriend."
"I'm not going anywhere. You just hang out with Lilly, and maybe you'll get around to convincing her to stay here, even if you don't end up asking her directly."
"If I don't go to sleep soon I'll miss my morning jog tomorrow. And Emi cursing like a sailor is a very ugly sight."
"G-goodnight then, Hisao."
She gives me a quick kiss.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:39 am
"C-could you let me check the directions one more time?"
"I don't think there's any need to hurry. I'm sure they'll have a table for us even if we don't show up exactly on time."
Lilly must have sensed the hint of frustration in my voice. She has a point of course, but I don't want to risk them giving our reserved table to someone else. I take another look at the small map I printed out and try to pinpoint our current location. My orientation skills aren't particularly bad. In fact, they're probably better than my boyfriend's, but walking through an unfamiliar (and CROWDED) part of the city keeping a keen eye on the surroundings while keeping my head down to avoid people's gazes has proven to be tough. The fact that I'm holding onto Lilly, both for her benefit and my own assurance, and the fact that Lilly tends to attract people's attention due to her height and hair color aren't making things easier.
"I…I think I have our location. We n-need to take the s-street we just passed and it should be to the right somewhere."
"Let's go then."
"Welcome to our humble establishment. Do you wish to have a table for two?"
The young man at the door makes a deep bow before noticing Lilly's cane and fidgeting a bit, unsure on how to proceed.
"I arranged the reservation in your name."
I keep my voice barely above a whisper, but Lilly replies with a subtle nod and bows to the man who addressed us.
"Good evening. My name is Lilly Satou. I believe a reservation was made in my name."
"Satou? Ah yes, an e-mail was sent specifically requesting a table in the corner."
"…That's correct. Would that be a problem?"
"Not at all. Please walk this way."
He makes a motion to follow him, then realizes again that Lilly can't see him, and I can see him ponder whether he should take Lilly's arm or not. Lilly seems to pick up on the man's dilemma as she gives him a reassuring smile.
"Please lead the way. My friend will assist me."
"As you wish. Please follow me."
As we get seated in what is indeed a relatively quiet corner of the restaurant, I let out a relieved sigh. Lilly smiles proudly at me.
"I think the hardest part is over now. Let's have fun for the rest of the evening."
We fall silent, and I spend some time getting my bearings back and taking in the room. When I look at Lilly, I can tell she's doing the same, carefully and structurally taking in and categorizing the various sounds around us. After listening to a few songs that are being played, she smiles.
"Ballroom music. How nice. Was this an informed or an educated guess on your part, Hanako?"
"A little bit of both."
It's true. We found out some time ago that Akira's a stickler for jazz music, but I always believed Lilly's musical taste, like nearly everything else about her, was slightly more traditional. Of course, I ended up sending a text message to Akira to make sure, but she merely confirmed my hunch was correct.
"Hanako, can you describe our surroundings to me, please?"
I take a careful look around.
"The room itself is rather large and tall…"
"…there's a spacious dance floor near the center of the room…
"…the tables for the patrons are in a semi-circle around it…"
"…on the other side is the ensemble playing the music…"
"…the furniture and decorations are a bit old-fashioned, but practical…"
"…lighting is modest. There is some lighting equipment on the ceiling pointing at the dance floor, but it's not being used for this type of music. According to their website, they play different kinds of music on different days…"
I pause for a moment, wondering how detailed Lilly wants me to be. She seems to be satisfied with my description so far.
"Thank you, Hanako."
I take a look at the menu. It's far too extensive to read entirely.
"Would you like me to read the categories on the menu, Lilly? Or should I make a few recommendations myself?"
"Could you tell me what salads they have to offer, Hanako?"
"Ummm, let's see…"
I can't say this place has the cheapest food in the world on offer. It's a good thing Lilly offered to pay for a large share of the costs or my funds would have been completely drained by now.
"Thanks for footing such a large part of the bill. I… appreciate it."
"Thank you, Hanako, for having spent such a large amount of time with me lately. I've really been enjoying these outings. I… really hope this hasn't come at the cost of your relationship."
"Don't worry, it hasn't. I still spend time with Hisao whenever I can and ummm…"
I hesitate to continue, not wanting to make things too awkward. Lilly, however, completes my sentence with more than a hint of amusement in her voice.
"…you two stay over at the other's place regularly, don't you?"
I giggle shyly.
"Y-yes, but p-please don't tell that to anyone."
"Don't worry about that."
Our food is brought in, and Lilly starts eating in that carefully measured manner of hers, using her chopsticks to feel and probe each piece of food before picking it up and putting it in her mouth.
"It's funny. I never imagined you to outpace me in the boys department. Perhaps someday it'll be me approaching you for relationship advice."
I can't help but chuckle at that before rolling my eyes in a self-deprecating way.
"I-I don't think you'll want to go about things the way I did. It's a miracle everything worked out the way it did."
"A miracle or perhaps merely fate."
"It'd be nice to think so."
Taking a sip of tea, my mind realizes the implication she made before.
"Lilly, you said I outpaced you. Does that mean you've never had a boyfriend before?"
"Does that surprise you?"
It does indeed. Lilly's one of the most popular girls in school, and it's a miracle nobody ever set up a fan club at Yamaku dedicated to her.
"You've never received any confessions?"
"I did. And not all of them from boys. Puberty can be a funny thing, particularly at an all-girls school."
"And you turned them all down?"
"I suppose I am… very particular… about the people I get close to."
I guess she is. I remember Hisao pointed out that he and I are the only people she spends her evenings with. I suppose a lot of the people she's on good terms with share a more superficial bond with her.
"But you did let me get close… and Hisao, who's a boy."
"Lilly… Did you… like… Hisao?"
"That question brings back memories."
It does. A few days after the festival, I asked Lilly what she thought of Hisao. But she ended up reversing the question, and I ended up admitting I had a crush on him. That was something out of the ordinary for me… I'm not someone who quickly takes a liking to other people, and yet I developed feelings for a person whom I had known for only a little more than a week. I've never been able to completely explain it. He was kind to me, of course, but there was something else that probably played a larger role. Even before I came to know that he faced a few circumstances similar to my own and that we shared several hobbies, there was something about him that felt familiar… comfortable. Like a kindred spirit.
"Y-you never really answered back then."
"You are asking me if I've ever considered Hisao potential boyfriend material?"
"Y-yes. You… said you are particular about who you let close. If I hadn't admitted I liked Hisao, would you have… approached him at some point?"
"I will admit he is the type I could see myself falling for, so to speak. Maybe if circumstances had been different…"
"You mean, if it hadn't been for me…"
Lilly makes a gesture to indicate she wants to say something, and her expression becomes a bit more stern than usual.
"Hanako, I feel it's important to make a few things clear before you draw your own conclusions. I merely said I could have fallen for Hisao under the right circumstances. But those circumstances haven't taken place. I am not in love with your boyfriend, nor has that ever been the case. The two of us have never been rivals in love."
"I don't really understand."
Lilly lets out a chuckle.
"As you can probably imagine, I am not one to fall in love with someone at first sight. In order for me to fall in love with someone, I have to come to know and like him over time, he must show an interest in me, and I must be open to the possibility of a relationship myself."
"And that wasn't the case?"
"I've come to know and like him, but it quickly became clear to me he was more interested in you than in me, so I did not allow myself to be open to the possibility. Thus, I did not fall in love with him."
That sounds so rational. I still feel Lilly dismissed the opportunity prematurely because she wanted me to have a chance at love. And she didn't stop there.
"L-Lilly… I… I feel my relationship with Hisao would… never have happened without your efforts. And I never really thanked you for that."
"That isn't true, Hanako. The two of you fell in love on your own accord and started a relationship through your own choices and efforts."
"But he never even would have spent enough time near me to start liking me if it hadn't been for you. You're the one who was so nice to him and had him join our lunch breaks, and you're the one who started inviting him to our tea parties in the evening, and you got him involved in shopping for my presents and took us along for that night on the town, and he told me you were also the one who convinced him to keep having faith in me after I locked myself up in my room, and…"
I suddenly realize I've started to ramble, so I cut myself off and take a deep breath.
"Lilly, is there… anything I can do for you in return? Anything at all?"
Lilly smiles at my offer, but shakes her head.
"It's okay, Hanako. I don't need anything. If my actions led to something good, that in itself is enough of a reward. Besides, getting a relationship started is one thing, but maintaining it is another, and so far, I can tell you've been doing a very good job. I've heard Hisao has been looking into brochures for different universities. The last time I asked him what he wanted to do after Yamaku, he said he didn't know. Now he seems to have a clear idea on what to do after graduation. I think your support played a large role in that."
"I… did encourage him as much as I could. But I think Mutou deserves a lot of credit too."
"Is Hisao still enjoying those one-on-one discussion sessions with Mutou?"
"I believe so, though they're not one-on-one anymore since last week."
"More people joined?"
"Yes, Hisao convinced his hall-mate to give the science club a try. He's the person from your class who worked with us on the main banner for the festival."
"Kenji Setou? Fascinating. His science marks aren't bad, but I never knew he had a special interest in the subject. Then again, I don't really know him very well. He rarely speaks in class."
"I don't know him well either, but apparently he's rather talkative in private. He's kind of a friend to Hisao, I think, but Hisao usually asks me to wait outside earshot range when Kenji comes up to talk, so I don't know what they talk about together. 'Guy talk' is what Hisao calls it."
"I wonder how Hisao managed to convince him."
"Ummm… I… might know. While Hisao was talking to Kenji, I tried listening in a bit. I couldn't hear very well, but suddenly Kenji raised his voice and said something like 'Alright! If it's really an all-guys club, I'd be crazy not to join.' Or something similar."
That news made Lilly grin.
"Hmmm… I had no idea Kenji was into men. You learn something new and interesting every day."
"When I asked Hisao about it, he got really awkward and just asked me to forget I ever heard that."
"Hisao's not uncomfortable with homosexuality, is he? I always thought he was too easy-going to be offended by that."
"I don't think so. Maybe it's just Kenji. He likes to get really close to people when speaking to them, and *giggle* they do have to share a bathroom and shower."
"Do you think Hisao knows about his neighbor in class?"
"Misha? I don't think he does, even though he's pretty good friends with her. He wasn't around when she changed her haircut. He probably thinks she's always had her hair like that. I didn't tell him about it."
"After all this time I still wonder at times what that girl sees in Shizune."
Lilly's reaction feels a bit awkward. For all her lady-like behavior, the subject of Shizune still never fails to get her uncharacteristically worked up.
"T-the two of you haven't always been at odds, have you?"
Lilly shakes her head and smiles a sad smile.
"We haven't. We used to get along in the past, and when Mother and Father left Japan, we even got closer to each other."
"My father and Shizune's father dislike each other, so while my parents were still living in Japan we rarely met with the Hakamichis. But Akira has a great fondness for Shizune's little brother, so after we started living on our own, we'd drop by at their house whenever we had the opportunity to. I'd like to think Shizune and I got along with each other pretty well despite our inability to communicate with one another without Shizune using written notes and Akira acting as a medium or writing letters into each other's hand using our fingers. But when Shizune became student council president and I had to deal with her, things changed very quickly. "
"P-power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?"
Lilly laughs heartily for a moment at the silly use of a term like 'absolute power' in combination with the student council presidency, before taking a sip of her drink and continuing.
"I do not think so in this case. I don't think Shizune has ever really changed at all. She's still the exact same person she was half a decade ago. Maybe it is I who have changed."
"Shizune has always been ambitious and full of ideas. When we spent time together in the past, she'd often go over her plans for the future in detail, and we enjoyed chattering about them."
"Organizing a charity festival, setting up our own orphanage, setting up a school for the disabled similar to Yamaku… taking over the world one city council at a time."
That last part was so absurd I nearly choke on my drink. Judging from Lilly's sheepish smile, she's fully aware of this.
"I am aware that last part was a bit childish. We got a little carried away every now and again. We were only fourteen at the time."
"And when she became student council president, she still had all her ambitions?"
"Yes, but not the means to fulfill them. To most of its members, the student council was like a school club to put a few daily hours in after class and then devote the rest of their time to homework and relaxation. Not every member had Shizune's good grades that allowed her to get by with only a minimum of studying, nor did every member want to spend all their time in the council room until sundown, relying on take-out food each day because the cafeteria and shops closed already. Shizune would consistently dismiss these concerns and charge ahead with her plans without taking others into account. It's been like this since she took over as president, and it will most likely remain that way until she graduates."
"And you took it upon yourself to point out those reservations to her on other people's behalf?"
"Yes, at first I did it because I was the person who knew her best. Eventually, it became somewhat of an unspoken agreement that I'd usually be the one to deal with Shizune if conflicts arose in any way, which often happened seeing that Shizune likes to regard conflicts as challenges to win rather than as situations to resolve through compromise. But at least others could remain on semi-amicable terms with her this way while my relationship with her was already in a broken state anyway. It has remained this way even after I left the student council and limited my activities to class representative duties."
"And she didn't take your objections to her policies very well?"
"Before we enrolled at Yamaku, I used to cheer her on all the time and encourage her to follow her dreams. These days she regards my attempts to convince her to slow down and look before leaping as hypocritical."
Lilly's story has made me think. I don't have exactly great chemistry with Shizune and Misha; Shizune's brashness and Misha's loudness are traits that tend to put me off. But I don't dislike them either. Hisao is on very good terms with both of them, a good thing since he often has to do assignments with them, even if he admits Shizune is sometimes a pain to deal with. Still, even though Hisao tends to butt heads with Shizune on a very regular basis, neither seems to walk away from those conflicts with hard feelings towards the other. It's a pity the same can't true for Lilly and Shizune. Someone who dreams about setting up orphanages can't be a bad person in my book.
"It's… ummm… a s-shame things have gotten so p-personal between you two. Y-you might still get along with each other as long as you weren't f-forced to work on something together."
"It's nice to believe so, but I don't think a lot is bound to change anytime soon. It's a whole lot more likely that the science club will soon overshadow the student council in terms of membership."
Funny she says that, because if my "secret project" succeeds that could be the case soon.
"Ummm… Lilly, can you… k-keep a secret?"
"Of course, Hanako."
"What you said about the science club membership… might happen. At least, I hope it does. For Hisao."
"Does Hisao have recruitment plans then?"
"N-no. But I'm p-planning something that might get him a few new members."
"Really? What are you planning?"
"Ummm… I… approached Mutou last w-week and conducted an interview with h-him. Using the information he gave me, I've written a short article about the club that'll appear in the next issue of the school newspaper. With l-luck, students with interest in the subject will take notice. B-but it's supposed to be a surprise, so you can't tell Hisao about it."
Lilly is silent for a moment before breaking out into a huge smile. I see something on her face that I haven't seen there before. A look of admiration.
"Hanako… What a clever initiative. I never would have thought of that myself. Hisao will love this."
"T-thanks. I really hope so."
"What did the newspaper club say about your idea?"
"Naomi liked the idea. However she said that only club members are allowed to submit articles. So, I officially joined three days ago. Though…Hisao doesn't know that either."
"Congratulations, Hanako. You're turning into quite a reporter."
"D-do you… really… think so, Lilly?"
"B-because, I've been thinking. Mutou said… he was pleased to see I was developing m-my interests and s-suggested to think about… doing something with it after graduation and talking to the teacher in charge of the newspaper club about it."
"And will you?"
"M-maybe. I still want to think it through a little more. I mean… I'd never stand in front of a c-camera, but things like writing articles and columns or doing research and fact checking or editing… I think I'd enjoy doing all of those."
"It sounds like you've given it quite some thought already. I think you can take your time and come to a decision with plenty of time to spare. Graduation is still many months away."
"I… I plan to think things over during summer break. Hopefully, by the end, I will have made up my mind. If I decide against it, m-maybe something like technical writer or copywriter would be a good alternative"
"That seems like a very good idea. Do you have any plans for summer break?"
I repress the temptation to tell her that depends on her decision. The truth is I have some plans, but none of them really viable right now.
"N-not really. I've thought about travelling a bit… seeing things. Naomi's mentioned that's what she's going to do during the summer, and I liked the idea as well. But I don't think I can spare the money right now. I want to keep some money aside so Hisao and I can keep going on dates."
I sigh wearily.
"A relationship is a really wonderful thing to have, b-but it's not always cheap."
Lilly merely reacts with a nod and a smile; a sign that I'm not going to get a lot of sympathy from her for no longer being single.
"Approaching Mutou for that interview… Was that hard for you to do?"
It was actually. Even though I'm familiar with Mutou and think highly of him as a homeroom teacher, the thought of approaching him for a favor still caused me to have at least one sleepless night. Yet strangely enough, it was also easy in a way.
"It was… really hard, yet also really easy. I just kept reminding myself that I was doing this for Hisao. And it helped. It really helped."
"What if it had concerned a favor for yourself?"
"I wouldn't have been able to do it."
A quick and definite answer, but I know myself well enough to sense that it's true.
"T-they say it's easier to be selfish than to be selfless. If it was for Hisao's sake I… I… I feel like I'd be able to do anything, but..."
That was the worst ad lib ever. Lilly's reaction isn't the amused smile I was expecting though. Instead, she just looks lost in thought. Lost in thought and just a little bit sad.
"…but not for yourself."
"N-no. I guess nobody's perfect."
"I know exactly what you mean."
Our dinner and conversation finished, we hang back and relax, Lilly listening to the music and me watching the patrons on the dance floor. It's gotten a bit crowded there, and I giggle as two couples making a flashy turn at the same time accidentally bump into each other.
"Did something amusing happen?"
"Just… four people having an awkward collision on the dance floor."
"That brings back memories."
I think I just learned another thing about Lilly. Although I'm hardly surprised to learn Lilly has participated in style dancing before, given the fact she likes the kind of music that's used for the activity. It fits in neatly with the image I already had of her. She's probably pretty good at it too, seeing that even her normal manner of moving already has a certain amount of grace.
"You know how to dance?"
"I do. I had dance courses in middle school."
"Was it hard to learn? I mean, harder for you than… for the rest?"
"I don't think it was. One doesn't need eyesight in order to memorize what body parts to move at what moments. Of course, at least one partner being able to see certainly makes things easier."
"I… think I would have liked to see it. You're probably a very graceful dancer."
Lilly playfully twirls one of her blonde locks around her finger and smiles at me.
"Am I correct when I assume you're asking me for a demonstration, Hanako?"
"T-that's probably… a bit difficult right now. But I would have liked to see you dance."
"Are you serious?"
"Very well then. I hear they're playing a slow waltz right now. That's fortunate, for that's a rather easy one to perform."
"Ummm… but, don't you need a partner to…"
Before I can finish my sentence, Lilly gets up and extends her hand to me with a playful expression on her face.
"May I have this dance, Miss Ikezawa?"
WAIT A MINUTE!
I curse myself for not seeing this one coming after such a shamelessly obvious lead-in.
"W-w-wait Lilly, w-w-we're two g-girls, aren't w-we?"
"That's not a problem for me. I know the steps for both the male and the female partner."
She chuckles shortly.
"My middle school was girls-only, so I've had nothing but female dance partners. I'm used to it."
"T-this isn't m-middle school. W-we'll attract a-a-attention."
"Just as one person teaching the other a few dance steps. Most people will have to focus on their partner to avoid tripping."
"You asked for a demonstration, and I think the best way to go about it is to show you up close and teach you a few steps myself. We could go over to the dance floor and see if there are any open spots away from the seated patrons."
"J-just a look then."
I get up, take Lilly's arm and slowly lead her to the area bordering the dance floor. As we circle the area in search of a bit of space, I try to wrap my head around this uncharacteristically forward move. It isn't like Lilly at all to try and push against my boundaries like this. For as long as I've known her, she's been protective, sometimes even over-protective, of me. But tonight, more than ever before, I feel like we've been interacting as equals. We both spoke candidly about ourselves; Lilly of her past and I of my future. This kind of interaction between us wouldn't have been possible two months ago. This kind of outing wouldn't have been possible two months ago. Is Lilly trying to find out how far I will go in defying my own anxieties? Is she… testing me?
"Do you want to give it a try?"
Chapter 11 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:40 am
We reach a corner of the dance floor near the ensemble and away from the tables that isn't particularly crowded. My eyes warily skim the crowd, but nobody seems to be paying us any attention.
"V-very quickly then."
Picking out a somewhat secluded spot near the edge, I walk Lilly in place and turn to face her. She's wearing a reassuring smile on her face that's not quite catching on yet.
"Could you give me your right hand, Hanako?"
I place my hand in hers, shivering a bit as her fingers briefly touch my scar tissue.
"Now, can you place your left hand on my shoulder?"
I do so, but can't help feeling really weird. A feeling worsened by the fact she's wearing her off-the-shoulder sweater and my hand is touching her bare skin.
"Please place your right foot between my feet."
I follow suit and stiffen for a moment as Lilly places her right hand onto my left shoulder blade. I look around nervously, but it doesn't seem like people around us are taking notice of us. Either that or they really don't care.
"Let's begin. Could you take a step back with your left foot, count to two and put your right foot beside it?"
"Umm… Like this? Eek!"
The moment I take a step back, Lilly lifts her right foot, presumably to let me drag her forward a bit and determine the length of my steps, but since I wasn't expecting this lack of resistance, I try to put my foot back and almost lose my balance, which would have resulted in me dragging us both to the floor and her ending up on top of me. That'd be enough reason for me to run out of here and deny this evening ever happened.
Lilly doesn't seem to be put off by my blunder and gives me a reassuring smile.
"Don't worry. Everybody tends to stumble a bit at first. Let's try again. Take a step back as slowly as you can now."
I take another step back, trying to move in slow motion this time. Sure enough, Lilly moves her foot again and fluidly advances to close the distance. I move my other foot back and Lilly follows up, lightly brushing her foot against mine.
"Much better, Hanako. But try to keep the distance between your feet consistent."
One more step back and this one goes without incidents. Lilly gives me a pleased nod.
"Very good. Now we'll try the reverse. Take a slow step forward with your right foot."
This time Lilly leans slightly back and I'm pulled forward a bit, but before I can lose my balance, she straightens herself out.
This is like some odd balancing game she's playing.
"One more time."
I take another step forward, trying hard not to bump into Lilly by accident. She seems satisfied with the distance and speed of my movement.
"Let's try to go back and forth a few times to see if we can get a movement rhythm down that feels natural for both of us."
I carefully try to retrace the steps I took earlier. After about half a minute of moving back and forth, Lilly signs for a break.
"Are you up for some variation, Hanako?"
"Ummm…what do you mean?"
"Next, try making a slow sidestep to your right, followed by a sidestep to the left."
"That doesn't s-sound too difficult."
I move left and right several times, letting Lilly get used to the steps I take. This is much easier than the backwards and forward movement.
"Not too hard, is it?"
"Then let's combine the two to create a counter-clockwise movement."
"Back, right, forward, left."
I slowly try to adopt the new pattern, struggling at first to memorize the order.
After several minutes, Lilly stops me.
"You have very consistent movement, Hanako. That's a good thing. I think I'll be able to take it from here."
"T-take it from here?"
"The steps I'm taking belong to the leading partner. I needed to get used to your movement patterns a bit, but I think I have the timing down now. Just continue as you did before."
We resume, but this time Lilly starts making more active movements instead of going along with mine, occasionally shifting her weight to correct me. At first, I'm positive we're going to trip and fall, but as we continue I realize that as long as I don't deviate from the step length I've been going with, our movements are nearly perfectly synchronized.
I can't believe that Lilly got a feeling for my movements that quickly. She really is good at this.
"Left, back, right, forward."
I'm starting to risk the occasional glance away from our feet. Nobody's paying us any attention, thank goodness. I giggle nervously.
"R-right, forward, back…"
"Try to relax your upper body a little bit more, Hanako."
This is starting to become fun. When I look up at Lilly, I notice she's wearing a beaming smile. I can't help but smile back, even though she can't see that. Maybe I misjudged her earlier, and she really wanted to merely share some of her experience with me. Lilly is one of those people who'd probably pay to be a teacher. Whenever she gets the opportunity to help someone brush up on something she's knowledgeable about, she's overcome with a childlike eagerness that's actually very endearing. This seems to be one of those opportunities.
"Let's try a natural turn next."
I patiently wait as Lilly runs through her bag in search of her room keys. Tonight was great fun. The dancing part was maybe a bit much, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't interesting to try. Moreover, I feel that I've gotten to know Lilly a little better tonight.
"Hanako, thank you very much for tonight. I truly had a great time."
Lilly has found her keys and has opened her door, but before entering she turns and addresses me.
"Same here. I also think I've learned a few things about you I didn't know before."
"The same goes for me. You've… really changed lately, Hanako."
"F-for the better?"
Lilly's smile is warm and genuine, but I don't think it's my imagination that there's a subtle trace of wistfulness in her voice, and that for a moment, no more than a split-second, there's a hint of sadness on her face. But when I blink my eyes, it's gone already, and Lilly's mouth curls into a playful grin.
"I don't think Hisao needs to know everything that took place tonight."
"Good night, Hanako. I'll meet you at school tomorrow."
"Good night, Lilly."
Our farewells behind us, Lilly closes the door, and I take a glance at the door of my own dorm room, check the time on my cell phone and then briskly walk down the hallway.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:41 am
As I close the door, I wait a while to hear if Hanako's door is being opened or not. As expected, I hear the sound of footsteps hurrying down the hall instead. I laugh quietly. It hasn't been the first time Hanako's snuck off like this lately. I really hope she's not going to run into any patrolling staff.
I take off my clothes, put on my pajamas and sit on the edge of my bed. Tonight's been only the most recent of several outings Hanako and I have made lately. It's almost as if she's become my girlfriend instead of Hisao's. Just recently we've had two picnics in the park, a visit to a play in a local theater, a shopping trip and yesterday a visit to a local petting zoo. That last one was particularly memorable for both of us, and I'm positive that if they didn't have closing hours there, I'd still be sitting there holding the 2-months old lamb who took a liking to me (my Scottish heritage may run deeper than I thought) and Hanako'd still be sitting next to me cuddling with the three members of the local rabbit population whose trust she managed to gain. And then there was this night. We made an agreement that I'd pay the majority of the costs. My parents never left us wanting for money, and I presumed Hanako's budget, as a ward of the state, was quite a bit tighter. Hanako would organize the various outings. All in all, I've made some wonderful memories.
"You have… one… new voicemail."
The droning message from my cell phone tugs me back to reality, and I hear a voice that's become slightly more familiar to me since my trip to Europe.
"…Lilly, dear. Are you there? If you get this message before morning, could you call us back?…"
I let out a tired sigh. The problem with wonderful things is that they always end too soon.
It takes me a while to place the noise that rudely wakes me from my sleep.
Where am I?
What time is it?
That sound is not my alarm clock, is it?
I think I've heard it before…
My cell phone?
I groggily crawl out of bed, but just before I can get to my phone, the ringing stops.
Now I'm vexed…
"You have… one… new voicemail."
"…Yo, it's me. I expected to get the voicemail. Hehe, still no early riser, eh?"
I let out a pained groan.
"I wanted to talk to you, so maybe you could call me back…"
"…eh, scratch that. I'll just wait a minute and try again…"
Minute? What minute?
I can't suppress a cry of surprise when my phone suddenly rings again, barely an inch away from my ear.
"Yo. Got some time to spare?"
I merely let out a loud yawn. Why is she calling this early?
"How was your date yesterday?"
"It wasn't a date. But it was a lot of fun. We went to a nightclub, or a restaurant, or something similar, and they had a large dance floor and people playing ballroom music."
As I describe our outing to Akira, my drowsiness slowly starts to disappear.
"Yeah, I got a text message from her earlier asking me if you liked that kind of music. The idea itself was hers though."
"After some convincing, I managed to teach her a few steps. If I had more time, I could probably have made a decent dancer out of her."
"She let you drag her onto the dance floor? Man, that girl is just full of surprises."
A soft sigh escapes my lips.
"You don't even know half of it."
"When I first met her, she was barely functioning at all. Instead of living, it seemed like she was just existing. And now, she shows initiatives, has club activities, a love life, even plans for the future. She's opened herself up to new experiences. It all happened… so quickly."
I can hear Akira click her tongue.
"You sound a bit down. Surely you're not longing to go back to the time when she was clinging to you as if you were a life preserver? I mean, she's not your child. She never was."
"I think you misunderstand…"
"Eh, whatever. Anyway, I didn't really call you to ask about your evening, though I wanted to be sure you were fully awake before getting to the main topic."
I'm pretty sure I know what that main topic is about.
"I got a call from Scotland last night. They said they spoke to you."
"That they did."
"And that you made a decision."
"So… Are you sure you're going to accompany me to Scotland next week?"
"…Probably as sure as I'm ever going to get on this…"
"When did you decide? Last night?"
"More or less. Although it wasn't decided on a whim, if that is what you're asking."
"Well… As long as it's your decision and your decision alone, I won't argue it."
"How did you… break the news to your boyfriend?"
"I don't think you want to handle things my way. I doubt you even could."
"You're not being very helpful."
"I don't have any advice for you, Sis, but I'm confident you'll pull it off. Between the two of us, you were always the diplomatic one."
"I'm not exactly that confident about it myself."
"Let me know how it goes. And remind me to call the school administration to take care of the paperwork regarding the transfer."
Part of me probably would have liked to keep this to myself for a little while longer, but I don't think that'd be a good idea. Hanako and Hisao already sensed something was afoot last time, and I don't feel it's fair to keep them in the dark unnecessarily. Even so, I'll be glad when this evening is over. I invited them over to my room during lunch break. They'll probably arrive together.
They'll probably be disappointed in me. Especially Hanako.
Should I try to lift their spirits? Or will that seem hypocritical?
I hate situations like these. But I can't just sneak away in silence and never return.
I'm going to miss you two. Especially you, Hanako.
My thoughts are interrupted by a quiet knock on the door. My invitation to come in is followed by the sounds of the door opening and two people walking in. I notice they're unusually quiet while I pour the tea. I ask them both how things are going at their respective clubs, but from the short answers I get, it appears neither is eager for a lot of small talk. As I search for an opportune way to bring up the obvious subject, Hisao suddenly speaks up.
"Lilly, from the hesitant way you invited us here during lunch, we got the impression you wanted to tell us something important. We all know what it is about, so maybe we should just get it out of the way without further ado."
"You're correct, Hisao. It is about the matter of my parents' summons."
"You've made a definite decision then?"
"Yes. I wanted the two of you to know about it before I tell anyone else."
In a way, I've already broken the news to them. Why would I need to tell anyone else I'd be staying here?
"You've decided to answer it."
Not a question, but an observation. I merely nod quietly.
"My family dearly wants me to join them, and Akira will be going there as well. I can still fulfill my dream of becoming a teacher there."
Silence follows. Probably the most painful silence I've ever endured. When Hisao speaks again, his voice is a lot softer than before.
"If that's the choice you've made and that choice makes you happy, then we'll support it although the both of us will miss you terribly."
"I won't be gone forever, Hisao. I can still call you two, and with Akira's help I could exchange things over the internet."
"I'll… miss you, Lilly."
It hurts me to hear the tone in Hanako's voice. The budding confidence that was still very evident in her voice last night seems to have vanished and is once more replaced with the scared, insecure tone that was there when she started speaking to me for the first time. I feel I owe it to Hanako to help her get her confidence back and remind her of how far she's already come.
"Hanako, remember when we first met? When you entered my room for the first time after overhearing my consoling of a friend, you didn't say a single word for the entire night. Even as I poured you tea and talked, you sat silently and simply listened to what I said. It took many quiet meetings like that before you began to open up to me, but as you began to, I felt some of the happiest moments I've ever felt."
I take a sip of my drink, before continuing.
"I didn't become your friend because I pitied you, Hanako. I became your friend because I knew you were hiding not just from me, but from everyone. Your ambitions, personality, interests, tastes… I didn't know any of them and neither did anybody else. As you showed yourself to me, though I began to realize the person that you were and became sure that our meeting was a very special moment."
I feel a small lump in my throat, but go on anyway.
"I believe you are a very beautiful person, Hanako, and I am certain that you will become a strong and confident woman…"
I have more to say, but cut myself off as I realize that what I'm saying isn't accurate. What I'm saying will happen eventually has actually already come to pass.
"No, that's not correct. You already have become a strong and confident woman, Hanako. You have shown you have obtained your own friends and hobbies, your own hopes for after graduation and your own love live from which to draw strength. I want you to devote yourself to them, even after I'm not around anymore, for others will draw strength from you as well. Especially in the last weeks, you have shown how much you have to offer to those around you."
"That's why I think you will be okay, Hanako. Because you are your own self with your own life. You yourself have proven that to me. I've learned many new things about you since I came back to Japan, but the most significant thing I've come to witness is how strong and independent you truly have become."
We remain silent for a long time, but eventually Hanako speaks softly.
"I… I… understand."
"Will you be okay?"
I truly believe she will. We spend some time quietly drinking tea, small talk seeming inappropriate after the moments we just had. Eventually, Hisao addresses me.
"So when exactly will you be leaving? And how?"
"On Tuesday the week after this one. Akira will be picking me up here, and we will spend the night at the Hakamichi home where Akira will have the rest of our luggage stored. Our flight will depart on Wednesday."
"So I guess we won't be coming along to the airport to see you off."
"I do not think that will be practical. However, I'd like to save the Monday evening for a little get-together in my room if that's okay. A small seeing-off party as it were."
"That seems like a good idea, Lilly. We'll be there."
"I'm looking forward to it, Hisao. The upcoming week will be very busy for me. I have very limited time to tie up all loose ends and transfer my class representative duties to others."
A busy time indeed. The fact that summer break is approaching makes the upcoming workload even larger. It doesn't seem like I'll be able to relax for a while.
"Awww… That's a shame, Lilly. I bet Hanako and Hisao are really sad, aren't they?"
I smile at Misha's reaction to my announced departure. It's easy for many people to forget that Misha is more than merely Shizune's mouthpiece, and this reaction is obviously her own.
"Saying goodbye is never easy, Misha. But I draw relief from the fact that they still have each other. They'll be fine, you'll see."
"Yeah, I'm sure they will."
"I will not pass judgment on your decision to migrate, that is your own choice. But it is my responsibility to see to it that your sudden stepping down does not come at the cost of the functioning of 3-2 as a class."
"That is why I'm here. I have already managed to find a classmate willing to act as my replacement. After my departure, my classmate Aki Sujishi will function as representative of class 3-2. Please give her your full cooperation in the carrying out of her duties."
And please try to treat her with what other people would call common decency.
"I'm pleased to see you've managed to transfer your duties to one of your classmates this quickly. Then again, seeing that you've had quite a bit of practice with that over the years, I shouldn't be too surprised."
She just can't help herself, can she?
"She took the task willingly and with enthusiasm. I wonder how many students in the dictatorship you've got running would take these tasks without you forcing them to."
"Dictatorships are effective. Running a tight ship produces timely results. Do you really think our classmates' future employers will coddle them and tack on a 'pretty please' each time something needs to be done?"
"Your classmates are not paid employees, and your class is not a commercial company nor a police state. People acting out of a sense of duty will always work more efficiently than people ordered to do something."
"I'm afraid you do not have the data to back that up, class rep. If you want a summary of what classes ended up running up against the deadlines most often, I'll be more than happy to procure one for you."
"It's good to hear that you've managed your schedule so well that you can afford to take part in these kinds of petty games."
"My schedule is not the problem right now. Yours is. There are still absence summaries, score charts and rosters to cover. I presume you'll be responsible and fill them all in a few hours before leaving instead of delegating them to your successor?"
"I have reserved the last two days of my stay here for those tasks, so I am sure to have all the latest data. The time I'll be taking is about twice as much as I predict will be needed, so I will be able to take care of the paperwork even if distractions are to be present."
"I need to go take a bathroom break, I'll be back in a few minutes."
It seems Misha has finally had enough of being a vessel to our argument, and I hear her walk briskly towards the exit of the room. I slump my shoulders dejectedly. It's silly, I'm about to leave this school permanently, and Shizune and I are still going at it as if nothing has changed.
Misha walking out on us has now left Shizune and me simply standing there, our argument cut off, unable to get through to the other to either continue the fight or simply get back to business. I'm not sure about Shizune, but I'm feeling rather embarrassed right now.
We probably had this coming.
I don't think there's much left to discuss anyway. I've already said what needed to be said and the rest was just both of us trying to gain the advantage over the other. I don't like the idea of simply turning my back on Shizune and walking away, but our communicative means are severally limited right now, so I simply bow in her direction, wait a few seconds to give her an opportunity to return the favor and then turn to leave. As I take out my cane, I hear her footsteps walking towards the door, followed by the sound of the door opening. I think that's her way of acknowledging my gesture, so I give a quick nod in her direction and leave the council room.
This is one thing I won't miss about this place.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:41 am
I deliver a quick nod as the president and editor-in-chief of the newspaper club comes barging into the computer room.
Ever since I joined the club as a permanent member, Naomi insisted I'd be on first-name basis with the other members, though I'm still having a hard time getting used to that. It's easier with Naomi, though, since my tasks usually require regular input from her, and the fact that she's my neighbor in class also doesn't hurt. We're familiar enough with one another nowadays for me to occasionally talk to her in class and do the occasional assignment with her and Natsume. One thing that's usually an advantage is that there are hardly any silences, uncomfortable or otherwise, around her. I suppose we could be called semi-friends now, though our contact is a lot more casual than my bond with Hisao and Lilly, and I still have trouble dealing with her occasionally hyperactive moods and bouts of distraction from time to time.
"Hey, how's page four coming along?"
"Cool. Get me a print-out when it's finished. I can't wait to check it out."
I don't think she's here just to ask about one of the pages. Either she's bored, which usually causes her to start chattering up whoever happens to be nearby, or there's more she wants to discuss.
"Oh hey, about your article. I read it through just before the weekend."
"I like it. I took a lot of rewording, didn't it? I mean, that text doesn't look like stuff Mutou would say."
"He gets a b-bit technical at times. I tried to make it easier to understand. I had to trim a lot though."
"I could get you some more space if you can use it."
She sits on my desk and tosses me a wink.
"I've been thinking. Maybe instead of making it a short article, we could turn it into a column. A permanent one. Or semi-permanent until we got a few test runs. We could put it on the columns page, or let it sit on page five. Each issue would cover a different club here at school. The idea would be to give a short overview of each club written in a way to encourage casual readers to check it out. Like you've been doing."
Looks like Naomi's been thinking about this a lot more than I have. All I wanted was to do a little piece on Hisao's club and hopefully get him a new member or two as a little 'I love you'-gesture towards him. Naomi's ambitions, however, seem to reach further.
"In fact, seeing that we'd be benefitting the school by actively encouraging club membership, that'd give me a lot of extra clout to get our budget raised when the time comes to negotiate with the student council about club budgets again."
Quite a bit further.
"In fact, I bet if we offer to cover the student council itself in there, Queen Hakamichi might throw in a personal bonus. I know she'd certainly welcome extra membership."
Naomi scratches her cheek, chuckles and sends me a clownish grin.
"The question remains of course whether the extra membership would welcome HER. If you can write something up that gets Hakamichi additional personnel, I'll personally nominate you for a Pulitzer."
"Of course, I'm not really in a position to nominate people for that."
Slow down a bit.
"And even if I was, isn't that prize US-exclusive?"
"Err… Where was I?"
"Ummm… M-me writing something up?"
"Right. Seeing that this started with your initiative, it's fair to ask you first if you're interested in being the one in charge of writing it up every issue. I mean, you're a pretty good text writer, I've seen that much in class already. It's a shame if all you do here is data entry and fiddling with the layout. It's also good if the one writing it is always the same person, so the writing style remains consistent."
"You liked writing that piece. Why not do more with it?"
"Not overly enthusiastic, I see."
"…It's not that…"
Naomi gets off the desk, pulls a chair over, turns it around and sits down on it, her elbows resting on the back rest.
"You've been kinda gloomy lately. Well, it's not like you haven't had gloomy periods before, but… This is about Satou, isn't it? Isn't she going away tomorrow?"
"Y-yes. Tomorrow evening…"
Naomi lets out a sad sigh.
"Sometimes you just wish you could freeze time, don't you? Just… keep the good times in your life from ending."
"In the upcoming half year, I bet a lot of third year students will be thinking that as graduation approaches. With you, it just comes around a little earlier."
"Well, I don't think after school, I'll have time to play newspaper anymore, that's for sure. Pity too."
That's new to me. I always assumed Naomi was going to go into journalism. If anybody was into the subject, it'd be her.
"Y-you're not going to b-become a journalist?"
"Dunno. Maybe. It might not work. The loose wiring upstairs might cause problems."
Her epilepsy? I admit her case is a pretty severe one, but…
"The episodes itself are one thing. I've heard it's pretty freaky for others. Me, I just go out like a light and wake up feeling like crap for a while without remembering what happened. But it comes with restrictions."
"You know, don't sit in front of a screen for too long, don't get your driver's license, live your life as regularly as possible, no all-nighters… That sort of thing. Going professional… may not work out very well."
Every student has a history. I've just learned part of one more. I wish the situation was different for me right now. With enough on my mind as it is, I really don't know what to say to her. Listening is something I can do well. Comforting is a whole different matter.
"You know, I hope at least you get to enjoy your little party tonight?"
"Y-you know… about… that?"
"Yeah, your boyfriend said you two were going shopping for that after you're done here. He's waiting for you at the school gate. I couldn't let him in to tell you in person, 'cause I was afraid he'd spot your article lying on my desk."
Why didn't you tell me until now?
She looks pensive for a moment and suddenly snaps her fingers, causing me to flinch.
"Oh right, that's why I came in here. To tell you that. *giggle* I guess I got a little sidetracked, huh?"
OH, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!
"Couldn't get away from Naomi, could you?"
Hisao seems amused by my tardiness and the fact I'm clearly winded from my mad dash to the gates. After handing me one of the two shopping bags he's carrying, he bends forward and gives me a quick peck on the cheek while I'm busy catching my breath.
"She… forgot… for a while."
Hisao nods. He doesn't interact with Naomi much, but has heard several stories from me over the last few weeks.
"We'd better get going quickly if we want to finish everything in time."
We leave the school grounds and walk down the road to town. Despite the fact that it's summer, the sky is a bit dark and about as gloomy as my mood. I'd be surprised if we make it through the evening without a major downpour.
"S-sorry, what were you saying?"
"I was asking if we should get an additional bag of sweets. She seemed to like that brand last time, and we went through it pretty quickly."
"If you think so."
"Maybe we should take some time off after this week."
"You've been gloomy all week, and frankly I'm been getting a bit worried."
He's worried about me. Almost seems like old times…
No, I shouldn't think like that.
"You know I'm here for you if you need me, right? If you want to talk about something…"
Part of me wants to share the anxiety I've been feeling with Hisao. If I can't even trust him with it, who can I trust? But I'm also afraid he'll just tell me I'm imagining things.
"Erm… Hisao. Do you think the time I spent with Lilly lately was… a good idea?"
"I think so. Why do you ask? Do you regret all those activities? I thought you had a good time yourself."
"I did enjoy them. It's just… they… didn't really… help things."
"Well, if you look at pure end results, they didn't do anything to change Lilly's mind, but we'll never know what the odds of that happening were to begin with. Regardless of that, at least you and Lilly made some wonderful memories together, didn't you? I mean, isn't that kinda the key to enjoying life? Making fond memories because you know nothing lasts truly forever?"
It's not really that.
"I suppose so…"
He stops me and faces me. He looks at me for a moment and then gives me a gentle hug.
"I'm not gonna tell you to cheer up, because you have a good reason to feel down. I just hope you'll feel better soon."
I close my eyes for a few moments and let the feeling of his embrace sink in, providing some comfort.
"Parties are for celebrating something, right? B-but, is there really something to celebrate?"
"Her class will be throwing her a surprise party tomorrow. Kenji was complaining about it earlier. We can't really fall behind, can we?"
"We're supposed to be cheerful and smile. Even if we don't feel that way. It feels… fake. Like…"
"Like… many of my previous b-birthday celebrations. I'm… not very good at pretending."
"Maybe we shouldn't call it a party or a celebration then. It's just… one last opportunity to spend time together. You'd want to make the most out of an occasion such as that, wouldn't you?"
That makes me think for a bit. If I see it as just hanging out together… It's a silly game of words, but it worked with my birthday party.
"So, Hanako, do you think one bag of sweets is enough for an entire evening?"
"Ummm… We can probably get a second one just to be sure."
He ruffles my hair for a bit and is about to let go when he suddenly freezes.
"Did you just feel something?"
I look up towards the sky and sure enough a droplet lands on my nose causing me to back out of our embrace and rub it off.
"Oh great, just what we needed. And it's still nearly ten minutes to the store."
"Should we go back?"
"I'm not sure, it's also about ten minutes back to Yamaku and it'll be ten minutes uphill. And we still need to get goods from the store."
"But we might get trapped in town."
"If it continues to rain, we might be able to get an umbrella. Maybe Yuuko can lend us one if she's on duty in the Shanghai."
We continue our way down the road, our pace increased to a brisk walk. My hopes that we'll reach the store relatively dry shrink with every passing minute as the drizzle changes to rain and the rain then turns into a downpour.
"Damnit, we're gonna get soaked and spend the next few days with pneumonia if this keeps up. Hanako, do you think you can manage to sprint the last stretch?"
"S-sprint? That's irresponsible, Hisao. Your heart…"
"Look, I run nearly every morning, and I haven't had a single flutter. I can handle it. Now can you manage to run for a bit?"
Hisao nods and launches into a run that I try my hardest to keep up with. He's in much better shape than I am, that's for sure. Despite the fact Hisao once joked that I could probably outrun Emi Ibarazaki under the right circumstances, I'm not particularly athletic by anyone's standards, except maybe Lilly's. The head nurse was so kind as to spare me the horrors of having to walk in gym shorts and a shirt and have my stiff movement, caused by my scar tissue, laughed at and mocked by classmates, as was the case in middle school. As it is, the question isn't whether I'll fall behind but when.
I barely have enough breath to manage a reply.
"Y-yes. Don't mind me."
We're reaching the edge of town. Just another minute or two and we can take shelter.
I'm panting heavily and I'm betting that my clothes aren't just soaked with rain right now.
We're running as fast as we can, heads down, hand carrying the shopping bag raised in an attempt to shield ourselves from the ruthless elements. I look at Hisao who's running slightly ahead of me. He's looking back at me over his shoulder, probably about to ask if I'm alright and if I can manage for just a little longer. That's when I suddenly see a silhouette appear in front of him, approaching us at breakneck speed. My eyes grow large and I try to shout a warning.
I hear a crashing sound and a scream and instinctively shield my eyes for a second. When I open them again I see Hisao lying on the ground next to a fallen bicycle and another person, a man in his fifties from the look of it. Both are looking pained, the other man cradling his leg and Hisao clutching his chest.
The cyclist is probably a resident here, surprised by the weather and doing the same thing we were doing; trying to find shelter as quickly as he could.
Hisao's clutching his chest.
Hisao doesn't look like he's getting up. Did he get injured?
He's clutching his chest!
I hurry over to him and kneel at his side.
HE'S CLUTCHING HIS CHEST!
A single, desperate exclamation escapes my mouth as I realize what's happening to Hisao, and with that realization comes a sharp pain in my own chest as if one of my ribs just snapped and punctured my heart.
This can't be happening!
Hisao's breathing is strained. I want to help him, but I'm completely lost at what to do.
He's going to die!
He raises his head for a moment and looks up at me. I want to reach out to him, but my body won't obey… Its only reaction a frantic trembling.
Why can't I move? Somebody help him! Please!
His eyes close again. The pain in my chest grows so intense that tears are forced out of my eyes, joining the raindrops on my cheeks.
Am I having a heart attack as well?
"Young lady, is your friend alright? I'm sorry I didn't see you two in time. I was in a hurry. That blasted rain."
He's dying. I'm losing him. Like I'm losing Lilly.
I'm overcome by an intense sensation of fear, like ten years ago when Mother scrambled in front of me, and we screamed as the flames got to us.
Like I lost Father. And Mother.
I'm breathing in and out like crazy, yet it feels like all oxygen has suddenly vanished from the air.
"Young lady, your friend looks like he's hurt."
Like I lost everyone.
I feel like I'm suffocating. With each fruitless gasp for breath I'm getting more and more terrified.
Stop! Make this stop! Help me!
"Young lady, I think we should call an ambulance."
I still can't move. I can't breathe, but I can't faint either as if some twisted deity has decided it's more amusing to keep me fully aware as the love of my life is dying in front of me and is keeping me conscious for the sheer cruel fun of it.
I can't breathe.
"Young lady, can you hear me?"
Why can't I breathe?
LET ME BREATHE!
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:41 am
Where am I?
My dorm? My bedroom at home?
My eyelids are unusually heavy and random thoughts zoom by like a passing train. When I manage to open my eyes for a moment, all I can see is a white blur. The only sound I hear is a regular high-pitched sound.
I try to focus my thoughts, but for some reason they keep whirling around in my head.
Did I hit my head or something? What's wrong with me?
I try to force my eyelids open again. This time I see a few silhouettes (two? three?) against the white background. I hear voices, but I can't focus enough to make out the conversation beyond a few loose words.
"…stable…narcosis…worn off yet…rest…tomorrow…"
What's going on?
Despite my best efforts, I can feel myself sinking back into a black hole, the voices dying down to an incomprehensible murmur.
When I open my eyes again, my vision is still blurry, but my mind is clearer than it was before. I rub my eyes, and as my vision starts to focus I notice I'm staring at a white ceiling, one I haven't seen before yet is still disturbingly familiar. As I try to rise, a painful sensation wells up in my chest. I bring my hand to my chest only to find something stuck to it.
"Please don't touch the bandage, Mister Nakai. It'll still take some time for the wound to heal. Let me help you sit upright."
I hear a click and the head of the bed I'm lying in slowly tilts upwards, allowing me to see more of the room I'm in. The room is clean and rather empty, almost artificially so. An EKG monitor next to me emits a steady stream of beeping sounds, and I see an IV-tube leading from a bag containing clear liquid to my arm. The owner of the voice is a middle-aged man in a white coat standing in front of me.
A hospital. Probably the hospital near Yamaku as the landscape outside the window has a familiar look. I'm in a hospital room.
"I see you're awake, Mister Nakai. How are you feeling?"
I open my mouth to reply, but my mouth is too dry to speak clearly and a feeling of nausea boils up, forcing me to close my eyes until it passes. I swallow a few times, open my eyes and make attempt number two.
"What happened to me?"
"You had another episode, Mister Nakai. You had an accident yesterday afternoon. A collision with a cyclist triggered your condition. You were brought here and taken to the operating room soon after."
"I… had another surgery?"
"We performed a keyhole surgery to get an accurate assessment of your condition, but we want to wait a bit and see if you remain stable without any drastic procedures. We're keeping you under close observation and under increased medication for the next few days. If we run into complications while you're here, we'll operate later this week. If no further irregularities take place, we can probably let you go this weekend. So let's hope your luck holds out."
Is this guy joking?
"I can't say I'm feeling particularly lucky right now. I've been working out nearly every morning to avoid something like this. I haven't forgotten my medication for a single day. And despite everything, one moment of bad luck makes me end up here again. If that isn't depressing, I don't know what is."
"I wouldn't call those efforts a waste of time, Mister Nakai. All circumstances concerned, things could have ended a lot worse. If you remain stable, you'll be able to pick up your life again before the week is over."
As the doctor speaks, I try to recollect what happened. He said the accident took place yesterday, so it's Tuesday right now, seemingly afternoon from the look of the sky outside.
It was pouring really hard.
"Of course, you'll have to take it a little easier than usual for a while after you get back."
We were running as fast as we could, keeping our head down against the rain.
"We've been keeping in close contact with Yamaku's head nurse. He'll take over when you leave here."
I was looking over my shoulder.
"Your parents were here earlier, though you were probably still too much under the influence of the anesthetics to have heard them."
Then something hit me and knocked me over.
"They said they'd visit again later this week."
I was lying on the asphalt, my chest hurting, my heartbeat out of control.
"We want you to get plenty of rest for now. You might be ready to receive visitors tomorrow if all goes well."
I must have lost consciousness at some point. The last thing I remember seeing before blacking out…
"You might experience some side-effects from the medication we're giving you."
…was Hanako's terrified face.
"Any further questions, Mister Nakai?"
"Ahem… Mister Nakai."
The sudden change in signal from the EKG monitor catches the attention from the doctor.
"Is something the matter, Mister Nakai?"
Today's Tuesday. Lilly's leaving Yamaku in a matter of hours. Hanako and I were out to buy things for her farewell party we scheduled for last night. What happened to Hanako? Is she alright? Where is she?
"This heart attack came at a very inopportune moment."
The doctor chuckles.
"I hear that more often around here."
"Doctor, can you tell me if someone was brought in together with me? A girl with long dark hair?"
"I'm afraid I don't know. I wasn't present when the ambulance brought you in."
"Has someone been here for me other than my parents?"
"No, I can say that much with certainty. I could check with the ambulance staff for you."
As the doctor walks out, my thoughts dwell on Hanako again. I'm a little taken aback by the fact that nobody has heard from her. Ever since we started dating, she's been completely devoted to me, and I would have half-expected her to be sitting at my bed when I woke up. And what about Lilly? Does she even know I'm here?
"It turns out you were correct."
The doctor returns, only a few minutes after he left.
"I'm afraid I don't know the details, but there was indeed another person who was taken here together with you. She wasn't injured in any way, though the ambulance staff noted she was acting rather oddly. Eventually someone from Yamaku arrived to pick her up."
I appreciate the fact he took the time to check, but I wish he could be more specific about Hanako. 'Oddly' is a very vague term, and to some people even Hanako's usual behavior would probably qualify as odd. It doesn't really do much to relieve my anxiety. I take a look at the chair near the bed that holds my school uniform.
"Doctor, could you please hand me my cell phone? It should be in one of the pockets of my pants."
"I'm afraid the use of cell phones is prohibited in the building. They can interfere with some of the equipment we use. You can use the phone on your nightstand if you wish to make a call."
"I'll use that one then. Thank you doctor."
It's a good thing I know Hanako's and Lilly's number by heart. Hopefully, talking to Hanako will put me at ease. And if I can't get back to Yamaku before the weekend, I'll just have to say goodbye to Lilly this way. It's hardly ideal, but at least I can get a hold of her before her plane takes off.
I hope she'll pick up if she's called by a number she doesn't recognize.
I dial Hanako's number and anxiously wait for her to pick up. As far as I know, my condition is stable right now. While we both know from personal experience that that's hardly a guarantee, it at least gives me something to tell her, assuming she doesn't already know. And who was it who picked her up? The nurse?
Just when I'm about to give up and speak a message into Hanako's voicemail, I hear a small voice on the other end of the line… soft, hesitant and nervous. I've heard her talk like this only once or twice and that was when she was in a very bad place emotionally. This doesn't sound good.
"Hanako, it's me."
This is odd. I expected her to be relieved, but her voice actually sounds frightened. What's going on?
"I… just woke up. I'm at the hospital and had a keyhole surgery so they could check me up, but they don't want to operate if they don't have to. I'm stable right now. With luck I'll be able to leave here soon. I'm alright. Well, maybe not right now, but I'm gonna be. Promise."
Again, no relieved answer.
"…T-that's g-good… I'm h-happy f-for you, H-Hisao…"
"Hanako, can you tell me what happened yesterday? The whole thing's still a bit of a blur to me. I heard you came along with me in the ambulance. Were you alright? And who picked you up there?"
A lot of questions, I know. She probably had one hell of a scare yesterday. I just hope I can get her to talk about it. Get it out of her system.
Is it my imagination or is her breathing speeding up? She's not… crying, is she? Are things still too recent for her? Should I try to get her mind off things instead?
"I'm allowed to have visitors from tomorrow on if everything goes well. You know, I wouldn't mind having one of your home-made dishes. Beats the hospital food by a mile."
I hear a gasp on the other end of the line.
"You can't do what?"
"…I… can't… be… your… girlfriend… anymore…"
"…I'm… sorry, Hisao…"
I physically reel in shock upon hearing Hanako's announcement. When I lift the receiver to my ear again, the only thing I hear is the tone indicating the connection was broken off. I immediately press the recall button, but this time, I merely hear the beep of the voicemail. (Hanako never recorded a message) She must have turned off the phone.
This can't be real.
Did Hanako really just break up with me?
This is crazy.
Or is it?
Hanako lost both of her parents at young age. They died right in front of her. I wouldn't be surprised if she still has nightmares about that every now and then.
Yesterday, I also nearly died in front of her. I wouldn't be surprised if this thing had a greater impact on her than it had on most other people. And if yesterday taught me anything, it's that no matter how hard I try, I can't make any guarantees it won't happen again.
Can I expect Hanako to stay with someone who might rip her old wounds open again and again?
As my mind is still making somersaults in an attempt to digest this unexpected turn of events, my fingers are already pressing the buttons in order to call another number. I don't expect Lilly to be able to help, seeing that she's set to leave Yamaku in a matter of hours, but maybe she has some advice for me.
"Good afternoon. Lilly Satou speaking."
"Lilly, it's me."
"Hisao! Thank God. You and Hanako never showed up yesterday. I got worried and called the nurse's office, who said you had an accident. I've been worried sick. What has happened?"
Lilly's familiar worrying tone is strangely reassuring right now. Although it also suggests she hasn't spoken to Hanako yet.
"The short version is: we went shopping for last night, got surprised by the rainstorm and collided with someone in our rush to reach the store. That shock triggered my arrhythmia, and I had to be taken to the hospital. I only woke up an hour ago. Hopefully I'll be allowed to leave before the weekend's over. Right now, I'm stable."
"You were shopping for my farewell party…"
"Don't be like that. It was just a stupid accident that could have taken place at any time. It's nobody's fault."
"Could you let Shizune and Misha know about this in case they don't already know? I get that you two don't get along, but I doubt Shizune will pick a fight with you under these circumstances."
"I will. Are you already allowed to have visitors at the hospital?"
"Not yet. Hopefully tomorrow. But that won't do you much good, will it?"
"I called Akira yesterday, and she's currently trying to postpone our departure. I… I really don't feel comfortable leaving with things as they are now. I hope to hear soon if she has succeeded."
"That's good. I could really use your advice right now."
"Have you spoken with Hanako since yesterday afternoon?"
"I have not. It's possible I heard her bedroom door last night, but it was already very late. Her door has been locked ever since. If she's in there, she's not responding to knocks."
"So you have no idea what's wrong with her either?"
"I just got off the phone with her. She acted… shell-shocked. She… She said she couldn't be with me anymore."
"W-what? What does that mean?"
"Lilly… I think Hanako just broke up with me."
Lilly's exclamation of disbelief barely reaches above the level of a whisper. I don't think I've ever heard the usually calm Lilly so thoroughly unsettled before.
"H-Hisao, why would she do that?"
"Only she would know for sure, but I suspect that me having a heart attack right in front of her hit her very hard. She already lost both of her parents. Being faced with the loss of yet another person who was important to her…"
"But… she loved you dearly. I can't believe she would just give that up. Maybe… Maybe I can get her to talk to you. "
"I doubt it's gonna be that easy."
"Maybe she merely said this in the spur of the moment. Perhaps I'll be able to get through to her. I have to try."
Neither of us feeling really up to the usual ritual of small talk, we hang up and my thoughts once again dwell on Hanako.
"I can't be your girlfriend anymore."
What does that mean?
Not: 'I don't want to', but 'I can't'.
It really feels like she feels compelled by the circumstances. It might not be a spur of the moment as Lilly suggested.
This had quite an impact on Lilly as well. She didn't sound as calm and in control as she usually does.
I can't blame her though. She's scheduled to leave Yamaku this evening. If Akira is unable to cancel the trip, Lily will be leaving Japan in the middle of a big mess. Knowing her motherly nature, that'll seriously burden her.
I feel so powerless. I should be there at Yamaku confronting Hanako. Comforting her. Instead, I'm being trapped in here for at least several more days.
I slam my fist hard onto the side of the bed. The increased frequency of beeps from my heart monitor draws my attention.
I'm getting too worked up right now. I'm stuck here, and nothing I can do will change that.
The best thing I can do is focus on my recovery right now. If I stay on edge all the time, the doctors may decide to keep me here longer. If the upcoming weekend is the earliest time I can leave here then that's what I should aim for.
I'll just ask for some sleeping pills or something to get more rest.
The evening and the rest of the next day are completely uneventful, so I just try to get as much rest as I can. Having just finished my evening meal, I lie back and close my eyes.
It's been a day since I've called Hanako and Lilly, and I haven't heard a reply from either.
Is Lilly still in Japan, or is she flying to Scotland right now?
Dozing off a bit, I can vaguely hear a sound approaching me. I'm not sure if it's my imagination or not. A doctor wouldn't walk with such loud pronounced steps. Suddenly I feel something on my face. I open my eyes, but there's still nothing but darkness.
"Guess who, Hicchan!"
"Misha, what are you doing in my dream?"
"Wahaha~, it isn't a dream! I'm right here!"
The hands covering my face are pulled back, and my eyes fall upon a head full of pink hair and a brown shirt with 'Bush Cheney 2004' on the front hovering over me and blocking pretty much my entire view.
"Hey there, Hicchan! How are you feeling?"
"Slightly better than yesterday. Are you here on your own?"
"No. I brought company."
She moves to the side a bit, and I'm surprised to see not just Shizune entering the doorway, but Lilly as well, her hand resting on Shizune's shoulder for navigation. So it seems Akira managed to extend their stay in Japan after all. Shizune has an irritated expression on her face, Lilly's pace obviously far too slow for her liking, but she doesn't pull away. It's an interesting sight, seeing that Shizune and Lilly usually can't stand each other.
"Misha, did you walk on ahead?"
"Ahahaha. How did you know?"
I merely roll my eyes and focus on Shizune who has reached my bed as well and gives me curt nod as a greeting, the modest smile on her face indicating she's happy to see me.
"Good to see you, Hicchan. You certainly gave us a scare."
"Nice to see you too, Shizune. And thanks for dropping by."
"Not a problem. We made sure to bring you a few things you may appreciate during your stay here."
Shizune gestures to Misha who grabs the bag lying at her feet and drops it on the bed. Inside are my own pajamas, toothbrush and several books I got from the library last week.
I guess it would appear ungrateful to ask Shizune how the heck they managed to get into my room.
"Thanks guys. This'll make the rest of my time a lot easier to sit out."
I then notice a small envelope near the bottom of the bag. There's no post mark or stamp on it; only my own name written with what appeared to be shoddy or shaky handwriting. Curiously, I look at Shizune.
"What's in the envelope?"
"I don't know. We found it in the student council's mailbox. We don't know who left it there."
Intrigued, I open the envelope, but when I feel what's inside I feel my blood curdle, and both Misha and Lilly cringe when the beeping of my EKG monitor suddenly spikes.
"H-Hicchan, what's in there?"
I take the object from the envelope and carefully hold it in the palm of my hand.
"I-it's Hanako's hairclip. I… I gave it to her when we started dating."
That revelation is enough to kill the atmosphere in the room on the spot. For a moment, everyone merely stares at the floor, unsure of what to say. Shizune is the first one to recollect herself, and she starts signing, giving Misha a gentle shove in order to shake her out of the dazed state she was just in before repeating herself.
"R-right. Umm…Hicchan. We went to the nurse's office today to see if we could find out some more for you, and um… Do you remember that incident in science class some time ago?"
I do. Hanako, Shizune, Misha and I were working on an assignment together when Shizune and Misha started grilling me for information about my activities during the weekend and made me reveal Lilly and I were buying something for Hanako's upcoming birthday. That triggered a panic attack with Hanako, and although we were able to get her out of the class with a minimum of attention from the rest, the whole experience was very unsettling.
"How could I forget about that?"
"It seems something similar happened on Monday. It was… pretty bad, apparently. That's all the nurse would tell us, and he only told us because we said it was for your sake."
So things are even worse than I thought. My accident two days ago didn't just give Hanako a scare, it gave her a panic attack. Was that what the doctor was talking about when he said she was behaving strangely? This at least explains why she sounded the way she did when I phoned her. It was very much like the last time Lilly and I visited her shortly after that occurrence in class. I turn to Lilly, who has been standing some distance away from the bed the whole time and who has been strangely quiet during my interaction with the student council duo.
"So, Lilly, I suppose this means you weren't able to talk to Hanako after all."
Lilly doesn't immediately respond, and I notice how Shizune and Misha both give her an uncomfortable look. Lilly, in turn, turns her head in Misha and Shizune's direction and shoots them a pleading look back. After fiddling with her glasses for a second, Shizune nods and makes a flurry of gestures in Misha's direction.
"Ummm… Hicchan, I think we'll leave the two of you alone for a while. We'll be in the cafeteria downstairs. When you're done, you can give them a call and ask them to notify us."
Without waiting for a reply, Shizune and Misha get up, give me a quick nod and then walk out of my room with quick determined steps, leaving me alone in the room with Lilly. This looks rather ominous. Do they know something I don't?
"Err…you'd better sit down. There's a chair a few steps away from my bed on the right side."
Lilly takes out her cane and carefully approaches while waving it in front of her until she finds the chair I mentioned. As she walks towards me, I take a moment to look her over.
"You're… not looking so good."
I'm actually being polite. She's looking far worse than I've ever seen her before, and the only reason I didn't notice it sooner was because she was standing some distance away from the bed and Shizune and Misha were hogging my attention. Her posture is different than usual. I don't think I've seen her slump her shoulders before, but she certainly does now. When I look closer, I also notice bags under her eyes as if she's completely skipped sleep last night.
"Lilly, what's going on?"
"Hisao, I… did speak with Hanako yesterday."
Her voice sounds softer than usual, almost a whisper.
"Judging by the envelope she left, I don't get the impression it was a spur-of-the-moment thing."
Lilly sadly shakes her head.
"Why don't you start at the beginning?"
"After your phone call, I went over to her room. The door was locked of course and she didn't react to my knocking at first, but I kept trying and eventually she opened the door for me."
"She told me I shouldn't have visited her. She said she wanted to see me off with a smile and she didn't want our last moments together to be like this. I told her that I asked Akira to postpone our departure, and with luck I could be here for her for a little while longer. I expected her to be happy or at least relieved, but she didn't react at all to this news."
"I asked if she wanted to go and visit you here together with me, just in case Akira would fail to move the departure date. I was pretty sure the doctors would have made an exception for us. But she wouldn't. She told me that she wasn't your girlfriend any longer. That she couldn't be your girlfriend any longer. I asked her why, but she wouldn't tell me. Then I asked her what happened the day before, but she wouldn't tell me that either. Instead, she asked me to leave."
Lilly sighs deeply.
"I…I should have left. But at that time I didn't. I couldn't. I kept reminding her of all the wonderful times you two had together. I kept trying to find out what caused her to act the way she did. I kept trying to convince her to go and see you. I thought… I thought if she would just go and see you, she'd change her mind. She kept telling me to leave her alone. I-I must have pressured her too much, because suddenly she… she…"
Lilly swallows, and for a moment I think she's going to break down. Then she continues, her pain evident in every word she says.
"She… lashed out at me. She screamed at me to leave her alone. She said I was only here to make myself feel better. I said I was here because I wanted to support her. Because she is my best friend. Then she snapped that I had never been interested in her as a friend. That I had only been interested in fixing her. That she was nothing but a project to me. And then she told me to go away… and to never come back. I… I was terrified of her at that moment. I turned around and fled the room. I haven't been back since. I don't think I could even if the door wasn't locked."
Unable to keep her emotions in check any longer Lilly stands up and holds her face in her hands before bursting into tears.
"I'm sorry, Hisao…I-I've messed up everything."
I can barely believe what I'm hearing. Hanako screaming at someone else, at Lilly of all people, is almost impossible for me to imagine. She's such a meek and subdued girl she usually has trouble even raising her voice. But the sight of the sobbing Lilly in front of me leaves me very little doubt that this is what has happened.
I sit upright, gently wrap my arms around her and hold her as she cries, her carefully crafted lady exterior completely shattered.
"I-I could hear her last night, Hisao. I… I could hear her cry on the other side of the wall. And I couldn't do anything to help her."
"We'll find a way, Lilly."
At least, I hope so. I'm not so sure myself. Are there any other ways to approach Hanako now that she's pushed both me and Lilly away? Is this really how our little family was meant to end? Is this how our relationship was meant to end? Was the whole thing doomed from the start? Were things never meant to last beyond my first episode?
Lilly sniffles, obviously not convinced.
"I…I disappointed you, didn't I Hisao?"
"Don't be so hard on yourself."
Truth be told, I wouldn’t have expected Lilly's attempt to talk Hanako out of her depression to backfire like this. For as long as I've known her, Lilly has always been a steady pillar of support for both Hanako and me. Whenever I was lost at what to do, Lilly would always nudge me in the right direction in that calm, confident and motherly manner of hers. But that was before this whole Scotland business reared its head. I had no doubt this thing has been on her mind constantly. Did her own worries throw off her judgment? That seems to be the case.
"I-I feel I failed both of you."
"You've always been there to support us, Lilly. And you've been doing a great job. But you're only human."
Her flood of tears slowly subsiding, Lilly lets go of me and sits down again next to my bed, taking out a fancy embroidered handkerchief to dry her tears.
"I probably shouldn't have pressured her the way I did."
"The last time Hanako locked herself away, I was the one who was dying to drag her out and you were the one who told me it was probably best to back down and let Hanako sort things out on her own. That advice might very well have prevented our relationship from failing before it even started. So I can't help but feel there's some irony in the way things played out. It seems… a little unlike you."
Lilly gives me a tired smile, obviously aware of what I just pointed out.
"I'm used to pacing my life in such a way that I can always carefully consider the situation before acting. It's how I've always done things. I'm afraid I function very badly under pressure. I admit I have acted rashly. It's just that I… At the time I didn't even know if Akira would succeed in extending our stay here. I thought that maybe I only had a few hours left here before I'd be forced to leave, and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving the two of you in the middle of a situation I share some responsibility for myself. I would have felt like abandoning you."
"Just because we were on our way to buy stuff for your seeing-off party doesn't mean you are responsible for what happened."
"That's not what troubled me. Hisao, what do you think triggered Hanako's panic attack this Monday?"
"The most realistic assumption I can come up with is probably the prospect of losing one more person dear to her."
"One more person? Or perhaps two more?"
I take a moment to consider Lilly's suggestion. When I had my heart attack in front of Hanako, she was already busy grappling with the fact she was about to lose Lilly. I have to admit the theory of Lilly's rapidly approaching departure playing at least a role in this sounds very plausible.
"And unlike your heart attack, me going away has been a conscious choice on my part. But I’ve never meant to hurt her, Hisao. I’ve never meant to hurt anyone."
"Hey, nobody could have predicted this."
She sadly shakes her head.
"In the end, I felt responsible for this situation and felt it as my duty to help sort it out. There may be some truth in Hanako's point about my actions merely serving to ease my own conscience."
"That may be so, but I think I would have acted exactly the same in your situation. And I'm willing to bet all my limbs on it that the same is true for Hanako."
We stay quiet for a long time, neither of us really knowing what more to say. Eventually, I see a doctor passing by in the hallway, looking into my room and checking his watch.
"Apparently the staff here thinks you're wearing out your welcome. Hopefully you can come back some time tomorrow."
I take the receiver from the phone on my nightstand, call the cafeteria's number and ask them to call a girl with crazy pink drill hair and a girl with glasses using sign language and direct them to my room. As I finish, I notice Lilly has sought out the sink near one corner of the room and is busy washing the tears off her face and tidying herself up as best as she can. I cannot help but chuckle. Even under these circumstances, Lilly still won't be caught dead facing Shizune looking anything less than a hundred percent presentable. Some things will probably never change.
"Lilly, you should probably try to get a good night's rest."
"You too, Hisao. I will make an effort on my part, although I cannot guarantee anything."
"You can use my dorm room for tonight if you like. The keys are still in the pockets of my uniform."
Lilly considers it for a moment, but then adamantly shakes her head.
"It'd at least eliminate the temptation of listening in on Hanako."
For a moment, Lilly's depressed mood vanishes as she flashes me a playful grin.
"I appreciate the gesture Hisao, but only one girl in the world has any business sneaking into that dorm room of yours and sleeping in your bed."
She firmly taps the floor ahead of her with her cane as if to further emphasize her point.
"And that girl is Hanako."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:42 am
Upon finishing the last page of the book I've been reading since morning, I close it with a decisive snap. I'm thankful to Shizune and Misha for bringing along my books. Time passes a lot more quickly while I'm absorbed in one of them. With luck, I'll be allowed to leave the hospital tomorrow around noon. My heart, after the initial episode four days ago, has decided to abstain from causing me further trouble, though that seems like a small comfort.
Yesterday was pretty eventful with my parents dropping by at noon and Lilly, Shizune, Misha and Akira visiting in the evening. For some time, it seemed like nothing was out of the ordinary, with Akira playfully mentioning how interesting it was to see Lilly and Shizune made peace with one another, to which Shizune replied that ‘striking a wounded adversary’ was simply against her moral code; a provocation which Lilly then used to refute Akira's suggestion. Both eventually got upset at my observation that the two of them were really too proud for their own good sometimes, a remark that amused Misha and Akira to no end. After Lilly and I were left alone again though, it quickly became clear she had simply been doing her best to keep up appearances, a trait of hers that both tends to impress and unnerve me.
It turned out that not much had changed. Lilly was still in a very depressed mood although she took my word for it when I assured her that Hanako hadn't been secretly resenting her all along as she had come to believe over the last two days. I also learned that Akira has only been able to postpone their departure to Scotland for one week, and she won’t be able to hold things off any longer.
In addition to the rift between Hanako and Lilly, I also have my own relation with Hanako to worry about.
Can our relationship still be mended? Is it fair to expect her to deal with events like last Monday after all she's been through already?
If that's not possible, can we still be friends? We've been through many highs and lows together. Would ordinary friendship even be possible? I don't want her to be just a friend to me.
Is she going to avoid me from now on? It seems an impossible task, seeing that we're in the same class, but Hanako has been keeping up a wall between herself and the rest of the class since she started attending here. She could pull it off if she wanted to.
Lilly, Shizune and Misha are probably going to visit again, but neither Lilly nor I have a clear idea on how to get through to Hanako.
As I mull over these things, I notice a familiar figure slowly walking through the hallway. She stops near the door and looks to be in deep thought for a moment.
"Lilly? Hey, Lilly!"
Having picked up my voice, Lilly turns in my direction for a moment to acknowledge my greeting and then turns around to talk to someone who was apparently standing behind her. After a few seconds, she turns back to me and carefully navigates herself to my bed.
"Are you here all on your own? Aren't Shizune and Misha with you?"
Lilly shakes her head as she retracts her cane, sits down in the chair near my bed and puts it into her bag. As she does so, I notice something else in there; the plush puppy Hanako gave her. Has she been carrying that thing around with her all week?
"Not this time. I started feeling bad to make them accompany me and then sit most of the time in the cafeteria while we talk here, so I decided to come alone this time."
"So the person you were talking to was a nurse you asked for directions?"
Lilly smiles proudly.
"Not quite. It was a staff member from Yamaku who came up to me and offered me a ride here while I was waiting for the bus. Upon getting here, we made a little bet to see if I could find your room myself without any assistance."
"Wow, you made your way here just from memory? Your sense of direction is a lot better than mine, that's for sure."
"The last hallway threw me off a bit. I might have lost if you hadn't called out to me. Thanks to you, I was able to earn us both a free drink. Apparently they sell some good tea down here."
"I don't think the doctors will be thrilled with me drinking caffeine right now."
"I feared that as well, Mister Nakai, so I bought you some fresh orange juice instead. It's the healthiest drink they had."
When I look up to greet Lilly's mysterious benefactor, I notice a familiar face. It's been a while since I've last seen her, but the old lady walking into the room carrying a tray with three drinks on it is wearing the same violet shawl and black skirt as she was when the nurse took me to see her on that day Lilly and Akira arrived back in Japan.
"Good evening, Mister Nakai. It grieves me that we meet again under such trying circumstances, but I'm nevertheless most pleased to see you again."
Ever the polite one, she makes a bow and places the tray on my nightstand before putting one of the tea cups into Lilly's outstretched hands and making another bow. She then does the same with my cup of juice.
Lilly, recognizing the old lady's gesture as a make-shift tea party, makes a bow of her own with an appreciative smile on her face.
"Thank you for the trouble."
I'm still trying to wrap my head around the old lady's sudden appearance. Is she here with news from Hanako?
"I suppose your visit here is not a coincidence?"
The old lady takes another careful sip before responding.
"Yes and no. It was a coincidence I saw Miss Satou on my way home sitting there at the bus stop and deciding she was looking so troubled that the least thing I could do was give her a ride. But then I decided that since I was here anyway, I might as well drop by and see how you are faring."
Lilly turns to me with a curious expression on her face.
"I take it you have met this person before?"
"Only once. Miss Takawa is Hanako's therapist."
That news certainly surprises Lilly, for her hands shake for a moment, and she nearly drops her cup. Looks like Miss Takawa doesn't have the habit of mentioning her patients in her introductions to others.
"Ah… Excuse me. I had no idea. I'm afraid Hanako never mentioned a name to me."
"That's alright. I usually tell my clients that therapy sessions are among the least interesting things to talk about with their friends."
In other words, she discourages the practice.
"I take it that you are aware of what has happened to Hanako and me this Monday?"
"That's correct. The head nurse notified me as soon as he received the news."
"Would you also happen to be the person who picked her up after the ambulance brought her here?"
"Yes, that was me. Miss Ikezawa was still in shock when she arrived here, and I decided that a hospital bed was not an ideal place for her to calm down, so I took her to my office and let her rest there until we heard the news that your condition had stabilized at which point I took her back to her dorm room."
"Have you spoken to her since then?"
"I'm afraid I haven't. I informed her that I could supply her with a sleeping pill or anti-depressant for the night if she wanted one and that I'd be available if she wanted to talk, but she hasn't made use of those offers so far."
"Didn't you place her… you know… under supervision?"
The old lady sighs.
"Yamaku is not a mental hospital, Mister Nakai. We can do very little without a client's explicit consent. I can only make exceptions if I have determined that a client is prone to suicidal tendencies."
"So at least Hanako does not have those. Thank goodness."
"Indeed, or I highly doubt any of us would have even had the opportunity to make her acquaintance in the first place."
That's a pretty morbid thing to say. Both Lilly and I shudder at the same time.
"Miss Takawa, we're not really sure what happened to Hanako. Can you tell me what a panic attack is like? Hanako had one last Monday, didn't she?"
Miss Takawa looks lost in thought for a second.
"Yes, the most severe one since she enrolled here. And it lasted for quite some time too. I can only assume your accident stirred some extremely ugly memories inside her. I cannot speak from personal experience regarding what it's like. The people who've had one themselves described it to me as the most frightening experience of their life. Some compared it to a heart attack of some kind. Chest pain, difficulty breathing, flashing vision and sometimes the sensation of dying. I think, Mister Nakai, you may be one of the few people in school who can somewhat relate to what Miss Ikezawa must have been going through. Try to recall your own experience, except more prolonged and without passing out."
I let out a dejected sigh.
"That bad? No wonder she broke up with me."
The old woman raises a curious eyebrow at that news, but doesn't seem overly shocked.
"Did she break up with you?"
"…I phoned her last Tuesday and she said she couldn't be my girlfriend anymore. Then she hung up. But she seems to be serious about it."
"I see. And how about you, Mister Nakai? Are you planning to break up with her?"
"Because if you're not, you could perhaps try to change her mind."
"What am I supposed to say? Ask someone who lost her parents in such a tragic manner to put up with someone who might die on her at any moment?"
"Why not? She has known about your condition all along, hasn't she? And it hasn't stopped her from pursuing a relationship with you before. You could remind her that you're still here. Nothing permanent was lost."
"Nothing except all the progress she has made since we met. Before that heart attack ruined things, she was organizing stuff, joining a club, going on dates, trying new things… and now she seems to be back to hiding away in her room and avoiding everyone and everything. If she had been with someone who wasn't suffering from this condition, maybe she could have…"
For a moment I'm startled by the sound of Miss Takawa loudly scraping her throat and setting down her tea cup with a loud CLING. As I look upon her face, I can tell she's glaring knives at me, though I'm not sure why.
"Maybe she could have a chance to recover fully is what you were going to say, Mister Nakai?"
"Did you really believe that a few months of dating you was all it would take for Miss Ikezawa's trauma to disappear just like that? Or a few months of dating anybody for that matter? Were you counting on that when you started going out with her? Do you even know why I'm treating her?"
Her voice is barely raised, yet I feel as if the sudden authoritive tone in her voice and her stern gaze are pinning me against a wall. She keeps up her gaze for a few more seconds, then softens her expression, takes another sip and reverts back to her grandmotherly tone.
"Perhaps I should explain a few things. What I'd like you to understand is that what happened last Monday had nothing to do with her self-confidence, which has indeed improved a bit lately. I've worked with war veterans who were usually strong and confident men, yet they too had breakdowns in situations where their post traumatic stress was triggered."
She pauses for a second, puts her cup on the tray and absentmindedly fiddles with her shawl for a bit.
"If you can manage to convince her to pick things up where you left off, you may find that much of the recent progress she has made has remained intact. It might take her a little while to sort things out, but she'll get back on her feet eventually. That's because I have found that Miss Ikezawa has a resilience that even many seemingly stronger people do not have."
I can attest to that. She's been through hell after the fire that scarred her, but she still managed to keep going. It's one of the things I admire about her.
"Finally, take note that emotional trauma takes a long time to recover from. It takes time, therapy and support. One cannot always judge this recovery process by short-term results as you've been doing. What's important is that progress is made in the long run. Many people who are recovering from trauma have relapses every now and again. It's not necessarily a problem as long as they eventually take more steps forward than backwards. It's important that you understand that about her, but it's equally important that Miss Ikezawa understands that about herself. I could help her with that, but it might good if you can remind her of that as well."
"Long-term thinking, huh?"
"That's right. Do not believe you have failed her and give up if something happens that causes her to temporarily regress. Some people can do well for years and then suddenly relapse unexpectedly. Just support her to the best of your ability until she can get back on her feet again. I do not wish to deny the good influence you've had on her, just don't look upon yourself as a miracle worker, or even as someone whose responsibility it is to assure her recovery."
"I haven't really been doing a great job supporting her this week."
"To the best of your ability may not be as much as you like, just like she may not always be able to support you as much as she likes. It's up to you two to decide whether you're willing to settle for the support you still CAN give each other. Does the fact she couldn't be by your side throughout this ordeal mean she cannot do anything for you anymore?"
"Of course not."
"She might feel the same. You could ask her."
"You think she didn't mean it when she said she didn't want to be my girlfriend anymore?"
"I recall you saying she said something different."
"It comes down to the same thing, doesn't it?"
"I don't believe it does, but that's up to you to find out for sure."
My gaze wanders between Lilly and Miss Takawa who both have an expectant expression on their face. Are they expecting me to take action right here and now? I take a deep breath.
"I guess I could reach out to her like you're suggesting."
I turn to the old lady who's doing her best to give me the most encouraging look she can muster.
"I don't suppose you have any helpful tips? You're the expert here."
"I'm afraid I have to disappoint you there. Relationship therapy isn't my field. The real expert in the room would be you, Mister Nakai."
"Certainly. When it comes to winning Miss Ikezawa's heart, you're the world's leading expert. You are aware of the fact that you are her first boyfriend, aren't you? I think you'll do fine. Just be as sincere to her as you were to me when you told me why you liked her so much."
"You still remember that?"
"I was hoping that you'd be able to remember it as well during the times when your relationship with her is being tested."
I remember it alright. And between then and now I've found several additional reasons to be attached to Hanako.
The problem isn't the fact I wouldn't like her anymore. The issue is the fact that I hurt her and scared her off even though it wasn't something I did on purpose.
But Miss Takawa has a point as well. Hanako knew of my heart condition all along and yet she allowed herself to get close to me.
I have to talk to her.
As I reach for the phone and pick up the receiver, Miss Takawa gets up from her chair.
"Would you like Miss Satou and me to excuse ourselves?"
"It's fine. I'm not really expecting her to pick up."
I dial Hanako's number and wait, my heart racing. One look at Lilly tells me she's probably as tense as I am. After hearing the tone several times, the short beep of her voicemail sounds. Looks like Hanako has her phone turned on, but simply won't pick up. That's fine though. I think I know what I want to say.
"…Hanako? It's me. I don't think that this is a situation either of us wants. I'm not angry with you. I… just want to pick up where we left off, if possible. I'll be back at Yamaku around noon tomorrow. If you could… wait for me at the gate to… welcome me back… that'd make me really happy. I hope to see you tomorrow. Bye…"
I hang up, still feeling apprehensive. No turning back now. The rest is up to Hanako. I can only hope she'll bother to listen to her voicemail. As my attention shifts back to my two visitors, I am greeted by two smiling faces.
"My, my… That certainly would have won me over if I were forty years younger."
"Hisao… I'm sure she'll be there tomorrow. I know she still loves you. Please try not to worry too much about this."
Looks like Lilly's maternal instincts are resurfacing. Somehow this is the most reassuring thing I've seen all week.
"If it is alright with you, I'll be taking my leave, Mister Nakai. I'm sure you'll need all the rest you can get. After that message you really can't afford the doctors to keep you here, now can you?"
"Thanks for the advice, Miss Takawa. I'm sure you'll find out soon whether things worked out or not."
"I'd appreciate it if you could keep me informed, Mister Nakai. If you manage to reconcile with Miss Ikezawa, I may have a small gift for her that I'd like to present to you - nothing serious, just something I just thought of."
"You're making me curious."
"All the more reason to try and sort things out as soon as you can, isn't it?"
Miss Takawa takes the tray, puts our empty cups on top of it and then turns to Lilly.
"Miss Satou, I can drop you off at school if you wish. It's only a small detour for me and visiting hours are probably about to end."
Lilly gets up, makes a polite bow at the old woman and smiles.
"May I have the pleasure of treating you to a cup of tea first, Miss Takawa?"
"I humbly accept. Please lead the way, Miss Satou."
As Lilly and Miss Takawa say their goodbyes and leave the room, I can't help but think that these two would probably get along pretty well.
Only thirty more minutes.
I pace around the hallway restlessly. After finishing breakfast this morning, the doctor came by, performed a few minor check-ups and informed me that we'd be having a short meeting in his office at twelve o' clock and that I was free to go back to Yamaku afterwards.
At least I don't need to stay here any longer.
I wonder if Hanako has even listened to my message.
Is she going to come out of her room today?
What the hell am I supposed to tell her?
I've packed my things, brushed my teeth, took a shower and checked the bus schedule at least five times.
Isn't this talk just a formality?
Why couldn't he just tell me what he needed to this morning and let me go back?
I turn around as I hear my name and rush over to the doctor as he emerges from his office.
"Come in, please."
I follow him into his office and sit down, but instead of giving me the expected ‘be careful in the future’-talk, the doctor merely stands there and checks his watch.
What is he waiting for?
"Excuse me, aren't we ready to begin yet?"
"You sound like you are in a hurry."
"I am. Very much."
"I'm afraid that you'll have to hold back for a while. If you exhaust yourself at this point, you may be in for another stay here."
"I was merely waiting for… Ah… Good morning."
I turn around and watch two more people enter the room.
I just sit there with my mouth open. I don't recall them saying they'd be here to pick me up when they visited two days ago.
"Hello, son. We're not late, are we?"
"No, you're just in time. I've only called in your son a minute ago."
"I apologize. We live rather far away from here."
My parents sit down next to me, and the doctor starts off with the predictable talk.
That collision could have ended a lot worse than it did. I was lucky an ambulance was nearby. Of course I am warned to be more careful in the future.
It turns out this hospital has a special arrangement with Yamaku. The ambulance personnel got instant access to my medical history by scanning in my student ID. Good thing I was carrying it and I was still wearing my school uniform.
At least I get praised by the doctor for keeping up with my medication and improving my physical condition. It's probably the reason I didn't need heavier surgery.
I'll have to take it easy for a little while, but I'll be allowed to start engaging in light exercise in a few days.
I'll be put on some additional medication for a while. The nurse has been informed and will take it from here on out.
My parents visited me shortly after my surgery, but I was still recovering from the narcosis at that time and wasn't even aware of their presence. They came by again two days ago. Apparently they talked to the doctor afterwards, and he timed this meeting so they could make it here.
I wish they had let me in on this.
"Take care, Mister Nakai. And good luck with school."
"Ah? Oh, thank you."
As we leave the doctor's office, my father addresses me.
"We were expecting you to be a little bit more pleasantly surprised. We had to get up pretty early to make it here in time."
"Sorry, I really do appreciate you coming here."
"You were so tired two days ago we haven't really been able to talk much."
I was partially pretending to be more tired than I really was. That may have been rude, but I was too distracted by the matter with Hanako to be very sociable with them, and I didn't want them to worry even more about me.
"Hopefully we can catch up a bit in the upcoming days. We barely know what's going on in your life anymore."
"Huh? I don't understand."
"We were planning to take you with us and let you rest at home for a few days."
"I'm sorry, Hisao. We had no idea one of your friends was going to move away in the upcoming days. You should have let us know."
"It's… okay, Mom."
We've arrived at the grounds of Yamaku and are now wandering along the path to the boys' dormitories.
"I was already surprised. At first you hated the idea of going here, and now you just couldn't wait to get back."
"I guess I found my place here, Dad."
"You sure did. What's in that plastic bag you're carrying with you?"
"Ah, nothing important."
As we reach the dorm entrance, we're greeted by an ear-shattering "HICCHAN! WELCOME BACK!" that could only originate from one person in Japan.
In front of the dorm are Shizune, Misha and Lilly. Shizune cheerfully makes a small saluting gesture, Misha excitedly jumps up and down and Lilly calmly stands next to them.
"Are these your friends, Hicchan?"
"Are these your parents, Hicchan?"
"Erm… Mom, Dad. These are indeed my friends. The person in the middle is Shizune Hakamichi, our class representative and student council president. The one on the right is Shiina Mikado, my neighbor in class. We usually just call her Misha. The girl on the left is Lilly Satou who attends the class next to ours and often shares lunch with me."
Shizune, Misha and Lilly make polite bows towards my parents, Lilly's slightly more graceful and Misha's slightly more energetic than the rest.
"I'm sorry, Hisao. I tried to get your neighbor Kenji to join us as well, but he seemed preoccupied and wouldn't come out of his room."
"That's okay, Lilly."
"Hey Hicchan. Maybe I missed something here, but… why isn't Hanako with you?"
The fake smile I have been wearing since we reached Yamaku is wiped off my face in an instant.
"I… haven't seen Hanako anywhere, Misha."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:42 am
As I sit on the ground, knees drawn up to my chin and my hat almost pushed over my eyes, that thought keeps returning to me over and over.
The period after Hisao made me his girlfriend has been the happiest time of my life. The person I was in love with loved me as well, and we started a relationship. We were both going through a difficult time and made a pledge to support each other in each other's times of need.
Due to my success in winning Hisao's heart, I started reconsidering my previously held belief that I was a useless person to others. I started believing I was only as useless to people as I allowed myself to be. I started making active efforts to become a better girlfriend to Hisao, a better best friend to Lilly and a better club member to Naomi and the others.
I started enjoying the small things in life. The girl-talk with Lilly, the brainstorming sessions over headlines and captions at the club, the tranquil days in Hokkaido and the occasional lovey-dovey exchanges with Hisao. Each of them brought a smile to my face when I recalled them before falling asleep in the evening.
My body, despite being scarred and disfigured, was still capable of making Hisao feel good. And despite part of my body being numb, he was able to return the favor as well.
I stopped trying to survive from day to day and started considering my options for the future. If only things could have stayed like this for a little while longer.
The person I considered my best friend announced she might be leaving the country and it seemed my efforts to sway her had the opposite effect. Then, last Monday, everything came crashing down. Once more, I became an emotional mess hiding away from the world.
Yesterday, a small glimmer of hope appeared. Hisao contacted me and wanted me to be there when he returned. To welcome him back. I took a sleeping pill that evening, the first one since Monday, in the hopes of getting rid of the bags under my eyes that accumulated this week. Maybe we'd be able to reconcile if we could just pretend nothing had happened for just a little while. But I messed up once more and disappointed him again, and now he was no doubt being welcomed by everyone else. Lilly, Shizune, Misha… maybe even Kenji. Everyone except me.
I wonder how long I can still stay here. There's no school right now, so the building is nearly deserted. Students are hanging out at their dorms, in the gardens or near the track. I don't think anyone will have much reason to hang out on the roof today, seeing that the sky is cloudy just like last Monday.
I wonder how long I should stay here.
Are people going to discover I'm not in my…
I tense as I hear a sound coming from the stairway. Someone is coming up to the roof.
I could hide near the far corner that's not visible from the doorway. But that's not much use if someone wants to hang out here. I wonder who it could be.
A teacher maybe?
Emi Ibarazaki? Hisao said she likes to eat on the roof sometimes. That'd be bad. She's on pretty good terms with Hisao since they started doing morning runs together. She'd probably tell him I'm here.
Emi's artist friend? The one without arms? She likes to stare at the sky here, even when it's cloudy. That'd be okay, I think.
I move back a little so a person would have to move beyond the doorway to see me.
The door slowly opens and several seconds pass…
Then someone steps forward and closes the door behind him. The moment I catch sight of his sweater vest, I freeze like a deer in the headlights.
It's really him. How did he know I was here? My first reflex is to look at the door. But before I can even seriously consider making a break for it, his gaze follows mine, and he looks back at me with a sad expression.
Please don't look at me like that.
"You're not going to run away from me, are you Hanako?"
I don't respond, but after a moment I slowly shake my head.
"You weren't in the library or the tea room and Lilly didn't hear you in your own room either, so I started checking the spots most suitable to avoid people."
Am I really that predictable?
He slowly walks up to me, but stops several meters away from me as if suspecting that getting any closer might trigger an involuntary fleeing response. For a minute or so, we just look at one another, unsure on what to say or do. Then he takes the plastic bag he's carrying in one hand and pulls something out of it.
"A little something I picked up at the gift shop near the hospital's cafeteria."
My eyes grow wide as I see what it is. It's a small bouquet of flowers.
You're so kind, Hisao.
Why are you so kind?
He doesn't approach me any further. Instead, he just holds out the bouquet the way you'd hold out a dandelion leaf to a skittish rabbit. After a moment of hesitation, I get up and slowly take a step forward. And then another one.
They look beautiful.
I don't deserve these.
And another one.
I should have been the one giving you these.
And another one.
An expectant smile appears on his face. I slowly stretch out my hand, grab the bouquet and gently take it from him when he loosens his own grip on it. I hold the flowers to my chest, smelling the really nice odor coming from them. I'm not really sure how to proceed. I'd really like to thank him, but I think I'm too uneasy right now to speak. Part of me is happy for such a sweet gesture, but another part of me reminds me how much this emphasizes my own inadequacy and makes me feel even worse. Again, we're just standing there, looking at each other. After another minute, Hisao slowly starts to speak.
"Hanako, you don't really need to say anything. But will you listen to what I have to say?"
I slowly nod my head. It's the least thing I can do for him, even if I can't do anything else. He takes a deep breath.
"This week has been very hard for both of us. I had a painful reminder this week that I'm still at this school for a reason, no matter how normal I've started feeling over the last period of time."
That's true for me as well. For a while, I was convinced I was able to climb out of that rut I've been in for years and live an ordinary life, before I was dragged back in with a vengeance. It really is depressing.
"The last time I had a heart attack, it redefined me. It changed my outlook on life, on myself and on others. And not at all for the better. I forgot about all the small things in life I used to derive happiness from. I didn't rediscover them until I met someone with whom I could share those things with."
That's… probably true for me, too.
"I have no intention of letting this event become a similar turning point in my life, Hanako. I want to pick up where I left off. I still want to graduate here and study science. I still want to improve my physical condition in order to stretch the limits my arrhythmia imposes on my life. I still want to get a few more members for my club. I still want to make more memories with the people I have here. And preferably, with the girlfriend I have here as well…"
"For all the misery this week has brought, we have plenty of good memories to compensate, Hanako. I know I can't force you of all people, who has lost so much already, to stay with a person who could theoretically die at any moment…"
"…I just want you to know how terribly sorry I am to have put you through all of this…"
Wait! No, Hisao, that's not what… Did you think I…?
"…I know I'm being selfish for asking you this, but…"
I blurt out my thoughts. For a second, he seems shocked, not expecting me to interrupt his carefully rehearsed speech like this. Then he gets a puzzled expression on his face.
"Wrong about what?"
"I… I would never think that way about you."
"M-maybe there are p-people in this world who would not allow themselves to get close to you, because they're afraid to l-lose you p-prematurely. But if everybody thought that way, you'd always remain alone. That'd b-be too cruel. You d-don't deserve that. N-not you…"
"You can't deny it's quite a burden."
"I-I know. And I w-was often reminded of it. Each t-time I s-saw you come back from the running track… each t-time I saw you take… or not take… your medication… each t-time… each t-time I got into bed with you, I remembered. B-but… when you b-became my boyfriend, I m-made a choice to accept that burden. Because you accepted mine."
I feel the lump in my throat returning. I struggle to get the words I need to say out of my mouth before I get too scared to say them.
"B-because I couldn't do anything for you."
"What do you mean?"
I feel my legs getting weak. I cover my face with my hand and drop to my knees, unable to keep my emotions in check any longer.
"When we started dating, we promised to support each other in times of need. But while you were l-lying there on the street, I couldn't do a thing for you. I saw you looking at m-me… but I couldn't m-move. I couldn't p-phone for an ambulance, I couldn't call for h-help… I couldn't even hold your h-hand to reassure you. I'm worthless."
Despite my best efforts to contain them, tears are flowing down my cheeks, and my shoulders shake as all the guilt and shame that have been eating me up all week long come flowing out of me.
"I t-thought, maybe it was better if I broke up with you, so you could be with someone who could make you happy and also wouldn't f-fail you like I did. What g-good are all the small things like homemade m-meals and games and caresses when I can't even be there for you *sniff* the very moment you need me most?"
I can feel his arms wrap around me and pull me close.
"Hanako, it's… It's okay."
"It's n-not okay. *sniff* W-what do you think would have h-happened *sniff* if we had been alone? You c-could have *sniff* died right in f-front of me while I just s-sat there doing n-nothing."
"Hisao, I-I'm so sorry."
For a long while he just holds me without saying anything as I sob against his shoulder. I wonder if he's going to try and tell me not to worry about it. Is he going to comfort me by telling me it'll all even out nicely with a couple of lunches and a night between the sheets?
"Was that an apology?"
"Were you apologizing?"
"Okay. I'll accept your apology, if you accept mine."
"I couldn't help you either while you were having a panic attack, Hanako. Even though I promised myself that if what happened that day in science class would ever happen again, I'd be there to calm you down and reassure you. I wasn't able to keep that promise."
"B-but you were having a heart attack at the time. There's no way I could expect…"
"There no way I could expect you to keep your cool in the middle of a panic attack either."
"P-please stop comparing the two."
"Why? Because it's devastating to your argument? We could ask your own therapist for her opinion, but I think if you're really honest we can agree that neither of us was in a position to help the other and that expecting otherwise would have been very unreasonable."
"It's… not that easy."
"Of course not. I'd probably feel awful about it too if I had been in your place, even though it's unreasonable. But I'm not blaming you. If there's blame to be passed around, I feel it's justified that I take my part, which happens to be slightly larger than yours."
"T-that's not true."
"But it is. Your panic attack took place because I got into an accident. That accident took place because I disregarded your advice and acted rashly. If someone is to be blamed, I should be that one."
"It… wasn't really your fault. M-most people wouldn't walk slowly in the middle of a rainstorm."
"That's my point. It was a really small screw-up that happened to have big consequences, but there's no valid reason for either of us to beat ourselves up over this."
"E-even so… I didn't even visit you. I should have been by your bedside…"
"I wasn't able to help you either while you were in your room fighting off a depression."
"Please s-stop doing that!"
"Look, the point is that we both had our own problems to deal with first."
That's kind of depressing.
"So… We're not really t-that good at supporting each other in times of need, are we?"
"We both want to support each other to the best of our ability, and sometimes that's a little bit less than we'd like it to be. But it might still be enough for the other person. I couldn't be there for you while I was in the hospital, but I can be here for you now if you'll still have me."
Without thinking, I give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
"You're… doing a great job. I just wish I could return the favor."
"You already have."
"By waiting for me like I asked you yesterday."
"B-but I wasn't at the gate when you arrived. I couldn't even…"
"But you were waiting for me. Misha said she saw you waiting out there for pretty much the entire morning."
"I… w-was. B-but…"
"I saw you… in the distance. Together with… two other people. I thought those were probably your p-parents. I… was a-afraid to face them after n-neglecting you the entire w-week and I *sigh* got scared and ran off."
I hang my head in shame, but he doesn't seem bothered by it.
"They were my parents alright. But what you did was probably for the best. This talk would have been really awkward with other people present. The important thing is that you were there and waited for me."
"Hisao, why was m-me waiting there so important to you?"
"One of the disheartening things about my first stay in the hospital, Hanako, was that by the time I was finally released, everyone except my parents had already moved on. And I was already aware of that while I was still lying there. I was thinking… If there was just one other person who was out there waiting for me… anticipating my return… I could have easily made it through the whole thing, even without visitors."
I know what you mean, Hisao. I know exactly what you mean. That really would have helped me too when I was in the hospital for so long.
I think I know what to do now. I gently break his embrace and take his hands in mine.
"Hisao… then… then I will be that person for you. If you… were to get into the hospital again, even if I can't visit you, I'll be waiting for you no matter how long you have to stay there. I promise."
Despite the fact my face is all red from crying, I do my best to smile at him. Hisao doesn't say anything, but I can tell by his smile how much my words mean to him. I let go of him, gently take his face in my hands and give him a short, sweet kiss on the lips.
"Welcome back, Hisao. I've missed you."
Again, he doesn't respond, but I see a small tear from one of his eyes. He then brings one hand up to my face, softly brushes my hair lock aside and then presses his other hand to the side of my head until I hear a familiar click.
My hairclip. He's kept it with him.
He doesn't ask me to be his girlfriend again. I don't bring it up either. We don't need words for this moment. Instead, he simply presses his lips on mine, and we kiss again, longingly, passionately this time, throwing off the weights that have been on our shoulders the whole week.
I'm not sure how long we've been sitting here. An hour? An hour and a half? We've barely spoken a word the entire time. He's just been sitting here on the ground, leaning against the wall and I’m sitting on his lap, my head against his chest while he's stroking my hair.
"Your parents, are they still here?"
"I asked Lilly, Shizune and Misha to keep them occupied while I searched for you. I think if they wanted to leave, they would have called me on my cell phone."
"They live pretty far away from here, don't they?"
"Yeah, I've seen them more often this week than I have in the last few months."
"Do you get along with them?"
"We're not extremely close since they work long days, so I was often home alone until late in the evening."
"But they still took time to visit you this week."
"Yeah, they even wanted to take me home to get some rest after picking me up from the hospital. You should have seen me freak out when they told me that."
I giggle at that mental image.
"But they meant well."
"I guess I should spend some time with them before they leave, shouldn't I?"
"Yes. I won't be going anywhere."
Hisao takes out his cell phone, and I see him call Lilly's number. He waits a few seconds, and then I vaguely hear a voice on the other side.
"Hey Lilly, it's me."
"Yeah, I found her. And we reconciled."
"Yeah, me too. Me too."
"Where are you now? Are you guys still giving my parents a tour of the school?"
"The Shanghai? Why'd you go there?"
"Shizune was bored, and she convinced them to take you there? I see."
"Actually, could you ask them to stay there? I want to spend some private time with them, and the Shanghai is more comfortable than my dorm room. I'll come down there in a minute."
"No, I'll be okay. You can probably stay for twenty more minutes or so. I could…"
"You still have some shopping to do? That's fine too. Say, Lilly, could you…Hello?"
"Well, certainly not Misha."
"Misha, could you give Lilly her phone back?"
"Sure, sure, I'll treat you guys for your trouble. No need to try and guilt trip me into it."
"No, I'm not gonna foot your entire bill."
"Okay, three things. One: that has nothing to do with the matter at hand, two: I was only six at the time and three: why the hell is she telling you about that?"
"Misha, put Lilly on the damn phone already! Hello?"
With an annoyed face, Hisao snaps the phone back shut. I chuckle at the scene that just unfolded in front of me.
"Just Shizune and Lilly extracting every embarrassing piece of information there is to know about my childhood from my mom. I'd better get down there before Shizune procures enough blackmail material to put me on the student council's volunteer list for the rest of the year."
I get off his lap, and we both walk down the stairs to the entrance of the school building.
"I'd better be off now."
"You're going to walk all the way to the Shanghai? Is that okay?"
"I've been lying in bed for nearly a week. I really need to stretch my legs a bit. I'll be fine. I'm going to take my time, the whole way's downhill, and I'll be sure to take a short rest half-way through. Promise."
"How about your way back?"
"Mom and Dad went there by car. They'll drive me back to school afterwards."
"Ummm… Can I walk along with you a bit?"
"Fine with me. Be sure to drop those flowers off in your room first."
"Y-yes. Meet at the gates?"
"See you there."
Hisao laughs as I walk past the school gate.
"Nice umbrella you've got there."
"Did you want to come along just in case those clouds above us decide to drop a rainstorm down on me?"
"N-not really. I mean… Not just that."
We head down the road and true to his word, Hisao adopts a pace that's barely distinguishable from Lilly's. After ten minutes, we sit down on a rock near the side of the road.
"There's…probably something you should know. About… me and Lilly."
"Lilly said you two had a fight."
"…it wasn't really a fight…"
That's not a lie. It was far too one-sided to be a fight. Lilly was uncharacteristically persistent that day. Eventually I completely lost it and just tore into her. I'll never forget the hurt and frightened look on her face that moment. All I wanted was for her to leave me be. I never wanted to hurt her. I immediately regretted lashing out at her, but I couldn't find the words to stop her from leaving the room, and she couldn't see the pained expression on my face.
"Are you planning to talk to her?"
"I don't think she ever wants to talk to me again."
I told her never to come back after all. How horrible can a person be?
"Don't say that. Lilly feels horrible about what happened. She blames herself much more than she blames you."
"Yeah. This week's been hell for all three of us."
Hisao gets up, and we prepare to walk the rest of the way down, but after a few minutes he suddenly turns around and looks me straight in the eye.
"You don't hate Lilly, do you? I mean, she can be a little bit overbearing at times, but she means well. I remember you telling me she was a very special person to you and that you loved her a lot."
"I-I don't h-hate her. I just… wish things were different between us."
"D-do we have to talk about this now? I'm still feeling a bit drained."
"We can talk about it later."
Ten minutes later we stand in front of the Shanghai. Hisao dropped Lilly another quick phone call. Officially to ask her to get him some things from the store, although I'm pretty sure the real reason was to find out about her location so she and I don't accidentally run into each other.
For a few moments I think back on the day. The best I was hoping for this morning was an awkward greeting with Hisao followed up by an involuntary game of hide and seek. Instead, we managed to put this week's events behind us, and we've successfully averted the first crisis in our relationship. It was a very rough ride, but I also feel a bit proud. Maybe our relationship is more resilient than I thought at first.
One thing that stands out in my recollection of today are my words to Hisao. Now I think back about it, my promise to wait for him if he gets hospitalized again sounded a lot like a long-term commitment. And now he's about to enter the Shanghai, there's another decision for me to make. He's not saying anything, but I bet the same matter is on his mind as well.
Can I do this?
"What do you t-think of me?"
"I love you, Hanako."
"I l-love you too, Hisao."
I extend my left hand, and he takes it with a smile.
"I… I won't be staying l-long."
"That's okay, Hanako. This means a lot to me."
He gently leads me inside, and we walk towards the spot where we usually sit. Ahead, I can see a middle-aged couple; the same people who got out of the car with Hisao at noon. The man has a few facial features that look familiar to me. They wave at Hisao as we approach, and then their eyes fall on me. I can tell that they're staring, and I also know what they're staring at. My knees start shaking a bit, so I squeeze Hisao's hand a little harder and try to focus all my attention on him in an attempt to block their gaze and my growing anxiety from my mind. As we reach the table, I try to read Hisao's expression. He's a bit nervous as well, but also wears a proud smile as he opens his mouth to speak.
"Mom, Dad… There's one more person here at Yamaku I'd like you to meet."
Taking off my hat, I bow as deeply as I can and then take a deep breath.
"G-good afternoon. My n-n-name is H-Hanako Ikezawa. I'm Hisao's g-g-girlfriend."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am
One more day.
As I operate the Brailler in the student council room, my thoughts occasionally drift to last week's events. Hisao was released from the hospital last Saturday and was dropped off at Yamaku by his parents. Hanako had been waiting for him at the gates all morning, but she was afraid to approach him with his parents being present and ran off. Hisao asked Shizune, Misha and me to give his mother and father a tour of the school while he went to do something important. The message was clear; 'keep them occupied for as long as necessary while I search for Hanako.'
I was heartened and relieved when I received a phone call from Hisao that he hadn't merely succeeded in finding Hanako, but he also managed to reconcile with her. According to Hisao, Hanako was still in the process of recovering from the stress of last week, but he had no doubts that they were going to pick up where they left off. It appears that their relationship is very much like Hanako herself - easy to crack, but impossible to break.
Unfortunately, my own relation with Hanako seems a different matter altogether. We're still avoiding each other, and tomorrow evening Akira will arrive here to pick me up. Hisao has assured me that he's been trying to bring the matter up with Hanako, but time seems to be against us. I'd be lying if I denied that the whole situation has left me more than a little bit on edge. When I informed Hanako and Hisao about the fact I'd be leaving, I believed Hanako and I could remain in contact with each other. There's no doubt in my mind, however, that if things don't improve between us before I take my plane, there won't be any more contact. We'll simply go our own way, and that'll be the end of it. I'm not afraid to admit that the idea of Hanako's angry cry to go away and never come back remaining the last words I'll ever hear from her frightens me more than anything else.
"Class rep, or perhaps I should say former class rep; you're working really slowly. It wouldn't be fair of me to hold the delay of last week against you, considering the circumstances, but if you don't want to be remembered as the black sheep among the class representatives, you'd better make sure to have everything wrapped up before you leave. That's not going to happen at the rate you're working now."
I let out a frustrated sigh before I can stop myself. Last week has been strange for Shizune and me. During our student council days, I always had the impression that Shizune only concerned herself with other people when it benefitted her own goals in some way or another, but that impression had come under fire when I witnessed Shizune's actions last week. Both Shizune and Misha probably realized that the matter between Hisao and Hanako wasn't their business to get involved in, so they went out of their way to help Hisao in whatever small ways they could, and Shizune didn't seem to have any problems with the fact that a temporary truce between us was part of that. While leading Hisao's parents around, both of us took turns explaining different things to them and talking about various aspects of life at Yamaku, and I was surprised that for once, we worked together well. However, when she learned that Hisao and Hanako reconciled, she immediately closed off that particular chapter, and when I showed up at the student council room this afternoon, she wasted no time in complaining about me not showing up sooner as if nothing had happened.
"I can assure you I will have all paperwork done before the deadline of tomorrow. That should be all that matters. Or are you now concerned with other things besides cold, hard results all of a sudden?"
And here I am taking the bait again. I'm not sure why I can't take Shizune's provocations with a grain of salt like Hisao seems able to do without any significant effort. Perhaps the fact that we're family makes it more difficult to back down.
"If you have a secret plan to speed up the process, I'll be more than happy to witness it, though I won't hold out hope that you're going to surprise me."
"People can still surprise each other on occasion, Shizune. I must admit I was somewhat surprised by the efforts you made to help Hisao and Hanako through last week. Your actions were most certainly appreciated."
"I'm offended by the fact you were surprised. Hisao and Hanako are still members of my class. Just because I run my class in a different way than you do, doesn't mean I can't do my part to help my classmates when emergencies take place. I may be a dictator in your eyes, but I like to think of myself as a responsible one."
Despite Shizune's retort being very much an accusation, I smile a little bit. I have to admit she did act responsibly. It seems Hisao wasn't exaggerating when he said he considered Shizune and Misha friends despite their occasional pushiness.
"I realize you don't value my opinion very much, but I don't think it would hurt if your classmates were to witness that responsible streak a little more often. It might make them more willing to voluntarily lend you a hand on occasion without having to be pressured into it."
"The approach you suggest is overrated. People will always get to tasks more quickly if you direct them properly. My goal isn't to win a popularity contest, but to keep my class functioning smoothly."
Without saying another word, I open my bag and take several large envelopes out of them. Taking a moment to pile them up neatly, I hold out my hand and let go of them when I feel Misha taking them from me.
"Hey, what's in the envelopes, Lilly?"
"The envelopes contain all the remaining paperwork that still had to be done before the start of summer break. It turned out that while I was occupied with Hisao and Hanako last week, several of my classmates took it upon themselves to fill out all the remaining forms for me on their own in an attempt to make things easier for me and presumably also as a gesture of support and appreciation. They did this without me even having to ask them. All that remained for me to do was to type up a small summary. Do you not agree with me that no class is running more smoothly than a class where the representative can afford to take an unexpected leave of absence, and things still get done on a timely basis?"
There's a moment of silence in the room, beyond the sound of a shocked gasp. I allow myself to send a sweet, but triumphant smile in Shizune's general direction. A few seconds later, the room shakes with Misha's thunderous laughter.
"WAHAHAHA~ HAHAHAHAHA~, looks like she's got you there, Shicchan!"
I put away the Brailler as Misha's laughter slowly dies down. Of course, my classmates' action was a surprise to me as well rather than anything planned, but I must admit getting a small victory over Shizune feels surprisingly good to me. Maybe we really are more alike than either of us cares to admit.
"Looks like you did manage to surprise me today, class rep. I admit defeat this time. But that doesn't mean I will ever agree with your methods."
I let out a tired smile.
"I had hoped that after last week, we'd be able to get along slightly better. But perhaps our differences really are too great."
"Last week was a different matter. There's no reason we cannot both help out a mutual friend without antipathy, but that doesn't mean we will ever be able to work together on something productively."
"I understand. I accept the fact that there are things that neither of us will budge on. I may not think highly of your methods as a student council president, but I think I can still appreciate you as a cousin, Shizune. I hope that will allow us to shake hands and part without any hard feelings tomorrow."
"I suppose the fact that you're a bad class rep doesn't really take away from the fact we've also had a few good memories in the past. We could probably learn to appreciate each other as family and not follow too far in our fathers' footsteps. Though I object to the handshake. I'm afraid nothing but a hug will do."
I find myself flustered for a second, then break out into an amused grin.
"Misha, please translate properly."
"WAHAHAHAHAHA~! Awww, you noticed?"
"What did she really say?"
"I only added the last part. She's okay with the handshake."
I stick out my hand and moments later another hand grasps mine. The handshake is short and formal, but also polite and sincere.
With the paperwork finished prematurely, I accept Misha's offer to have some juice as we take a moment to sit back, and I realize it's been a long time since I was able to feel at ease in this room.
"So, I suppose with student council duties, you haven't been able to give your plans for that charity festival much thought."
"That one is only on temporary hold. I'm taking full advantage of the fact I can use the festivals here as a learning experience and become familiar with all the organizational aspects. When I get around to organizing my own festival, no beginner's mistakes will be accepted. And those orphanage plans are not off the table either, though I suspect that'll take a little longer."
I grin playfully.
"How about taking over the world one city council at a time?"
"WAHAHAHAHAHA~! Really, Shicchan?"
"You'll be safe in Inverness for the time being. But not forever."
"Am I interrupting?"
"Hicchan! Hey there."
"I'd like to talk to Lilly."
"I'll be right with you, Hisao."
I make a short bow, grab my belongings and follow Hisao out of the room.
"I noticed a distinct lack of passive aggressiveness in there."
I smile awkwardly. I noticed the habit of occasionally teasing me about my feud with Shizune has rubbed off from Akira onto Hisao.
"We may be able to part amicably when I take my leave tomorrow. It may be difficult to imagine now, but we also have several positive memories of each other."
"That's a hopeful sign. If you can get your difficulties with Shizune sorted out, reconciling with Hanako should be a piece of cake in comparison."
I'm not so sure myself. While I may have had trouble getting along with Shizune, I've never had difficulty understanding her thought process. Hanako's thought process, however, has never been something I felt was very tangible to me.
"I don't think the two are comparable."
"Are you up for it?"
"Does she want to talk to me?"
"I managed to convince her to hear you out. She doesn't really want things to end on such a sordid note either."
"Thank you, Hisao."
He remains silent for a second and then places his hand on my shoulder.
"Lilly, I'm not really sure how this is going to play out. I have tried to avoid taking sides here, and I refrained from prying, so I don't know what she's thinking. We had a talk like this one ourselves while you were in Scotland. Eventually we came out of it as a couple, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't one of the most difficult and painful experiences I've ever been through."
"I don't think I have much to lose, Hisao."
"That may be the problem. Back then, the mutual fear of losing the other was a strong motivator in getting us both to open up. That motivator won't be present here. All I can suggest is to be as open and honest with her as you can. Hanako's a lot more perceptive than she usually lets on, but her self-esteem tends to color the conclusions she draws and usually not for the better."
"Where is she now?"
"In my dorm room. We thought it was best to use neutral territory so both of you can walk away whenever you like."
"And where will you be then?"
"I'm going to see Miss Takawa. She said she had something for me if I managed to make up with Hanako. She got me curious, that's for sure. I think I'm also going to hang out with Kenji. That way, he won't find out about you guys using my room."
I feel my hand up to his shoulder and then place a soft kiss on his cheek.
"W-what was that for?"
I smile at him.
Decisively, I take out my cane and make my way to the boys' dormitory.
I feel a faint sense of apprehension as I slowly open the door of Hisao's room and step inside. There's no greeting, but I can hear someone's breathing nearby.
"Y-you can sit on the bed. It's right in front of you."
The position of Hanako's voice suggests she's sitting, presumably in the desk chair, on the other side of the room. It feels strange for me to sit on Hisao's bed. Why doesn't Hanako sit down here? Does she want to avoid the possibility of me sitting down next to her? I uneasily take a seat and fold up my cane. What should we do now? I suppose I'd better make the first move.
"Hanako, I'd like to apologize for my actions last Tuesday. I once argued the importance of giving someone space, but when push came to shove I forgot about that myself."
"I-I'm s-sorry too f-for saying those horrible things to you. I… felt really bad about it afterwards."
"But you were correct. I felt partially responsible for what happened to you that Monday, and I felt like simply leaving Yamaku and boarding the plane as if nothing happened would be like abandoning you and Hisao in a time of need. I was so focused on finding a way to help you that I didn't stop to think of whether it really was the right time to help. Hanako, I truly regret what I did. I wasn't thinking clearly."
"It's… okay. You were probably w-worried about me."
"I was. More worried than I probably should have been. In the end, you and Hisao got back together just fine without anyone else's help."
"Lilly… I want to see you off without hard feelings. So if you're… not angry with me then I won't be a-angry with you."
"Thank you, Hanako. I'm not angry with you. I wasn't even angry to begin with. Just sad. I was afraid you hated me."
"I don't hate you."
"I'm very relieved to hear that."
"Would you like to go to your room and have s-something to drink, Lilly?"
I'm starting to get a little suspicious. Now that I told her I'm not angry with her, Hanako seems really eager to get it over with. Is she sincere in her answers? She said she wants to see me off without hard feelings. But hard feelings on her part or mine? Is she simply saying what she thinks I want to hear? I think if I let her walk away, we will indeed part on friendly terms, but it might be merely an act.
"Hanako, could you tell me one more thing?"
"What is it?"
"What did you mean when you said I was only interested in fixing you?"
"I-I w-wasn't thinking s-straight when I s-said that."
That doesn't sound convincing. Hanako can hide some things fairly well, but her anxiety isn't one of them.
"I think you were. You were spot-on about me imposing on you to soothe my own anxiety. I believe there was also a reason behind your other words. I… I really want to know what it is."
"W-why don't you believe me?"
"Because you would never want to hurt me. And maybe the reason you said what you said is something that would hurt."
"But Hanako, I would never want to hurt you either. If I did something to hurt you in one way or another, I want to know what it is, so I can take responsibility for it. Please, Hanako… I promise you I will not think badly of you, no matter what you say. But please don't deny me the chance to take responsibility for my actions."
"But w-what if it's all just in my imagination?"
"Then I will do my best to reassure you, and we'll both walk out of this room feeling better."
Hanako falls silent, obviously weighing my words. Her reaction alone was enough of an indication that her accusation wasn't merely thrown out at random. I can only hope she trusts me enough to tell me what was really bothering her.
"You w-won't hate me if I'm w-wrong?"
"I could never hate you, Hanako."
I'm not sure if she's completely convinced, but she seems willing to give me the benefit of the doubt as she takes a deep breath.
"I've always been… really thankful… that you became my friend. You became… a very important p-person in my life. But sometimes, I w-worried… whether we were really f-friends or not."
"Because you were always there for m-me when I n-needed support. You were always doing things for m-me. But I could never do things for you. Or f-for myself. All you did was g-give and give. And all I did w-was take and take. It was like… I was just someone you needed to t-take c-care of. Like you w-were a m-mother taking care of a n-needy child. But that's not what I w-wanted us to b-be. That's never what I w-wanted us to be."
I knew our relationship appeared like this. Akira has even joked about it in the past, about Hanako being 'my Hanako'. What I hadn't realized was how unhappy Hanako herself was with the dynamic of our relationship. How many times have I made her feel worse about herself by showering her with affection and comfort? I’m afraid to ask.
"Hanako, I apologize. I admit I have the tendency to mother the people dearest to me. Akira has often scolded me when I mothered her, despite her being seven years older. It is… my way of showing affection. I never… realized I could hurt others that way."
Hanako doesn't respond though and continues her story.
"But when Hisao became my b-boyfriend, I started to s-see things differently. I realized… I was only useless if I allowed myself to be. I realized… I could become stronger and change if I w-worked hard at it. I could become a better girlfriend for Hisao. And I could become a better friend to you. I w-wanted to become r-real friends with you. B-but then, you announced you were maybe leaving the c-country."
And by doing so, I’m taking that opportunity to develop our friendship away from her, am I not?
"We didn't really know w-why you hadn't made up your mind yet. Seeing that your parents and s-sister would all be there. Hisao suggested that maybe I w-was one of the reasons you were still doubting."
That's actually true. Hanako was on my mind a lot whenever I was weighing my options.
"I didn't w-want to ask you to stay for m-my sake. I wanted you to do what made you h-happiest. When I started s-spending more time with you, I started thinking. M-maybe if I could b-become a better friend to you… If I could s-show you how m-much our friendship still h-had to offer… maybe you would be more tempted to stay."
Except I ultimately ended up deciding to leave Japan despite Hanako's best efforts… No, not despite…
"Lilly, that n-night before you told us you were going to Scotland, I t-told you about my p-plans for the future and m-more than ever I felt like we were on equal footing… but you seemed s-sad when you noted how much I had changed. Did you… make the d-decision to go when you felt I was no longer r-reliant on you?"
How did she…?
It appears Hanako has been watching my face closely, because my reaction to her question causes her to gasp and her tone becomes strained with a very subtle hint of anger.
"I… I k-knew it. My efforts only served to make you more d-determined to go."
"If had remained as f-fragile as I w-was, you w-would have decided to s-stay in a heartbeat. But now…"
So that's how she sees things. And my pep-talk about her independence and my decision to stay for a little while after her breakdown only reinforced her views.
"Hanako, please listen…"
"All I w-wanted was your f-friendship!"
"But you are…
"Is t-taking c-care of me r-really that much more f-fun than going out as f-friends?!"
"NO, IT'S NOT!"
I get up forcefully as I say these words, and I hear the chair Hanako's sitting on scrape across the floor as if my sudden reaction made her flinch. It's not my habit to raise my voice. I was always taught that it's not something a proper lady is ever supposed to do, and I hate the idea of intimidating my meek friend, but I know that if Hanako is given the chance to get up and run out of the room now, I'll never be able to catch her, and she'll spend the rest of the next two days avoiding me. I have to keep control of the conversation if I don't want this to end badly.
"Hanako, please listen to me. You really are my friend. Nothing less. I don't think of you as a child."
"You are my friend, Hanako. My best friend. You are a very special person to me."
"You are. Please believe me."
"I believe you, Lilly."
She doesn't. I can tell by her voice that she doesn't. She's back to telling me what she thinks I want to hear. She's made up her mind about me, and now she's just looking to end the conversation.
Chapter 17 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am
Part of what she suggested is true, but her conclusions are off. But how do I tell her that?
Hisao said to be as open and sincere as possible. I might still be able to change her mind.
Hanako will probably see me as a weak person, but that's better than what she's probably thinking of me now.
"There's some truth in what you said. I won't deny that. But there's something I want to tell you that's relevant to this matter. You always were a good listener. Will you listen now? You can walk away afterwards and never speak to me again if you wish, but please hear me out until the end."
"Hanako, do you know why my parents are living in Scotland and Akira and I are living in Japan?"
"You said your f-father received an important j-job, and you stayed here for your education."
"That's true. But it's also true, Hanako, that I didn't stay in Japan because I wanted to."
"Had I been given a choice, I probably would have gone with them. But the decision was made for me."
"Quality of education. That's what they said. I was to live with my grandparents until at least the end of middle school. But my grandparents' health wasn't very good, so Akira volunteered to be my guardian instead, and we've lived in our parents' old house for a while. It wasn't an easy time. Akira had long hours at her job, and I tried to combine school work with chores around the house. But we managed."
"Akira doesn't like your p-parents very much, does she? She c-came across as very bitter."
"Akira believes the real reason our parents left me in Japan was not for educational reasons, but because they had difficulty dealing with a blind daughter."
"I'm not so certain myself, but it is what she believes."
"Lilly, what d-do you believe?"
"I don't really know, Hanako. I remember my parents as always being very pleasant and friendly. I have difficulty believing what Akira thinks about them. Perhaps I don't even want to believe her. Still, I can't deny contact has been very sparse. When Akira and I went to Scotland at the start of July, it was the first time we met in six years. Phone contact has always been very meager as well."
"What w-was it like, m-meeting them again after so long?"
"It was strange. I wasn't really sure how to act around them anymore. They left when I was twelve. I'm a different person now than I was six years ago. For a long time, I believed that when they'd come back to Japan, we could simply pick up where we left off. That was probably very naïve. I think all four of us sensed it while we were staying at our parents' mansion. Things were… pleasant, but distant. We truly have grown apart as a family."
"But they still w-wanted you to live with them d-despite that?"
"Maybe because of that. Akira said they're feeling guilty and are trying to make up for it now. They told us they wanted the four of us to make a new start as a family."
"But… when you told us about the s-summons, you were still doubting. You didn't think it would w-work?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't think Akira will be visiting there very often. As for me… I've found that I… have a lot of trouble letting go of the life I have here. Despite Mother and Father not being present, I've been… happy here."
"Lilly… I think that what you're s-saying is that d-deep down you don't really want to go."
"It's very strange. I… do want us to be a family again. It's been my biggest wish for years. And yet when I thought of moving, there was always a nagging feeling that it would be wrong in some way. It's a strange contradiction."
"Not r-really. Your f-family was broken up because of the actions of your p-parents. And yet you are the one expected to make s-sacrifices in order to repair it. That's… not very f-fair."
"That's… also how I felt, when my parents took me aside and asked why I was so hesitant. But I… couldn't tell them. I was afraid to… well… come across as a bad daughter."
"What did you tell them then?"
"I told them… I told them that I was hesitating because there were people at Yamaku who were relying on me to be there for them and that I wanted to keep supporting them. I… used you and Hisao as an excuse because I was afraid to confront my parents on a sensitive issue."
"But Hisao and I started getting our lives in order, so eventually that justification wasn't true anymore."
"But I still couldn't face up to my family, so I eventually just gave in. I would never wish you to give up your true self for any reason, Hanako. Especially not to cater to my own flaws. That time we’ve spent doing all sorts of fun things together was the highlight of our friendship to me. I will never forget them or you for as long as I live. So please don't think I think of you as…"
"I… I understand, Lilly. There's no need to say more. T-thank you for telling me all this."
Hanako's voice is different now. The anxious undertone is gone now, and she sounds relieved and sincere. The next moment, I hear her get up and approach the bed. Then she sits down next to me.
"Lilly, I… have a lot of p-problems doing things for myself and s-speaking up. I have trouble being 'selfish', just l-like you. So I understand this is hard, but… I think you're making a very b-big mistake."
It appears that within a matter of seconds Hanako has completely dismissed the original topic of our conversation and is now getting ready to dismantle my decision to migrate.
"Why do you think that, Hanako?"
"Because it s-sounds like you won't be happy there. Your p-parents want to grow closer to you, but if you're not h-happy there, it'll all be an act. You'll eventually start to resent them.
That's the reason Akira said she couldn't give up her career to stay with her boyfriend.
"And if you'd keep b-bottling up that unhappiness, it will c-come out eventually. And you will end up really h-hurting someone you care about. L-like I did."
"That's… a bit of a worst-case scenario. And besides… I’ve made a promise already."
"W-won't you even c-consider telling your parents the truth? If they c-care about you, you giving up your happiness w-will really hurt them."
"How can I… tell my parents that I reject their reconciliation offer? What kind of daughter would do that?"
"I… think… you c-can still reconcile… in other w-ways. And m-maybe someday you'll be close enough to them that moving to Scotland WILL m-make you happy. Now is just… not the time."
"Hanako, I've never heard you this persistent before."
"I think… if I l-let you go like this, I w-won't be able to live with myself. Also, I r-really want you to s-stay here with us. It w-would make me… really happy."
Judging by the determination in her voice, she really isn't going to give up. To be honest, if the roles were reversed, I'd probably be doing the same thing. I replay Hanako's words in my head.
'I wanted to become real friends with you.'
I've always thought of our relationship as give-and-take myself.
But the things Hanako did for me were small things. Picking articles while shopping. Navigation in an unknown area.
Things that only required eyesight, not devoted friendship. Not the kind of friendship she wanted to give me so desperately.
I don't like letting other people share my burdens, but I've always encouraged Hanako to share hers with me.
If I had been more willing to rely on Hanako for emotional support, like I'm doing now, she probably would have trusted me more.
"Hanako… What's the time right now?"
"Nearly four o' clock in the afternoon."
That means it's eight o' clock in the morning in Scotland right now.
I take out my phone and dial the number, trying to press the buttons as quickly as I can.
Try not to think about this too much, Lilly. If you start pondering, you'll probably lose heart.
I hear a quick string of beeps as I finish inputting the number and the call is made.
Just try to go with your instincts.
"Good morning, Satou speaking."
"M-Mother, good morning."
"Lilly! How nice of you to call. How are you doing?"
"I'm doing fine, Mother. How are you?"
"Very well. I'm really looking forward to seeing you again later this week."
"Mother, a-about that… I… I have to tell you something."
"What is it dear?"
"I… I'd like to stay here… in Japan."
"Oh dear, is your friend still in the hospital?"
"N-no, that's not it. He's back already. He's doing pretty well now. What I meant to say is… I… I've changed my mind… about… moving."
The silence on the other end of the line is painful. Is she going to be angry? Disappointed? Sad?
"Lilly, why? Are there still people relying on you like you told us earlier?"
"Well… yes, but the truth is… I've also come to rely on them. More than I ever thought I'd be doing."
"I don't understand."
"I've been happy so far, living in Japan. I have a school I feel at home at, plans for the future and many friends whose company I greatly enjoy. I'm… not really ready to give all of that up."
"Not even for the sake of our family?"
There it is. The same question that broke through my defense last time. I was really hoping she wouldn't ask me that.
I open my mouth to reply several times, but find I am lost for words each time. I don't want to be held responsible if we can't get together as a family. If it had been up to me, our family wouldn't have split up in the first place.
A sense of desperation is welling up inside of me. Why do I have to choose between my life here and my family? I’m tired of having to choose between loved ones. I don’t want to have to do that anymore. Not now, not ever again.
I suddenly become aware of Hanako again, who's still sitting next to me on the bed and who has suddenly taken my left hand in hers, squeezing it gently.
It's a gesture. A gesture of support. A sign that she's rooting for me. She must have read my expression.
Hanako's quiet intervention calms my nerves a bit.
Don't blurt things out. Think first.
There was something Hanako said earlier. What was it?
I take a few seconds to gather my thoughts, give Hanako's hand a quick squeeze in response and then take a deep breath.
"Mother, it's true that we have become estranged from each other. But I'm not sure if me giving up my life here to live with you and Father will fix the problem."
"What do you mean?"
"While I was making preparations for our trip at the start of July, I realized I wasn't even sure how to act around my family anymore. I… didn't really know a lot of things about you anymore. We've interacted so little over the last six years. We’ve never visited, and we barely spoke. We didn't grow apart because of the distance, Mother. We grew apart because we stopped communicating with each other."
"That's… probably true. I’m sorry…"
"I want to make a new start as well, Mother. But I don't feel I need to give up what I have here to do that. We could… call each other two or three times a week. A few minutes is all it will take to let each other know what's been going on in our lives. Maybe I can come over again during summer and winter break. Or you could stop by at Yamaku when you have the opportunity and see where I've been attending for the last years. I would welcome you here."
"You… have really thought this through, haven't you?"
"I haven't. But it is how I feel."
"If you really want to stay there, we can't really force you to come here against your will. That will only make things worse. Just… remember you're always welcome here."
"That makes me very happy, Mother."
"So, when can we see each other again?"
"See each other?"
"I… I’m sorry. I didn't mean to…"
It may not be very ladylike, but I still can't resist chuckling at mother's reaction upon stepping on what she probably felt was a landmine.
"Very soon, I promise. We can discuss the specifics the next time we talk."
"Perhaps the day after tomorrow?"
"I will call when I've received word that Akira is on her way."
Mother remains quiet for a moment.
"Lilly, will you be okay without your sister around?"
"I will be fine, Mother. I have a very good friend here who is like a sister to me in all but blood. If I need help with something, I can always count on her to be there."
"Very well. Then… please take care of yourself, dear."
"Thank you Mother. You too."
As I hang up, I suddenly feel extremely tired. The reality of the situation is still in the process of setting in and my mind is struggling to wrap itself around the enormity of the change my life has just undergone within the last hour. Through the daze, I can barely hear Hanako's voice whispering to me.
"Lilly… You… You've done it."
"I'm… staying… here."
"Yes, y-you're really… staying."
Finally letting go of Hanako's hand, I slowly turn in her direction.
"Let's… graduate together, Hanako. And let's make… lots of wonderful *sniff* memories in the meantime."
As I finish these words, all the pent-up stress assaults me at once. I embrace Hanako and break down in tears as everything comes flooding out of me. The anxiety of meeting my family again, the terrible pressure of being forced to make a life-changing decision, the concern after Hisao's accident, the grief and guilt around Hisao's and Hanako's relationship crisis, the fear of having driven Hanako away from me and finally the stress of having to confront Mother with what I truly wanted for myself in life. We stay locked in the embrace for a long time, and as the adrenaline in my system dies down, my quiet sobs are replaced by laughs of relief. Relief that all of this is behind me now. And through it all, I become aware of another sound - a sound I've never heard before. It's the sound of my best friend laughing out loud in joy.
"So, you're really sure you're staying here, huh?"
Akira lets out a slightly deriding snort that's loud and clear even over the phone.
"W-what is it?"
"That's the first time ever I've heard you sounding decisive about this whole thing. If I didn't know better, I'd say you never really wanted to go in the first place."
"To be very honest…"
"GODDAMN IT, SIS! You really are your own worst enemy at times."
"I t-trust canceling my ticket was not a problem?"
"Don't worry, that went smoothly. It'll be a lonely flight without you, though it's probably good practice for me."
"What do you mean?"
"Word has it that you're planning a vacation in Inverness on a short notice. And three guesses who the folks are probably expecting to pick you up here and drop you off again afterwards."
"They're expecting you to make two trips across the world on my behalf? That seems a bit excessive!"
"Well there's no way they're gonna let you navigate an airport all on your own, and I can't even say I blame them for that."
"If they're going to spend money on two round trips, I think I know a better destination for those tickets."
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"I happen to have a friend who recently told me she's interested in travelling, but is a bit short on cash due to splitting the costs of her dates with her boyfriend. I'm pretty sure I can convince her and her boyfriend to accompany me. Not only am I certain she'd love the Scottish Highlands, but she has also expressed interest in journalism lately, and I'm sure Mother would have many interesting stories to tell from her experience as a reporter."
"Well, I'll be… Were you planning this all along when you offered to come over again?"
"No, but don't you agree it'd be a good idea? I could use some cooperation in convincing our parents."
"I'll do what I can. I'm sure they won't question the notion of me being too busy to spend four nights on a plane."
"Wonderful. I'll meet you again tomorrow. And please don't be late for your own seeing-off party here."
"Wouldn't miss it. Bye."
At the exact moment I snap my phone shut, I hear a few timid knocks on my door. Hanako probably heard me talking on the phone and decided to wait outside the room. I really hope she wasn't able to overhear our conversation. I want to keep the matter I just discussed with Akira a secret until I can get everything arranged.
"Isn't Hisao with you?"
"Ummm… I actually liked to have a bit more time alone with you. He didn't mind."
"I hope he's not going to get jealous of me for receiving so much of your attention."
"He won't. He was very happy too when I told him you're staying here."
"Last afternoon, he said he was going to visit Miss Takawa. She promised him something if he managed to reconcile with you, I believe."
"Actually, it was something for me."
"What was it?"
"N-next week, Yamaku's holding several f-first aid courses for its staff members. Miss Yumi signed herself up for them and lets me go in her place. She called the instructor and he was okay with letting me attend once she explained my situation to him."
"That's wonderful. So you're getting your first aid certificate next week?"
"It's… not a guarantee of anything. Miss Yumi stressed that as well. But even if I can reduce the odds of freezing up during an emergency just a little bit, that will already be a big reassurance for me."
We spend some time drinking tea, sitting next to each other, leaning back against the side of my bed. We talk about Hanako's upcoming training courses, and she manages to get me to tell a few stories about Hisao that his mother shared with Shizune, Misha and me.
"The friend you spoke to your mother about on the phone… Was that… m-me?"
"Hanako, some time ago I experienced, for the first time in six years, the feeling of being part of a family again. But what surprised me about it was that I didn't feel it while Akira and I were visiting Scotland, but while you, Hisao and I were in Hokkaido together."
"I… I was feeling the exact same thing."
Hanako leans against me slightly, and I realize that for possibly the first time since our friendship began, she completely and unconditionally trusts me.
"I'm… looking forward to getting to know you better, Lilly. I'm… really honored I learned about some of your past today."
"I'm eager to get to know you better too, Hanako. And I hope that someday, you'll be able to entrust me with yours as well."
She lets out a weary sigh.
"My past… is not pretty, Lilly. But I think… in time… I can share it with you."
"I will wait for that day, Hanako."
"In the meantime, there's something I think I'm… comfortable sharing with you. Something I'd like you to experience."
"Whatever it is, I'll welcome it, Hanako."
I can feel her move aside, and moments later I can hear a familiar snap. It's the sound of the hairclip she's always carrying with her.
She gets closer again. From the location where the sound of her breathing is coming from, I determine she's sitting on her knees right in front of me. If she were to lower herself, she'd be sitting on my lap. This is getting really awkward.
"P-please… don't say anything."
Hanako's breathing is slightly deeper than usual as if she's nervous about something.
Is she planning to kiss me?
Hanako must have guessed my thoughts or read my expression, for she lets out an amused giggle that makes me feel a bit silly, but at least manages to relieve the tension. A few seconds later, I feel her hands gently take hold of mine and tenderly guide them upwards. A strange conflicting feeling suddenly reaches my fingertips, and I gasp as I realize what she's planning to let me do.
My right hand feels the warm sensation of bare skin, extremely soft to the touch. My left hand feels a strange leather-like surface that gently moves as Hanako breathes in and out, but feels almost artificial. Almost in a daze, I run my fingers across the surface, eager to take in every single part, every single detail.
So this is what Hanako actually looks like.
We tried this once, a long time ago, but my hand hadn't even reached her cheek yet when she retreated in a panic, apologizing to me in a voice that sounded like a guilty whimper. There is no panic or tension this time. She seems calm, serene almost.
Despite her scarring, Hanako is remarkably beautiful in her own way. Her long, silky hair and delicate features give her an elegance very few people I know of possess. Again I run my fingers across the sides of her face, committing every single detail to memory. As the visage of my best friend starts to appear in my mind, a tear of joy runs down my cheek.
I've wanted to know for so long.
She must have noticed the effect this has on me, for the corners of her mouth turn slightly upwards, and what appears on her face is the most beautiful smile I've ever witnessed. It's like a child's smile; sweet, innocent and sincere. As I etch that too in my memory, I find it impossible to resist smiling back.
I never knew she could smile like that.
I let my fingers run across her cheeks a third time, determined not to ever forget what I am witnessing, and finally manage to speak.
"So… Hanako… this… this is you…"
She gives a gentle nod, and she replies with a voice that's tranquil and peaceful, her smile never leaving her face.
"This is me. All… of me."
Chapter 17 Alt
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am
Chapter 17 alt
I wonder how Hanako is doing right now.
That thought keeps returning to me as I casually stroll along the running track with my hallmate Kenji in tow. The official excuse is to catch up on what transpired at the science club during my week of absence and fill Kenji in on the reason I was out of commission. But more importantly, my dorm room is being used by Lilly right now to try and patch up her damaged friendship with Hanako, and while I'm not completely sure how much of it can be salvaged in the 24 hours that remain until Lilly's departure to Scotland, I don't want to risk things being ruined by my eccentric neighbor bursting into my room unannounced.
"I'm sorry. What did you say?"
"How can you be so sure that the person who assaulted you wasn't a woman? A feminist or perhaps a lackey hired to take you out."
I wonder how Hanako and Lilly are doing right now.
"It was a guy. A slightly older man on a bicycle. Hana… I mean, people at the scene confirmed it to me later. I don't think he was a feminist."
"The whole thing still smells extremely fishy to me. I mean... Getting body checked in the middle of the street and carried off to who-knows-where... Does that sound normal to you?"
Hanako at least seems relieved that she and I have managed to reconcile after last week's events. I think she's going to need my support after Lilly leaves tomorrow. Despite having pushed Lilly away last week, I have no doubt that Hanako's going to miss her terribly.
"We were in the middle of a downpour, and neither one of us was paying attention. The rainstorm made it kinda hard to see far ahead. It was just a stupid little accident with big consequences."
I sigh inwardly. The idea was to just get an update on what Mutou and Kenji discussed at the science club meetings last week, but it turns out that after my accident, Kenji came to his own conclusions about my absence and shut himself in for the rest of the week. It's still a mystery to me how Kenji can act so ordinary during club meetings and so irrational when we're alone.
"Accident my ass! You were on somebody's hit list, man. It was a coordinated operation. The feminist movement is onto you. I bet that wasn't even a real ambulance that picked you up."
I can't really judge that since I was out like a light at that time, and what I know about that moment is from Hanako's recollection. Since she's still very reluctant to talk about what happened that afternoon, I can't really get into the details.
"It was a pretty real hospital I woke up in though."
"They sent some goons the day after to ransack your room. Or maybe to bug the hell out of it. They're watching you now, man."
That would be Shizune and Misha who asked the dormkeeper for a spare key and got me my possessions and some books to make my stay in the hospital more comfortable. So it turns out that Kenji spotted them. I wonder what he would say if he knew there are two other girls in my dorm room right now. I feel once again that getting Kenji away from the dorm building today has been a very wise move.
"Those were just some girls from my class, picking some stuff up for me."
"You really think I can't tell the difference between students and trained spies? They were dressed like female students for sure, but their mannerisms gave them away."
"They didn't say a single word during the whole operation. They were only communicating in coded gestures, like commandos on a mission."
"Could it be that one of them was a deaf-mute and they were communicating in sign?"
"Maybe. It makes sense to pick a mute person for an infiltration job. When they're captured and interrogated they at least can't blab. Unless you untie their hands first. That's what they're counting on. They're trained for those kinds of situations."
You're completely missing the point.
I fiddle with my cell phone for a bit. I asked Hanako to send me a little text message when they're done. In less than half an hour, I have a talk coming up with Hanako's therapist who asked me to come and see her, if Hanako and I managed to reconcile. She was seeing a client earlier this day though and made it clear she didn't want me to wait outside her office, presumably for the sake of her client's privacy. So until her last appointment is over, at four o' clock apparently, I'm stuck playing along with Kenji's conspiracy theories.
"After they left your room, I knew they'd be coming for me next. I knew they were gonna kidnap me, imprison me somewhere and then send a squad to my room to steal my blueprints and plans for resistance activities. So I locked my door, moved my bed in front of it and got to work on developing a defense mechanism. It's not finished yet, so maybe you can take a look at the designs at the next club meeting."
"It's a very clever contraption. I've hidden my papers in a secret compartment in my desk drawer. To open it, you gotta lift the compartment lid through a hole in the bottom of the drawer using a pen or pencil. If you open the compartment any other way, an electronic circuit is closed that causes the flammable substance inside the contraption to ignite which in turn causes all the incriminating evidence to go up in smoke. I saw it on TV once and thought it was a stroke of genius."
I make a mental note to sabotage that insidious thing (if it even exists) the first chance I get and keep any and all flammable substances far away from Kenji before he accidentally sets the guys' dorm building on fire.
"Sure, I'll help."
Kenji seems delighted at my quick offer of assistence, but then suddenly narrows his eyes and takes a step back.
"You're way too eager to agree all of a sudden. You're usually far more reserved about my plans. This doesn't sound right. Didn't you say they operated on you?"
"How can I be sure that they didn't install a mind control device while you were out? Maybe you were merely being ordered to agree to help me just now and they'll make you sabotage my device the moment I turn my back."
I'm not quite sure whether to be impressed by Kenji's justified suspicion of me or baffled by the leap of logic he took to explain it.
"They operated on my chest. Doesn't a mind control device usually go in the brain?"
Why am I even arguing with him as if this is a serious conversation topic?
"Hmmm… Maybe not a mind control device then. Probably a tracking device. Definitely a tracking device."
"Why definitely a tracking device?"
"Last Saturday that tall blonde from my class came knocking and told me that you'd be arriving at noon and that they were going to 'welcome you back'. They knew exactly where you were going to be and when. If they were confident enough of the success of their ambush to go and taunt me with it, they had to have placed a device on you somehow that allowed them to pinpoint your location."
It's kinda scary how seamlessly he manages to fit all of last weeks events into one big narrative and still get things completely wrong.
"I'm not sure I want to know but… Since you knew they were setting up an ambush for me, did you do anything to try and thwart them?"
"Sorry man, but I had to set up my own defenses first. In this harsh world, it's every man for himself."
"That's okay. I managed to survive."
"Maybe you were worth more to them alive. With that tracking device inside you, they may be monitoring us right now. Maybe we shouldn't be seen together."
I do my best to supress a groan and check my watch. It's almost time for my meeting with Miss Takawa. It'll take some time for me to reach the building where the medical staff resides, especially since I'm still forced to take it slowly for a little while, and I think I've heard enough crazy for one day.
"Maybe you should do a perimeter check if that's what worries you. I have an appointment at the nurse's building. I'll have them check me for tracking devices. Why don't you stay behind and make sure I'm not followed? Then you can check your theories for yourself."
"Hey man, that's a great idea. Go ahead and leave. I'll watch your back and then check this place for spies or bugs."
As I start making my way to the staff building and see Kenji sneak off into the nearby bushes, I feel a bit guilty about sending him off on a wild goose chase, but after what I've just heard, I can't have him return to the dorms just yet. I can't help but roll my eyes at the irony of it all.
There's a guy out there who believes in mind control devices searching the bushes for spies and cameras right now, and yet I'm the one about to see a therapist.
As I reach out to take the bowl of hot tea from the old lady, she gives me a playful smile before putting the bowl in my hands and making a polite bow to indicate it's okay to drink.
"Herbal tea without caffeine. Miss Ikezawa would probably be upset with me if I did anything that might endanger your health. I can't really afford damaging my bond of trust with her."
I take a few careful sips as I look the old woman in front of me over. Last week while I was in the hospital, she dropped by and convinced me to try and reach out to Hanako who shut me out after she broke down a few days earlier. And she asked me to let her know about the outcome.
"When you and Lilly left my hospital room last week, you asked me to come see you if I managed to reconcile with Hanako."
"And since you're here now, I presume you succeeded."
"We're back together again. It turned out I was wrong to think she tried to end our relationship because she couldn't deal with the idea of having a boyfriend who might die on her at any moment."
"Am I correct when I assume that she felt she could no longer uphold your mutual promise of supporting each other in times of need?"
For a second I'm taken aback by the accuracy of her claim. Did she know this the whole time?
"Did Hanako tell you this after you picked her up from the hospital?"
Miss Takawa shakes her head and gives me a sad smile.
"Miss Ikezawa's… mindset is not very different from people who've been in… similar circumstances. I've worked with several of them over the years. Eventually you get a feeling on how they react to certain situations and how they experience them."
"Like boyfriends with heart conditions?"
"Especially boyfriends with heart conditions."
I take another sip of the hot, but tasty drink and wait for the old lady to continue. I know she didn't merely want to see me to hear the news of our reconciliation. Sensing that I'd like her to get to the point, Miss Takawa scrapes her throat.
"Ahem... whenever a client has a breakdown like Miss Ikezawa had last week, we try to identify the possible causes and do our best to come up with ways to prevent those situations from ever occurring again in the future."
She smiles sheepishly at me for a moment.
"I suppose one way would be to ask you to try and not have any more episodes, but that's probably not a very helpful suggestion."
"I probably could have thought that one up myself."
"So what we should probably focus on is not so much trying to influence your condition, but rather Miss Ikezawa's reaction to it."
"You mean her panic attack?"
"Correct. Her breakdown can be traced to multiple factors. Painful memories resurfacing. Desperation. A feeling of helplessness. Once what was happening to you started sinking in, all those things effectively paralyzed her. And that in turn created a strong sense of guilt afterwards."
"So what are you suggesting?"
"Even though this school has a nursing staff that's on-site 24 hours a day, all employees here such as teachers and other non-medical staff members are still expected to know some basic emergency first responder skills. And every few years they're required to brush up on them. We hire a professional trainer from the nearby hospital a few times a year to instruct our people. The next courses happen to take place the upcoming week. I took them myself last year, but I was thinking it might be a good idea for me to sign up for them again this time…"
"I don't see how that…"
"…and let Miss Ikezawa go in my place."
"They're not really meant for students, but I see no practical problems in letting Miss Ikezawa attend. I'll need to consult with the trainer to be sure, of course."
I take a moment to consider the old woman's proposal. Hanako taking first aid classes? I have to admit the idea might have merit. She'd at least no longer feel helpless in a case of emergency. That's assuming she'd remain composed enough to remember whatever it is they'll end up teaching her.
"Do you really think that'll prevent another panic attack from taking place in a situation like last week?"
"No. That's probably unavoidable the way things are right now. The best we can probably hope for is trying to delay it. With luck, and keep in mind there are no guarantees, it'll allow her to keep herself occupied and distracted until the ambulance arrives and it'll prevent her from feeling guilty over any inaction on her part. It would make a massive difference in the aftermath, I believe."
"I think we should take whatever we can get. If Hanako is okay with this, I am too."
"Seeing that this is something that could potentially benefit you in the future, there is no doubt in my mind that Miss Ikezawa will agree to participate in the training."
"Why exactly are you telling me this instead of her?"
"Because if we're going to do this, I might need your signature for something."
"Then let's proceed."
Miss Takawa gets up, takes the phone on the table in the corner of the room and makes two phone calls; one to sign herself up for next week's training and another longer one to explain Hanako's situation to the trainer. When she puts down the receiver, she has a satisfied smile on her face.
"The instructor has agreed to let Miss Ikezawa attend in my place and he will do his best to let her get in as much practice as possible."
"That's good to hear. Let's hope she won't get too nervous about attending a class with people she's not familiar with."
"There will only be 7 other people attending from what I've just heard, so it's a relatively small group this time around and there may be a few familiar faces among them."
We finish our tea, and as Miss Takawa takes my bowl from me, she gives me a sincere look.
"The instructor asked me if he could have a look at your medical file before the courses start. Since he's not directly affiliated with Yamaku and this is not an emergency situation, I'm going to need your written consent before I can oblige."
"That's not a problem."
"Good. Let's head down to the administration office and get ourselves a form for you to fill in."
"By the way, do you have any tips on how to act in case she shuts down again?"
"If she does so as a result of you having an episode, I doubt there's much you can do. But if it's something else that causes her to break down, I'd suggest simply holding her."
"Just holding her?"
"Calming her down with words may not help much if she's in a state of irrational stress. Activities such as cuddling cause oxytocin to be released in the brain that will allow her to relax and will lower the sense of stress and fear that she's feeling. In fact, I believe the practice has a benevolent effect on symptoms of post traumatic stress in general, so if she has trouble sleeping or is feeling anxious, this is probably the first thing you should try."
"I certainly don't mind that kind of advice. Anything else?"
Before she can reply, my phone suddenly lets out two loud beeps to indicate a new text message.
"I'm sorry. Can I just…?"
Miss Takawa responds with an affirmative nod and shoots me a curious glance.
"Would that be Miss Ikezawa?"
I take a look at the screen of my phone. It's from Hanako alright. But there's no word on how things turned out. Just a simple "Where are you right now?". I let out a disappointed sigh and send a quick "Nurse staff building, heading for administration office." back.
"I convinced Hanako to give Lilly a chance to smooth things over between them. She and Lilly… Well…"
"I am aware of what happened between Miss Ikezawa and Miss Satou. After we left your room last Friday, Miss Satou offered to treat me to a cup of tea in the hospital's cafeteria, and she took the opportunity to fill me in on her… falling out with Miss Ikezawa and ask me for suggestions. But it's a difficult situation to advise someone on."
She gets up and makes a beckoning motion towards the door to indicate she wants me to follow her downstairs. We leave the office, Miss Takawa locks its door, and we head down the hallway towards the elevator.
"You don't sound particularly optimistic."
"If it hadn't been for Miss Satou's imminent departure, this would have been an ideal opportunity for them to sort out the latent issues in their friendship and come out of it as closer friends. But in order to take those difficult steps, I think they'd need a more inviting prospect than simply a parting on somewhat friendlier terms."
That's pretty much what I've been thinking as well, though I still hold out hope that they can resolve things in some way or another.
"Hanako isn't one to easily trust people. I suspect a part of her has always remained suspicious of Lilly's motives for being so devoted to her."
"Establishing a bond of trust as friends often involves being able to show your vulnerable side to the other person, and I suspect that's not something that comes naturally to Miss Satou."
"She has one alright, but it wasn't until last week that I actually got to see it, and I might have been the only one who witnessed her like that in years. The lengths she goes to to keep up appearances can be pretty unsettling at times."
"It's something we encourage as a society, even in situations where it makes matters more difficult. In addition, Miss Satou has a strong sense of pride. You can tell by the way she behaves and carries herself. And I'm sure it serves her well most of the time. Just… not always."
As we reach the administration area near the building's entrance, the old lady heads up to the desk, exchanges a few words with the girl behind it and is given a form that she signs and then hands over to me before taking a small note for herself.
"By signing this form, you'll give me permission to inform Miss Ikezawa's trainer of the specifics of your condition. That's the short version. You can look it over yourself before putting a signature down there."
I do so, but as expected a lot of the wording on there seems mumbo jumbo to me. I quickly give up on trying to make sense of the whole thing and put my signature on the dotted line near the bottom. I give the form back to Miss Takawa who's still in the process of writing a note to go with the form. As she takes the form from my hands, her gaze suddenly shifts from me to something behind me. I look behind me and see Hanako entering the room, looking somewhat winded. It's been only a few minutes since I sent back that text message. Did she run all the way here?
Spotting me, Hanako takes a second to catch her breath, then struts over to me and hugs me so tightly I groan in discomfort, her body causing pressure on the wound from the surgery I had last week.
"Ouch! Take it easy. Watch the chest wound!"
Hanako's uncharacteristically bold gesture takes me off guard. The last time she did something like this was after our confession in the park that started our relationship. Does this mean she worked out her differences with Lilly completely? No, it must be something more. Hanako doesn't just look happy, she looks elated. Possibly happier than I've ever seen her before.
"Hisao! She's… she's staying! She's r-really staying!"
"Slow down a bit. What are you talking about?"
"Lilly's… staying here. She changed her mind about moving."
I'm admittedly shocked by this sudden development. Lilly and I have talked a lot over the past week. Mostly about what could still be done to repair her bond with Hanako after the latter lashed out at her. But Lilly's never even once mentioned having seconds thoughts about her decision to leave Japan. And I never suggested to stay here at Yamaku because Hanako has told me in the past that she didn't want Lilly to stay here for her sake alone.
"That's… How? What happened?"
"She… was afraid of d-disappointing her parents. But she n-never really w-wanted to leave herself."
"And you… convinced her to do what she wanted for herself and stay here?"
Hanako doesn't answer and merely stares at the floor, but her smile tells me all I need to know.
"Hanako, you're amazing! You're the best friend Lilly could ever wish for!"
She looks flustered by my exclamation, but I mean every word of it. Of course I'm happy for Hanako, but Lilly has become a close friend to me as well over the last months, and I was very disheartened to see her go myself. Hearing about her decision to stay here after all is a huge relief for me as well. I give Hanako a quick kiss on the cheek to emphasize my approval. Hanako, predictably, blushes profusely and stammers a half-hearted denial.
"N-not r-really… I… um…"
The voice of Miss Takawa behind us reminds us there are still other people in the room, and we quickly let go of one another as we turn to face the old woman who's been watching the whole spectacle with an amused smile on her face.
"That's not what we've been practicing together. I think it's very important that you accept the praise you've earned today. I agree with Mister Nakai that Miss Satou is very lucky to have you."
Her words, spoken in a warm, grandmotherly tone are emphasized by a deep and respectful bow. For a moment, Hanako seems unsure on what to do, fidgeting uncomfortably and unable to look at Miss Takawa directly. Then, after several painfully quiet seconds, she gives a barely visible and meek nod, her gaze still firmly focussed on the floor. The old therapist gives an appreciative nod back and approaches Hanako.
"Congratulations, dear. I'll see you again at the usual time the upcoming weekend. I'm sure we'll have plenty of things to discuss."
After making one more bow for good measure, Miss Takawa takes her leave, and I decide it's better if we get out of here as well after the rather public show we just put on. As we exit the building, I turn to Hanako.
"I have some interesting news for you too, but first I'd really like to hear a few more details on how you reconciled with Lilly."
"Oh… and Hanako?"
I gently take her hand as we walk along.
"I'm very proud of you."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:44 am
I nervously pace back and forth in front of the gate, occasionally checking my phone to re-read the message Akira sent me. It said: 'Can we talk for a bit? Front gate.'
Lilly may be staying here, but Akira is still leaving tomorrow. Even though Lilly's decision to remain here has softened the blow a lot, I'm still going to miss Akira. I can't say I'm as close with her as I am with Lilly, and I often felt a bit like a third wheel when Lilly and her sister were hanging out in her room, but nevertheless it was nice to have someone else who'd occasionally talk to me besides Lilly. Even though Lilly is planning to visit Scotland again in the near future, we still decided to hold a small goodbye party for Akira this evening. Lilly, Hisao and I went to town earlier today to shop for a few things - unfortunately neither of us are old enough to buy a few cans of beer for Akira - and we were busy setting things up in Lilly's room when I received Akira's message.
I'm still not completely sure how Akira really feels about Lilly's change of heart. I know how close she and her sister are. Akira practically raised her during the most recent third of her life. Suddenly being half a world apart from her can't be easy.
I let out an involuntary cry when someone suddenly pats me on the left shoulder from behind.
"A-Akira! Ummm, I mean… Hello Akira."
I must have been pretty distracted by my thoughts for Akira to be able to sneak up on me like that.
"What's with the jumpiness? You knew I was coming, didn't you?"
I merely nod as I look her over. Akira looks slightly more informal right now than she usually does. For one, she's not wearing the jacket and tie she usually has on, and her blouse seems slightly wrinkled too. Akira seems to catch my gaze and smiles.
"Haven't been in the office for a week. I spent most of the time relaxing and hanging out with my little cousin. It was a nice change of pace. Too bad I'll be expected to make up for it when I start at main office in a few days."
"Ummm…Y-you w-wanted to talk?"
Akira gives a cheerful nod and moves over to one of the nearby benches. After sitting down, she reaches into the bag she's been carrying and gets out a can of beer. She chuckles at my dumbfounded stare.
"Didn't think they were gonna sell these to you kids, so I got my own. They should get me through the night. Sit down."
I carefully sit down next to her as she casually opens the can and takes a sip. I don't think she's allowed to drink that on the school grounds, but right now there doesn't seem to be anyone around here but us.
"I bet you're really happy about Lilly staying here. I mean, you looked pretty crushed before when she announced she considered leaving."
I try to gauge Akira's tone for any signs of hostility. I was exhilirated yesterday when Lilly made the decision to stay here, but when I received Akira's message half an hour ago, I was reminded of the fact that I also played a part in separating two sisters who've been extremely close over the last six years.
"I'm s-sorry, Akira."
"Huh? For what?"
"I partially c-convinced Lilly t-to stay h-here. S-so I'm p-partially at fault for you l-losing her."
Akira takes a swig of her beer and smirks.
"Is that why you're so on edge? You thought I was gonna shout at you for helping Lilly reach the conclusion that she'd rather stay here instead of going to Scotland with me?"
Something like that, although the way Akira puts it makes it sound like a pretty unreasonable thing to think.
"Let's get one thing out of the way. I'm gonna miss Lilly, of course, but I'm not upset that she chose to stay here. So stop worrying about that, okay?"
I meekly nod and take a deep breath in an attempt to relax. I feel a bit embarrassed by my occasional habit of assuming the worst about people. Seeing how friendly Akira has always been to me, she certainly deserved the benefit of the doubt.
"Seeing that Sis told me that you two reconciled yesterday, I had a hunch that you were involved in her change of heart somehow. And you pretty much confirmed that just now. So I'm really curious… What exactly happened?"
That's a pretty tricky question. I'm not really sure whether Akira got the specifics about my outburst last week that nearly drove Lilly away from me. I'm pretty ashamed about it in hindsight. If Akira is in the dark about the details, I'd like to keep it that way.
"She t-talked to me about your parents. And about them w-wanting to make a new s-start. S-she supported that, but d-didn't want to give up what s-she had here. B-but s-she didn't want to feel responsible f-for keeping you all apart either."
"Giving up everything she has here seems like a very high price for something that might not even happen. A price that I agree isn't even hers to pay. I don't think she's right in blaming herself for our family's failure to come together again. I'm not even sure how viable it was in the first place."
"Lilly s-said she wanted to t-try."
"It's always surprised me how loyal she remains to our parents, for all the good they did us."
I cannot help but take note of how bitter Akira sounds while she's saying it. It makes me wonder about their parents.
"What are t-they l-like?"
"Hisao said your m-mother s-sounded very friendly on the phone."
Akira doesn't immediately answer. Instead, she looks pensive, and for a moment I can see her eyes stare into the distance.
"I think that if you'd meet them, you'd find them to be pretty friendly and amiable. I don't think it'd be just Lilly's upbringing that causes her to be as loyal to them as she is. But…"
She pauses for a moment and then looks straight at me, causing me to flinch instinctively.
"…sometimes problems in a family are more subtle than people shouting at each other or acting like abusive assholes."
"What do you mean?"
"When we had our first dinner together in six years, Mom asked Lilly if she was still in contact with Kumi. Kumi was Lilly's best friend at the time Mom and Dad left Japan. Lilly merely answered she wasn't."
Akira pauses for a moment and then smiles an impish grin.
"At that point I decided to point something out that Lilly deliberately kept to herself in order to avoid an awkward moment. I mentioned that a few months after Mom and Dad left Japan, Kumi and her family moved to another town, and contact between Lilly and her fizzled out after a few phone calls over the weeks thereafter. Before that evening, maybe Mom and Dad were telling themselves they could pick up where the four of us left off at anytime. But that moment did a pretty good job at highlighting how out of touch we've gotten with one another."
That must have been beyond excruciatingly uncomfortable. I'm really thankful I wasn't there to witness it.
"W-what happened next?"
Akira gives an annoyed shrug.
"There was a painful pause for a second or two, Dad gave me a sharp glare for a moment and then we started talking about the weather. Well, not literally the weather, but a safe subject. I decided not to be the bad guy twice in one evening, so I went along with it. But that tendency to avoid conflicts is pretty telling of how I think our parents plan to get us back together. By encouraging us to pretend they never left us alone in the first place. I don't think it's gonna work like that, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna play along with that."
"Dad's from a traditional Japanese family, and maintaining peace and harmony through avoidance of conflicts - even ones that shouldn't be avoided - was pretty much the law of life there. But for a family trying to get back together, being good at avoiding uncomfortable subjects is actually a bad thing. I don't even really know what Mom and Dad really think of us. I don't know if this is some sort of official compensation for the past six years or if they really want to be with Lilly."
I take a moment to let Akira's words sink in. Always dodging conflicts is pretty much how, until recently, I often classified Lilly. But yesterday I was forced to reconsider that view. I don't know about Lilly's parents, but Lilly herself has proven yesterday that although she's reluctant to move out of her usual diplomatic comfort zone, she's more than capable of speaking candidly about problems if that's the only way to solve them. Since Akira doesn't seem to be aware of the specifics of Lilly's phone call with her mother, I feel the need to speak up on her behalf.
"Lilly… was very d-direct yesterday while s-speaking with her m-mother. She w-wasn't very comfortable, but she still pulled through."
"What exactly did she say then?"
It's not easy for me to give out the exact details of the conversation, since I've only heard Lilly's half of it myself, but her remarks about the state of her family are still etched in my memory. As I tell Akira about Lilly's words involving the emotional distance in their family, I can see an expression on her face that's partially amusement, partially surprise, but above all pride in her sister.
"Wow, she really said all that?"
Akira chuckles at her sister's uncharacteristic boldness.
"Man, I'm not that surprised to hear that that's what she's been thinking, but for her to say that out loud and to our parents of all people."
"I t-think she can continue to r-reach out to her parents if she makes the effort."
"It all depends on whether she can continue to be straightforward with them or only when her back is against a wall. And if it's the former, maybe I'll just get lucky, and she'll save some of that straight-forwardness for me."
That last part of her sentence comes out as a soft mumble, but it's still loud enough for me to detect it.
"Sorry, that came out worse than I meant it to. I'm just talking to myself a bit."
"You're not… angry w-with her, are you?"
Akira empties her can and casually tosses it into the nearby wastebin. As she continues, I can sense a touch of gloom in her voice.
"Mostly a tad angry with myself. I never got the impression that Lilly was very enthusiastic about moving, but I've never been able to get her to outright admit that she'd rather stay here either. Seeing that you did manage to get that confession out of her, I kinda feel that you picked up a ball that I dropped. A ball I really shouldn't have dropped. Since my choice probably influenced hers a lot, it was my responsibility to be the one to coax her into that decision she made yesterday. If she'd have entrusted me with how she felt, that's exactly what I would have done. But she didn't, and that kinda stings."
I can't help but feel a little bit surprised at Akira's tone, which is so different from her usual confident-yet-playful attitude. I knew from the fact she practically raised Lilly for years that Akira has a responsible side, but this is one of the first times I've witnessed it myself.
"She d-didn't tell m-me about it until the l-last moment either. So erm…"
I think in fact she only told me because her 'back was against the wall' at the time and she couldn't bear the thought of us parting with me harboring ill feelings towards her. Akira gets the point though, and a teasing smile slowly appears back on her face.
"So I guess a major chewing out is in order here, and I'll be happy to administer it before I leave. But what she did wasn't extremely out of character for her. She's always been reserved about disclosing her own feelings to others or show any signs of vulnerability. Kinda like Dad. And Mom... in her own way. I could have been more - one hell of a lot more - vigilant."
"I… think what's most important is that Lilly ended up d-doing what she wanted for herself. Who m-made it happen, d-doesn't really matter that much."
"You're probably right."
She gets up.
"Sorry to make you listen to all of this."
"That's okay. That's… w-what f-f-friends… are f-for."
I can't manage to make myself look Akira in the eyes as I say this, but Akira merely gives me a soft slap on the shoulder as if to accept and acknowledge what I just said.
"Yup, that's what friends are for. You know, I kinda feel bad I'm set to leave the country while you're getting more and more out of your shell. I hope you can keep this up, I really do. I guess I'll find out the next time I drop by here. Which I'm sure I will at some point."
"Good. We should probably head off to Lilly's room. She's likely wondering what's keeping us."
I get up, and Akira reaches for the bag that's been sitting next to the bench, then stops as if she just remembered something.
"Before we go, there's one more thing I think I should say."
Once again, Akira looks me straight in the eye, and when I reflexively look away, she moves a bit to re-establish eyecontact.
"I really appreciate what you did for Lilly the other day. Thanks Hanako. Really."
She finishes her statement with a bow that contains far more grace than I ever suspected Akira of possessing. I fidget nervously. How am I supposed to react to something like that? Hisao, Miss Yumi and now Akira seem to regard me as some sort of hero, but all I did was give Lilly a small peptalk. It was Lilly who did the hard part afterwards.
"Lilly d-deserves most of the c-credit for m-making the phonecall."
"You both ended up doing the right thing at the right time. But I'll be sure to praise her for her part as well."
We start heading towards the girls dorm, and I take advantage of the moment to address something that caught my attention earlier.
"You said… you were going to… d-drop by?"
"Well, I wanna see Lilly from time to time. Hopefully I'll be able to join the occasional business trip to the Japanese branch every now and then."
"That would be nice."
"It's still too early to make promises. In the meantime…"
She playfully gives me a poke with her elbow.
"…you don't mind keeping an eye on my sis while I'm gone, do you?"
My eyes widen in shock as I try to digest Akira's seemingly ludicrous statement. Me keeping an eye on Lilly? Not too long ago Lilly was nothing less than a human crutch for me - my only connection to the rest of the student body and, most likely, to the rest of the world as well. I've been trying to change our relationship lately, and I feel yesterday was a big milestone for both of us, but for Akira to suggest me to suddenly look out for Lilly seems like reality turned upside down.
"I… um…. don't think Lilly needs l-looking after."
Akira seems to have been expecting that reaction and gives a short shrug.
"Most of the time she doesn't. Lilly's a strong person, but she's not infallible. She may be able to handle things herself 99 out of a 100 times, but that one time when she's struggling with something and she's too damn stubborn to call on anyone else, it'll be good to know that there's someone around who has her best interests at heart and to whom she feels close enough to confide things in. I'd say that description fits you to a tee. Probably more than anyone else around here."
Akira stops walking and gives me a cheerful smile.
"Let me tell you something that happened a little while back. Lilly and I were speaking on the phone, and she noted how much you've changed recently. She liked the change in you, but it was also a bit uncomfortable for her. She didn't want to go back to the times where you were clinging to her as if your life was depending on it, but the fact that the role she was playing in your life was changing so suddenly and rapidly made her feel awkward. *chuckle* I didn't tell her, but I could relate to how she felt. I've been there myself after all."
"What do you mean?"
"Your relationship with Lilly is almost exactly like my relationship with her, except it's one stage behind. Even when we were still living with our folks, I was often the one who had to keep an eye on Lilly, helping her navigate everywhere and occasionally worrying about her. But eventually she started growing more independent, and I was left with the nagging feeling that she was drifting away from me. That was a bit of a rough time for me until I accepted that she wasn't gonna stay my little kiddie sister forever and we should try and become each other's responsibility instead if we didn't want to grow apart. I think in the end we did pretty well, even though part of me will probably always think of her as my younger sister."
That's probably an understatement. On many occasions, Lilly and Akira seem more like best friends than sisters to me, and at times it made me a little envious. I think I would have loved having a sister like Lilly or Akira myself.
"Maybe what happened yesterday was needed to make Lilly realize she has to adapt as well. With luck, the two of you'll soon be at the point where Lilly and I have been for the last couple of years."
I can't help but smile broadly at that suggestion.
"I… really hope so."
Having reached the door to Lilly's dorm room, Akira delivers a few loud taps to announce her presence.
"A first aid course?"
We've spent the last two hours hanging out in Lilly's room, eating the cake and sweets we obtained from the store in town this afternoon. Despite it being a supposed farewell party, the mood has been surprisingly relaxed. Akira and Lilly spent most of the time exchanging cheerful banter with Hisao and each other. I, for my part, have been content to just sit and listen to the rest, treasuring the fact that even though Hisao, Lilly and I went through a week from hell, we were able to reconcile and we are able to sit here and spend time together once more, our bonds not just repaired but actually strengthened. Due to the fact that just a week ago I had been convinced that I'd never be able to face Lilly or Hisao again, I've grown to value the time we're spending together even more. Eventually the conversation turned to my upcoming training courses which Akira was keen on learning more about.
"Y-Yes. It's usually for staff members only, but the trainer will make an exception for me."
"Sounds interesting. Or at least useful. Especially around here. How long is it gonna take?"
"For just the basics? That seems kinda long."
"I think they want to reserve a lot of time f-for practice."
"And when will this training be taking place?"
"Well, good luck. Let's hope you'll never be forced to make use of it."
Akira gives Lilly a soft poke in the ribs with her elbow to get her attention.
"Hey Sis, can I have another beer?"
Lilly reaches into Akira's bag, which is lying next to her, takes out a can of beer and hands it to her sister.
"It is a bit of a shame that you didn't bring any of that tasty wine along this time. We could have performed a toast to your promotion."
Akira smirks at her sister's remark as she opens her can with a popping sound.
"A toast, huh? Didn't take you long to get hooked on the grape."
"I will admit I like a glass every once in a while, but hooked is probably a bit of an exaggeration."
That remark causes Hisao and me to exchange amused glances. Both of us remember the occasions when Lilly invited us to share a glass of wine together during our time in the Satou summerhouse, her eagerness pretty apparent even then. Akira doesn't miss our gesture and lets out a soft snicker at her sister's expense.
"Tell you what. We'll save the toasts until you get to Scotland, and I'll take you out for some truly tasty drinks."
This is the first time this evening that Lilly's upcoming trip to Scotland has been brought up. Yesterday, after telling her mother she wanted to stay in Japan, Lilly promised to come over again in an attempt to bridge the divide between herself and her parents that was created over the last six years. Eager to hear more details, Hisao addresses Lilly.
"So, you're really going back there for a little while, huh?"
"Yes. I don't believe things are as black and white as me having to choose between sacrificing my life here or sacrificing the bond with my family. I hope I can do my part to repair the bond I used to have with my parents while I'm there and then maintain it through contact over the phone while I'm attending school here."
"So do you have any idea when you'll be going? Vacation is about to start, and you don't travel to the other end of the world for just a few days, do you? You'd want to stay for at least two weeks."
"Akira has looked into the possibilities, and I'll be leaving on Saturday next week. I intend to stay for three weeks or so."
Three whole weeks. That's pretty much my entire vacation, seeing that I'll be attending those first aid courses during the entire upcoming week. I was really hoping to have some time during the vacation to spend with Lilly myself, but I guess it can't be helped. It's not like she can visit her parents at any time she chooses. I suppose I should be glad she'll be here for the rest of the school year.
"I hope you'll have fun there."
"Thank you Hisao. Do you and Hanako have any plans for the vacation?"
Hisao and I share a quick look, and then we both shake our heads.
"Not really. We've saved enough to go on a few dates, but other than that I don't have any plans."
Akira gives us a sheepish grin in response.
"We'd let you borrow the keys to the summer home, but unfortunately that place was sold around the time Lilly announced her departure to you guys, sooooo…"
Lilly finishes her sister's sentence as if the two have been practicing the part.
"…we were wondering if you two would consider accompanying me to Scotland for a few weeks instead."
Hisao and I exchange a puzzled glance, both of us trying to figure out if Lilly's serious or not. A round trip to Scotland is way beyond the budget of either of us, and Lilly must know that.
"Err, Lilly… I'm not sure about the exact price of a plane ticket, but I'm positive they'd cost Hanako and me an arm and a leg. Not that we'd be hurting for potential buyers around here, but still…"
Lilly, Akira and I all share a laugh at Hisao's remark, but then Lilly indicates that she likes to say something.
"Intercontinental flights are never particularly cheap, but would you two be willing to come along if the costs were not a concern?"
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that my family is willing to cover the costs of the flight for the two of you."
WHAT? I take a look at Hisao to see if his reaction is anything like mine, and his shocked expression tells me Lilly's announcement took him completely off guard as well.
"B-but… H-how did you… W-why w-would they…?"
The Satou sisters seem to have a lot of fun taking in our baffled reactions, and it feels like minutes until Akira speaks up, still grinning at the look of shock on Hisao's and my own face.
"Well, you probably knew this already, but our family's pretty well-off financially. Heck, the sale of the summer home alone probably brought in enough money to invite half the school along if we wanted to. So the costs of the tickets aren't that big a deal here. And Lilly's going to need someone to accompany her to make sure she boards the right plane at the right time. We could try and arrange for people from the airline to do that, but it's a hassle and our folks would feel better if she's accompanied by friends instead who accompany her from Yamaku, through London Heathrow all the way to Inverness Airport. Frankly, I would too."
That's a pretty good point. Lilly can get around Yamaku and the nearby town just fine and can even navigate the city with some effort, so I completely forgot about the fact that an airport would still be a daunting obstacle to her.
"I would have liked to stay in Japan for another one and a half week and accompany her myself, but since I've already postponed my departure for a week, I can't afford any more delays. Heck, the folks are probably already out for my blood enough as it is."
Lilly's smile drops for a moment.
"Was Father very upset?"
"You know he has this thing about running a really tight ship. Me suddenly deciding to stay away for a week longer has messed up several people's schedules, and the person who's going to teach me the ropes might have to delay his summer break for a week. If Dad had his way, I'd be over there already. I called my future colleague myself last week to apologize for the inconvenience, and he said it wasn't a problem. Dad will just have to learn that not every inconvenience I cause creates a permanent blemish on our family's good name, and what he perceived as a major loss of face was actually a minor issue for the people concerned."
"But I WILL be under pressure to make up for lost time once I'm there, and I won't be in a position to take two days out of my schedule to fly over to Japan and pick up Lilly. Not during the impeding takeover."
I can see Lilly perk up at the last part of Akira's statement.
"Hmmm? A takeover? You've never mentioned that before. When did you hear about that?"
"I didn't mention it before because it didn't seem relevant before. I've known about the plans for quite some time even though this doesn't directly concern the Japanese branch of the company. Head office is planning to acquire a business similar to ours located in the United States. They're in the middle of negotiations with that company's board of directors and with possible investors. Things are bound to get pretty hectic for them and for me, it seems. While Mom said she and Dad are going to try their hardest to shuffle their schedule around to spend some time with you, I wouldn't count on getting to hang out with them 24/7 - particularly not with Dad. Some additional company may be desirable from time to time."
Lilly smiles her warmest smile at both of us.
"And no company could be more desirable than present company. For me, it would make the difference between a good vacation and a wonderful vacation. So, what do you think? Will you come to Scotland with me?"
I'm still trying to come to terms with Lilly's completely unexpected proposal. I shoot a quick glance at Hisao who turns to Akira.
"Are you expecting a definite decision from us right now?"
"I know it's sudden, but yeah, that'd be great. If you're not feeling up to it then no harm done, but then I'll have to arrange something else on a short notice. If you are, I'll be able to make all the necessary arrangements while I'm at the airport tomorrow. There's a lot of work piling up on my desk on the other side of the world as we speak, and I'd like to get this thing over and done with before I get there."
I start feeling a bit uneasy by the sudden pressure to make such a big decision here and now, but Hisao turns to me with an excited smile on his face.
"Hey Hanako, what do you say? Want to go on vacation to Scotland together with Lilly and me?"
It sounds like one of us has already decided. This would be the first time for me to travel this far away from home. I've never even been out of the country before, and now we're given the opportunity to literally travel to the other end of the earth, to stay in an unfamiliar place. The Satous' summer home in Hokkaido was also unfamiliar at first, but that was just the three of us. Now we'll be staying with other people, in a country with a completely different culture and a language I don't speak fluently. And before we get there, we'll have to travel through several crowded airports, including one of the busiest airports in the world.
But then again, ever since I joined the newspaper club, I've been playing with the thought of studying journalism. I'd never be able to stand in front of a camera or push a microphone in someones face, but I think I'd like the writing aspect of it. But what would I write about if I'm too nervous to go and explore the world beyond my familiar little room? If I can't even visit an unfamiliar place with my two closest friends by my side, I'd probably be best off seeking another educational road altogether. If anyone can ease my nerves, it's Lilly and Hisao. And I think I'd genuinely enjoy taking a vacation with the two most important people in my life.
"I…I think I'd l-like that."
The three dazzling smiles I get in return to my answer confirm I made the right decision.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:44 am
I look from the form in my hand to the room number on the small metal sign next to the door several times to make certain I have the right classroom. I'm nervous enough as it is, and accidentally walking into the wrong room and getting caught in a crossfire of glances would probably kill my resolve to make it through the day outright. Today is the first day of my first aid training, and although Miss Yumi gave me some general information, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. Telling myself that vacation has started and if I got the wrong classroom, it'll probably just be empty, I open the door a bit and carefully peek inside.
The first thing that draws my attention is the fact most of the desks and chairs have been moved to one corner of the room except for a handful of chairs that are positioned in a row near a flip chart, a beamer and several large bags that look remarkably like body bags. The second thing is that there are four people here already. I can see two men I don't recognize talking to each other near the window and two teachers, a fit-looking man whom I recall being a PE teacher and a woman with short hair, sitting on the chairs near the beamer. I tiptoe into the room, trying hard not to attract attention and approach the chair at the far right end of the row. Before I can sit down, the short-haired woman, whom I recognize as Lilly's homeroom teacher and our English teacher, notices me, frowns and walks up to me.
"Good morning Ikezawa. Do you have business with someone here?"
I softly shake my head at her.
"Is t-there a f-f-first aid t-training here t-today?"
"As a matter of fact there is. Why?"
"I'm p-participating t-too."
The teacher looks puzzled.
"Are you certain about that? These courses are for staff members only."
I meekly nod.
"M-Miss Takawa s-said she arranged it."
The woman frowns again, then concludes this probably isn't her business to worry about, sits down again and resumes her conversation with her colleague. I sit down, take a library book out of my bag and try to read a few pages in order to calm my nerves. Two more people enter. One is another person I don't recognize but who is enthusiastically greeted by the two men who were talking near the window. The other is somewhat overweight, has silver-gray hair and wears a colorful tie. He sits down on the chair next to me and greets me with a grin that makes me flinch. Just as I prepare to open my book again and use it to hide behind, a man in his mid thirties comes walking in with what appears to be another bodybag in his arms and a big backpack over his shoulder. He gets to our corner of the classroom, puts the bag and backpack on the floor, checks his watch and then walks up to the door and closes it. He walks over to us again, clears his throat and then makes a polite bow which we return.
"Good morning everyone. I see it's nine o' clock right now, so I suggest we simply start now even though we're still one person short. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kensuke Nakamura, and I am a first aid trainer employed at the nearby hospital. This is the fourth year I've been giving these courses here. The course planned for this week has been scheduled to take up five days, mostly because I intend to try and give all of you plenty of opportunity for additional practice which is what we'll be concentrating on in the last two days. Those of you who have participated in my training before and are merely brushing up can get by with only attending here until Wednesday."
I wonder how many of this group will remain after the first three days. I suppose private lessons on Thursday and Friday would be too much to hope for.
"Let me start by checking who's in attendance right now. Fujimoto."
Those names don't ring a bell. They're probably administrative staff.
"Ikezawa, filling in for Takawa."
I quietly raise my left hand to indicate my presence. As I do so, I can see Lilly's homeroom teacher giving me a nod and a smile from the corner of my eye.
Somebody else working at the administration? He seemed to be friends with the other two I didn't recognize.
"Good to see you again."
"Well, that seems to be everyone for now. Before I start with the first subject, let me lay out the topics we'll be covering in the upcoming days as well as the day-to-day schedule."
Nakamura opens his backpack and takes several ring binders out of it, giving one to each of us. Thumbing through my own, I see a myriad of illustrations, photos and accompanying text. I get a bit queasy when my eye catches a photo of a particularly nasty open wound. Not everything here is material suitable for reading during lunch.
"I'll start by introducing you to my associates and your practice partners for the upcoming days."
The trainer gives a wink and then walks over to the large bags he lugged in here not too long ago. He opens them, and I can see I wasn't really far off the mark when I likened the bags to body bags. Inside each bag is a large practice dummy, about the size of a regular person, each of them fully clothed.
"Unfortunately, I don't have enough of them for each of you to have your own dummy, so we're going to be working in pairs. Or rather one group of three and two pairs."
We're getting to a part that I really hate. Making groups. Ever since elementary school, this has meant that other people make groups, and I'm the leftover that people reluctantly take if it suits them. I see the three people who greeted each other at the beginning of class bunching together, meaning the trio's already a done deal. Next, I see the PE teacher who was talking to Miss Miyagi earlier give her a playful nudge that she responds to with a quick nod. In less than five seconds, the groups seem to have been determined already. And my practice partner, the flamboyant art teacher, approaches me with a smile that feels part jolly and part predatory to me.
"It seems you're stuck with me for the upcoming days. If you have any questions, just ask. I've followed this training several times in the past, so none of these things are new to me. I'm sure we'll work well with one another."
I'm not quite so sure. He's friendly and enthusiastic alright, but something about him makes me extremely uncomfortable. If this wasn't for Hisao's sake, this might have been the moment where I'd have bolted from the room.
"So, you're one of Takawa's wards, aren't you? Is this some sort of alternative therapy she's experimenting with?"
He laughs just a little bit too loudly at his own remark, but I find myself cringing. Of course, everyone in the room who knows Miss Yumi's occupation probably figured out my relationship with her in an instant, but I'm not particularly proud of the fact that I need therapy sessions, and I don't like it when other people bring them up.
Mister Nakamura scrapes his throat and everyone sits down again.
"Very well. Now that we've made pairings, I'd like to give a quick summary of what we'll be doing the upcoming days."
"We're going to start with some general instructions on how to act in an emergency situation and what actions to avoid. We'll also get into the practice of checking for vital signs."
My mind wanders briefly, revisiting that moment when Hisao was lying on the street in front of me and I couldn't move a muscle. Will this whole training make a difference? Will I even remember what's being taught here when faced with the pressure of a real life emergency?
"Next up is one of the most prominent parts: how to perform CPR on someone and how to handle the artificial respiration that's part of it. We'll make sure to get plenty of practice in with the dummies I have here."
I wasn't exactly thinking clearly that time. What if something happens again, and I fail to recall what I'm being taught here? Won't that make me feel like an even bigger failure?
"Tomorrow we'll start with instructions on emergency treatment of wounds. I will talk about how to stop extensive bleeding and how to limit the risk of infections."
He chuckles for a moment.
"I hope nobody's prone to fainting spells when they see blood."
I think I'll be okay.
"After that, we'll move on to emergency treatment of…erm…"
Strangely enough, Nakamura doesn't finish his sentence and seems unsure on how to proceed. As I look at the others I can tell that I'm not the only one who's puzzled as to why he's suddenly stumbling at what should be an easy summary for anyone who's ever given a training before.
"…the emergency treatment of…?"
The trainer seems lost in thought for a moment, then gives a short shrug and proceeds.
"Ahem. After ordinary wound treatment, we'll cover the emergency treatment of burn injuries."
I feel a sharp shock slam through my body as if someone just walked up to me and pounded me in the chest with a sledgehammer, and I spring to my feet as if someone just hammered a nail through the bottom of my seat, my eyes widening in shock. No wonder he was lost on how to continue. He was trying to figure out how he's going to spend an hour detailing the various degrees of burn wounds all the while a miserable exhibit A is sitting right in front of him. Of course, my reaction draws the attention of the rest, merely contributing to the sense of panic that starts welling up inside me. As my hands start shaking uncontrollably, I am gripped by one all-consuming thought.
I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!
Struggling to stay on my feet, I manage to stammer the only thing that pops into my head as I head for the exit...
"I... I... have... to go do something!"
...only to nearly collide with someone who seems to be in as much of a hurry to get into the room as I am to get out of it.
Taken aback by this person's sudden entrance, I stare in bewilderment as she makes an apologetic bow that's almost deep enough for her nose to touch her toes.
"I found out this morning that I put the keys to the library in the wrong person's pigeon hole, so my replacement for this week couldn't get the library doors open until we tracked down the person who had my keys, and when we found him he told us he just dropped the keys back in my own pigeon hole and..."
For a few seconds the entire room is silent as everyone is trying to digest what just happened, and for a moment I'm too confused to remember I was in the middle of an attempt to flee the room in terror. As the woman in front of me lifts her head, I'm surprised to see a familiar face.
"Hanako? What are you doing here? Isn't there supposed to be a first aid training for Yamaku staff here?"
Suddenly, a panicked expression appears on her face.
"I didn't just barge into the wrong room again, did I? It's happened to me before."
A soft chuckle from one of the others breaks the awkward silence in the room and a moment later, I can hear our trainer walk up behind me.
"Welcome Shirakawa. Good of you to join us. Please take a seat. I was just giving a brief summary of the topics we'll be covering this week."
Making another apologizing bow to Mister Nakamura, Yuuko nervously walks past me and takes a seat on one of the empty chairs. Instead of walking back to his spot, Mister Nakamura softly addresses me.
"Can I have a moment, Ikezawa?"
Without waiting for an answer, he walks out the door and beckons me to follow him. After we're both outside earshot range of the others, he makes an apologizing bow very much like Yuuko's.
"I'm sorry for what just happened before Miss Shirakawa showed up. I suppose this is what people would call an oversight. I wasn't quite sure how to handle it. Miss Takawa explained your situation to me, but didn't share a lot of information about you."
I merely nod my head, not sure how to react to his statement. Apparently Miss Yumi didn't mention to him that I'm a burn victim.
"I can understand why an information session about the subject I just spoke of would be extremely awkward for you to attend. Unfortunately, if I want the certificates we hand out at the end of the training to have any value whatsoever, I will have no choice but to cover the entire program. I cannot ignore that fact."
I certainly wouldn't want him to pander to my problems by skipping a major portion of his training. Besides, if he were to end up skipping that part, it'd be immediately obvious to everyone but Yuuko why he did it.
"So here's what I'd like to propose. I'm going to shift the order of the lessons so the course about burns is the last thing I'll be covering tomorrow. Before we get there, we'll be taking a short break and that's where you can call it a day. On Thursday or Friday, when only the first-timers remain, I'll take the opportunity to give you a short private lesson about the part that you missed while the rest practices the material we've been covering."
"Is t-that... okay?"
"I think it's a bit early to throw in the towel. Walking away might seem tempting right now, but you might feel bad about it if you ever get involved in a situation where the knowledge I'm looking to impart this week can make a difference."
That's a good point. If I opt out now and Hisao has another episode in my presence in the future, I don't think I'd ever be able to forgive myself.
"Good. Let's head back inside and get things back on track."
I follow him back into the classroom and return to my seat. Mister Nakamura doesn't waste any time picking up where he left off.
"Getting back to this week's material, the next part we'll be covering will be what to do in cases of exposure to toxic substances. On Wednesday, we'll spend some time on cases involving bone and joint injuries as well as how to act in case someone's choking. Finally, I'll go over a variety of situations involving specific medical conditions such as epileptic seizures, diabetic emergencies and allergic reactions."
That last part sounds rather interesting, seeing that I currently have an epileptic as editor-in-chief.
"Seeing that all eight of you are currently here, we can split into four pairs and we'll have just enough dummies for each group to use one."
I can see one of the people who formed a group of three head towards Yuuko, who turns to Mister Nakamura and raises her hand.
"Teacher, would it be okay with you if I paired up with Ikezawa? We know each other fairly well."
"If she's okay with that, I am too."
I breathe a quiet sigh of relief and quickly nod my head. The art teacher gives an indifferent shrug and then walks over to Yuuko's initial partner. Nakamura takes the practice dummies out of their bags and carries three of them to a different corner of the room and then puts one in the center. As Yuuko and I walk to one corner, I give her a grateful look.
Yuuko smiles at me.
"When I came in, that person who was going to pair up with me was chuckling at me. Since I'm a bit accident prone, I'd like a partner who isn't going to laugh at me when I screw up."
She gives me a wink.
"Also, Nomiya's nice enough, but he creeps me out a bit, so…"
I give her a small smile. Truth be told, I'm often at a loss on how to handle Yuuko's erratic mood swings, but currently there's no other person in the room I'd rather be paired up with. It feels comforting to know I'll be working with someone who won't judge me for my skittish behavior. I suppose it feels good for her as well to pair up with someone who won't judge her. As we sit down on the floor next to the dummy, Nakamura walks to the center of the classroom.
"Before we start the first part, I'd like to hold a short introduction. What we teach here won't make you a perfect substitute for a doctor or a trained nurse. The goal of first aid in case of an emergency is to stabilize the victim until professional help arrives. Therefore, have your cell phone with you and call the ambulance before tending to the victim or let someone else on the scene make the call. Well-meaning attempts by non-trained civilians to help an injured person, for example by moving the injured person after a traffic accident or removing a puncturing object from a wound, have been known to make matters worse, so if you see someone trying to help in such a way, make sure to stop them quickly and tell them that you've received first-responders training."
He looks around the classroom.
"So, for short. In case of an accident or if anybody collapses in front of you, there are three simple steps. One, always call an ambulance. Two, check for vital signs, and do a quick checkup to see what can be done to stabilize a person's condition. Three, perform the appropriate actions while waiting for the ambulance to arrive, and don't leave an injured person alone."
Beckoning us to watch his actions, he kneels down next to the dummy in the center of the room and places his fingers on its left wrist.
"First thing to do in case of an emergency is to see if the person is still responding and check for vital signs if that's not the case. Specifically the victim's pulse and whether or not he's still breathing. We can check a person's pulse by putting two fingers on this spot right here just beneath the victim's wrist joint. Or we can go for the spot here at the throat."
Pausing for a bit to make sure we all got the point, he then carefully moves the dummy's arm and leg a bit before rolling it on its side.
"If the person has a pulse and is breathing, you'll want to put them in the recovery position like this. This'll make certain the victim can't suffocate on his own tongue or whatever it is he recently ate that might get vomitted back out. Always watch the head. And be sure to remove or loosen any pieces of clothing that might hamper breathing."
He gets up and cracks his knuckles.
"Let's practice these actions for a few minutes. I'll walk around and give feedback where necessary. Once everybody's got it right, we'll move on to CPR, which is the interesting part and..."
He takes out a green bag with the picture of a thunderbolt on top of a heart in the middle and the letters SMT in one corner.
"...we'll break up the practice with a demonstration on how to use a defibrillator."
Yuuko and I exchange a glance.
"Do you want to go first?"
I give a quick nod back.
Chapter 19 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:45 am
Huff - huff - huff
"Two minutes this time, Shirakawa."
Yuuko looks up at the trainer while rubbing her arms.
"I-is that good or bad?"
"It depends on whether the paramedics have already arrived on the scene or not. Movies like to pretend CPR involves pushing a victim's chest a few times and then they cough and get up good as new. But spontanous revivals are rare occurrances. In reality, you're supposed to keep going until the ambulance arrives or you're too exhausted to continue."
It's that last part that actually has me terrified. I already know what it felt like to just sit there and be unable to do anything while Hisao was slipping away from me. I don't ever, ever want to find out what it feels like to have some paramedic tell me they could have saved Hisao's life if I would have only lasted one more minute.
"You were doing well, Ikezawa. Though you were probably a little bit too gentle. I don't think those were compressions of 5 centimeters. Try pressing deeper the next time. Remember: if a victim complains about his ribs hurting afterwards, it means you've done something right."
Nakamura gives a friendly nod and then claps his hands in order to get everyone's attention.
"I think that's enough for now, people. You can review the material we've covered today by reading page 4 until page 32 of the binder I gave you. For those of you interested in testing your aptitude on the various subjects, I'll have a few small optional written tests you can take on Thursday and Friday. Let's call it a day for now. No need to worry about the dummies, I'll put them away myself later."
As I get up, I rub my sore arms. Those CPR practice sessions really made me wish I was more atlethic. Still, aside from the rough start this morning, I think I learned a lot of valuable things. And Yuuko proved to be a pleasant, although panic-prone, partner. As we leave the classroom, she gives me a comforting smile.
"Will you be here tomorrow too?"
Checking the time, I conclude that Hisao's probably still at the science club. I consider going to the library to kill some time, but then decide to drop by the newspaper club first. Seeing that summer break has already started, I don't expect there to be much activity, but I still need to know if I missed anything important. As I slowly open the door to the classroom that's home to our club and peek inside, I can see Naomi Inoue and Natsume Ooe, my two neighbors in class, relaxing and sharing some drinks with a tall, but frail-looking girl with long, brown hair in a simple ponytail and a red-and-white cap on her head whose name is Jun Yamazaki. She's the girl I was initially drafted to replace for a little while as assistent editor.
As I enter, I'm greeted by three friendly waves, Jun's being emphasized by the white orthopedic cast around her hand. Jun, a second year student here, is one of the reasons the computer lab is almost never completely deserted. She's a bit of a whiz kid whose knack for computers far exceeds my own, and she joined the newspaper club for the specific purpose of getting to do the editing jobs. Last week we ended up working together a few times to put the latest issue of the school newspaper together. I'm not completely comfortable around her yet, but due to her skinny build and her usually quiet demeanor, her presence is not exactly threatening either. When I was first invited into the club, I learned that Jun suffers from osteoporosis and is very prone to breaking bones as a result of minor falls that other people would simply shrug off.
"Hey there Hanako. All done for today? How was the training? What did you learn?"
As usual, Naomi's quick to fire off a verbal torrent of questions.
"It was pretty useful. We learned about...ummm...checking someone's pulse and doing CPR."
"Any familiar faces there?"
"Yuuko was there. And ummm...Miyagi. And Fujimoto. And erm... N-Nomiya as well."
Naomi throws me a mischievious wink.
"Soooo... Did you guys have to practice mouth-to-mouth breathing? On each other? Did you see any teachers doing it?"
My eyes grow wide in disturbed shock at the mental image that Naomi's remark conjures up, but it's apparently highly amusing to her, for she bursts into giggles after a short moment of silence.
As I struggle to figure out how to respond to Naomi's inane suggestion, I notice how Natsume and Jun both shoot her a dirty glare.
"Will you... please stop... polluting my brain with that kind of stuff?"
Natsume's scolding doesn't really seem to impress Naomi as she giggles at her own joke.
"Oh, come on. I thought it was funny."
Jun turns to me.
"They have big dolls for that kind of thing, don't they?"
I sigh in relief at Jun's attampt to steer the subject in a different direction.
"Y-yes. Practice dummies. We... used them t-to practice CPR too."
Naomi, apparently deciding to drop the previous subject, gives a quick nod.
"Sounds like your day was more interesting than ours. We ended up sharing the distribution duties with the student council. When we finished printing the last issue and dropped everything off at the council room, we caught Hakamichi in the middle of packing for summer break. She insisted we help out in order to guarantee everyone got a copy in time."
"W-wasn't the printing supposed to take place later this week?"
"According to the official schedule, yeah. Practically speaking, waiting that long would have been really stupid."
Naomi shrugs casually.
"Well, summer break started this week. Right now, lots of students are still busy tying up loose ends and packing their bags, but I'm betting that within a matter of days nearly half of the student body will have gone home for the summer, and this school will be one hell of a lot emptier. Meaning that half our batch would just end up gathering dust. But now we got people a copy just before they're leaving here..."
"…they're likely to take it along, so they h-have something to read during the trip back home."
Naomi smiles, pleased that I picked up on her train of thought.
Natsume fiddles with her glasses for a moment.
"I'll be here until Wednesday. Naomi said she and Jun will be heading home the upcoming weekend."
"Yup, so if you need to unwind from the whole changing-bandages-and-compressing-chests thing, you know where to find us."
As I turn to leave the room, Natsume gets up and hands me four copies of the latest edition - three ordinary ones and one with larger font for visually impaired students.
"While we were out there handing out newspapers, Naomi deliberately skipped the science club. She thought you'd want to be the one to hand them the latest issue."
I haven't seen Mutou smile very often. I think he looks a bit strange when he does. And as I hand him one of the newspapers I've brought along, which he very eagerly takes, his expression almost becomes a grin. Feeling a bit unnerved by it, I quickly turn to Hisao who was working on a sophisticated-looking circuit diagram together with Kenji until I came into the room.
"What's got him so excited?"
Hisao, unlike Kenji, has noticed Mutou's expression who's now gleefully thumbing through the paper, and he seems genuinely puzzled by it. In response, I simply hand him his copy.
"It's on p-page 5."
As Hisao starts flipping the pages of his copy, I give Kenji his visually-impaired edition. He takes it with a suspicious look in his eyes that puts me slightly on edge. Hisao, having reached the page that contains my column, looks surprised.
"'Club in the spotlight?' Hey, this is about the science club! But what…?"
I smile bashfully.
"M-my first article."
"Huh? I thought you were merely helping out with the editing."
"Ikezawa approached me a little while back for some information about this club for a small article in the next issue of the school newspaper. But it's a lot larger than I thought. You never said it was going to be a column."
"Naomi… liked the g-general idea, so we turned it into a c-column that will cover a new club each issue."
Mutou gives me an approving look.
"This will certainly give our club some much-needed exposure. With luck, we'll get a few new members out of it."
Hisao looks delighted by Mutou's prediction, but I notice that Kenji suddenly looks terrified, and he taps Hisao on the shoulder.
"We gotta talk, man. We can't be taken off guard by this thing. We gotta prepare."
"Not now, Kenji. We'll have plenty of time to talk later. I doubt we'll get any reactions before the end of summer break."
Kenji shrugs and walks out of the room. Though I don't get involved with Kenji a lot, I really can't wrap my head around his behavior. I've asked Hisao about it several times, but he usually just rolls his eyes and urges me not to think too much of it. As the sound of Kenji's footsteps fades away, my attention shifts back to the other people in the room who seem significantly more appreciative of my actions.
"I believe this club is indebted to you, Ikezawa. I obviously can't give you a straight 100% for your next test as a sign of appreciation as that'd be against the regulations, but… hmmm…"
He thinks for a moment, then snaps his fingers.
"I will be going for some coffee. Nakai?"
"Please kiss Ikezawa on my behalf."
"With pleasure, sir."
Mutou walks out of the room and before I can react, Hisao has wrapped one of his arms around me and uses his other hand to gently push my chin up before giving me a tender kiss on the lips. I freeze up for a moment, more than a little bit embarassed by the fact that we're in a classroom, but I then close my eyes and accept the kiss. Not letting go of me just yet, Hisao pulls me even closer and softly whispers in my ear.
"You'll get my own kisses later today."
"I love you."
A happy smile appears on my face as I return Hisao's hug. I hope Mutou is going to stay away for a little while, because I want to enjoy this moment for as long as I can.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:45 am
My eyes go back and forth between three illustrations of a person lying on the ground, each one in a slightly different position. The idea is to cross off the picture of the optimal recovery position, but picture B and C look really similar except for a slight difference in the angle of the head. Doing my best to recollect the position of the practice dummy during our excercises last Monday, I pick illustration B and move on to the next question.
I'm currently the only person in class right now, except for the trainer. Everyone was present during the first three days, but the day afterwards only Yuuko, a staff member whose name I forgot and I were there, the three of us obviously being the only ones completely new at this. And this day, the last day of the training, it's just me. Mister Nakamura took the opportunity this morning to make good on his promise and give me a private course through the chapter I skipped earlier this week. The chapter about burns and how to act in situations like someone's clothes catching fire or coming into contact with boiling water. The fact nobody else was in the room was probably the reason I didn't run out, lock myself in my room and hide under my bed. Even so, I felt utterly miserable and ready to start screaming throughout the whole ordeal and was happy Nakamura did his best to go through it as quickly as possible without showing pictures or going into any more detail than absolutely necessary. Now I'm busy taking a few small written tests to see how much of the whole thing stuck in there.
The next question I get to involves the correct procedure to follow when someone has gotten a corrosive substance in his eyes, but before I can take a good look at the corresponding illustrations, I hear a sharp beep coming from the trainer's desk. I get up as fast as I can, run over to a practice dummy in the corner, put my ear to its mouth, then put my fingers on its throat and finally put my hands on its chest before pressing down hard several times.
"Well done. You're doing it faster and more fluidly each time. Just remember to keep pressing down hard. You're not a muscle-bound PE teacher, so it's best not to hold back."
I give a subdued nod at the teacher's praise and get back to my desk to resume work on the test. This rather unusual practice drill was an idea of Mister Nakamura who thought that instead of structured rehearsals, I'd be better off practicing at random intervals so I could learn how to act when taken by surprise. So we agreed that every time he set off his ringtone, I'd run up to one of the dummies and go through the motions until they become a second nature.
Back at my desk, I pick up my pen again and hurry to finish the remaining four questions on my answer sheet. I quietly drop it on Nakamura's desk, which results in a satisfied nod.
"It won't take too long to correct this last one, Ikezawa. Why don't you wait around a bit until I'm finished and we can tie this whole thing up with a nice bow around it?"
I return to my desk, fiddling with my hair a bit.
"N-no more practice drills?"
"You've done more than enough of them throughout the week already. I think you have the motions down. I doubt doing any more drills will benefit you much. All that's left would be an actual emergency to test you. And I hope you won't ever get into that situation."
I really hope so too. I'm still not too confident in my ability to handle such a situation.
"If it makes you feel better… Panicking is a pretty common reaction to someone suddenly collapsing. It happens to a lot of people."
That doesn't make me feel better at all. If Hisao has a heart attack in front of me and I shut down because of it, it won't matter to me if it's a common reaction or not. It won't make my failure any more acceptable to me.
"By the way, your previous test was 81%. That's a pretty good score. Looks like you've done your homework."