Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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

Chapter 15

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:42 am

Chapter 15
01
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."
02
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.

"Miss Takawa!"

"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.

"Please enjoy."

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.
03
"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?"

"Huh?"

"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…"

"AHEM!"

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?"

"Ummm… Well…"

"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."

"Me?"

"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.
04
"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.

--------------------------------------
05
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?

"Nakai."

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 understand."

"I was merely waiting for… Ah… Good morning."

I turn around and watch two more people enter the room.

"Mom? Dad?"

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."

WHAT? NO!

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

"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?"
06
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."

"WHAT???"
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 10:20 am, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 16

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:42 am

Chapter 16
01
I'm worthless.

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.

I'm worthless.

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.

I'm worthless.

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'm worthless.

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.

I'm worthless.

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'm worthless.

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.

I'm worthless.

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.

I'm worthless.

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.

Hisao!

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."
02
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…"

Hisao…

"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…"

Wait! What…?

"…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…"

"You're wrong!"

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."

"What way?"

I swallow.

"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."

"Then why…?"

"B-because…"

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."

"Hanako, I…"

"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?

"Hanako?"

"Y-yes?"


"Was that an apology?"

"W-what?"

"Were you apologizing?"

"Y-yes."

"Okay. I'll accept your apology, if you accept mine."

"Yours?"

"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."

"How?"

"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…"

"Something happened?"

"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.

--------------------------------------
03
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.

"Hisao?"

"Yes?"

"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.

"Trouble?"

"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."

--------------------------------------
04
Hisao laughs as I walk past the school gate.

"Nice umbrella you've got there."

"T-thanks."

"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.

"Ummm… H-Hisao?"

"Yes, Hanako?"

"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."

"She does?"

"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.

"Hanako?"

"Y-yes?"

"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."

"Different?"

"…it's complicated…"

"I see."

"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?

"Hisao?"

"Yeah?"
05
"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."
06
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 17

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am

Chapter 17
01
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."

"Oh my…"

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."

--------------------------------------
02
"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."

"Hisao?"

"Yeah?"

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.

"Everything."

Decisively, I take out my cane and make my way to the boys' dormitory.

--------------------------------------
03
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.

"Hanako?"

"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."

"B-but…"

"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."

"Why?"

"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."

"Hanako…"

"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."

"I am?"

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

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

Chapter 17 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am

"Hanako…"

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."

"…O-okay."

"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."

"You didn't?"

"Had I been given a choice, I probably would have gone with them. But the decision was made for me."

"But w-why?"

"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."

"WHAT?"

"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."
04
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."

Oh no!

"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?

"Mother?"

"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.

"Mother, I…"

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.

"(Lilly…)"

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."
05
"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.

--------------------------------------
06
"So, you're really sure you're staying here, huh?"

"I am."

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.

"Lilly?"

"Yes?"

"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."
07
"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.

"Ah… Hanako?"

"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."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 17 Alt

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:43 am

Chapter 17 alt
01
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?"
02
"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."

"How so?"

"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."

"Really?"

"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."

"Hey, thanks!"

Kenji seems delighted at my quick offer of assistence, but then suddenly narrows his eyes and takes a step back.

"Something's wrong?"

"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?"

"Yeah."

"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."

"Sure thing."

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.

--------------------------------------
03
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?"

She chuckles.

"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."

"What?"

"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."

"Fair enough."

"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?

"Hanako?"
04
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.

"Hanako?"

"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."

"W-what?"

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…"

"Miss Hanako?"

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.

"M-Miss Yumi!"

"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."

"Okay."

"Oh… and Hanako?"

"Yes?"

I gently take her hand as we walk along.

"I'm very proud of you."
05
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:26 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 18

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:44 am

Chapter 18
01
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.

"Yo!"

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?"

"Ummm…"

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?"

"Huh?"

"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."

"Avoiding conflicts?"

"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?"

"Yes."

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.

"W-what?"

"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.
02
"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."

"I'll t-try."

"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."

"Y-yes?"

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?"

"W-W-WHAT?"

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."

"R-really?"

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.

--------------------------------------
03
"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?"

"Five days."

"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?"

"Next week."

"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."

"Me neither."

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."

Akira shrugs.

"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.

"Um…well…"

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.
04
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 27, 2014 9:37 am, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 19

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:44 am

Chapter 19
01
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."

"Yes."

"Hamasaki."

"In attendance."

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.

"Inaba."

"Yes."

Somebody else working at the administration? He seemed to be friends with the other two I didn't recognize.

"Miyagi."

"Attending."

"Nishihama."

"Yes."

"Nomiya."

"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."
02
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.
03
"I'M SORRY!"

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.

"Y-Yuuko?"

"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."

"Ummm... N-no."

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.
04
"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... understand."

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.

"O-okay then."

"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.
05
"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.

"Umm… thanks."

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.

"O-okay."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 19 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:45 am

06
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."

"I-I'll try."

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?"

"Y-yes."

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.

"N-no... ummm..."

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."

"How so?"

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.

"Bingo."

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."

"Ummm... Thanks."

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?"

"Sir?"

"Please kiss Ikezawa on my behalf."

Wait, what?

Hisao chuckles.

"With pleasure, sir."
07
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.

"Hanako?"

"Y-yes?"

"You'll get my own kisses later today."

"O-okay."

"And Hanako?"

"Yes?"

"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.
08
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 20

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:45 am

Chapter 20
01
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?"

"O-okay."

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."

"T-thanks."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 1:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 20 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:46 am

"So, do you have any plans for the upcoming three weeks of summer break you have left?"

"I… ummm… am going to S-Scotland together with my b-best friend and my b-boyfriend."

"Sounds fun. Any reason for Scotland specifically? Most tourists from Japan try to visit multiple countries while in Europe."

"M-my best friend's p-parents live there. She's visiting them, and we're a-allowed to come along."

"Well, I hope you'll have fun. By the way, could you check out page 156 of your binder?"

"Huh?"

I curiously turn to the page Nakamura mentioned and suddenly smile.

"Oh!"

Nakamura grins.

"Just in case."

On the page in front of me is a large table containing the emergency phone number of each country, sorted by continent. I quickly take out my cell phone and save the emergency number for the United Kingdom in its memory.

"Thank you."

The trainer takes out a handkerchief, wipes his forehead, then smiles at me.

"You're welcome."

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

I start to casually browse through the binder, not really reading but mostly keeping myself busy. As I look up, I can see Nakamura is again wiping his forehead. What's going on? It's not that hot here, is it?

--------------------------------------
02
After a few minutes, I catch him again taking out his handkerchief. He's looking a bit uncomfortable. Is he unwell or something?

"Ummm… A-are you… o-okay?"

He lets out a chuckle in order to dismiss the matter.

"I'm fine. I might be coming down with something. My luck, of course. Right around the start of my own summer break."

He slowly gets up, an uncomfortable expression still on his face.

"I… think I'm going to take a small bathroom break. I'll be right back. Could you open the window in the meantime? Let in some fresh air?"

"S-sure."
03
As I head towards one of the windows, I notice Nakamura is walking a bit hunched over. It gives me an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I turn towards the window and am about to push it open when I hear a soft groan behind me. As I look behind me, I'm shocked to see that Nakamura is lying face-down on the floor, about 10 steps away from the door. I physically reel from a sudden and almost overwhelming sense of dread that spreads through my body.

What's going on? Did he just collapse? What's wrong with him? What am I supposed to do?

"Mister Nakamura?"

My voice barely reaches above a whisper as I struggle to control my breathing.

"Mister Nakamura?!"

Somehow, I'm capable of making it across the room without my shaking legs giving out and I kneel next to him, rolling him onto his back.

"Mister Nakamura!!"

No reaction. What should I do now? Go and get help? But it's already nearly a week into summer break and the building is nearly deserted? What if he dies while I'm away? Why isn't anyone else here?

I guess I can't leave him alone. Doing my best to righten his head, I suddenly remember the first step of the drills I've done. Putting two fingers beneath his jaw, I THINK I can feel a pulse. Of course, it's almost impossible to be sure with my own heart pounding like a jackhammer, but it's a small relief. Putting my ear to his mouth, I can't hear any breathing though. Am I supposed to give him mouth-to-mouth or mouth-to-nose now? I really hate the idea of anyone's face but Hisao's getting close to mine - close enough to peek past my bangs and see the damage. Still, do I have a choice? I suddenly have an idea. I carefully move his head back and open his mouth further, then carefully use my other hand to cover his eyes. As I move my head downward though, Nakamura suddenly exhales loudly, causing me to jump up with a startled cry. As I look on, Nakamura casually gets up, dusts himself off and gives me a concerned look.
04
"Are you alright, Ikezawa? Just sit down and take a few deep breaths. I'm fine. I was just faking it. I was holding my breath on purpose."

Faking it? He was just pretending to…?

I barely manage to stammer what's on my mind.

"W-why?"

After making sure I'm not going to faint, Nakamura walks back to his desk and gives me a sheepish look.

"I figured one more practice drill was in order. Sorry to have frightened you. I wasn't even sure if it was going to work. I'm not exactly a seasoned actor. I'm surprised you didn't merely roll your eyes at me."

I should have known. He was testing me. He wanted to see if I'd call for help or go through the motions I practiced so many times or if I'd just run away or collapse in a shivering heap. I was dangerously close to doing the latter, that much is certain. And then what? Then my first aid certificate would be worth less than the paper it's printed on. I'd know in advance that this whole week had been a waste of time. And I'd end up feeling utterly worthless and more frightened of the prospect of Hisao's heart acting up than ever. For a moment I feel angry with Nakamura for drawing out my weakness with such little effort.

"I just finished your last test and your score is 84%. Very well done."

I nod in response, but don't really say anything. I'm still busy fighting off the adrenaline that's racing through my system. Nakamura frowns, gets up and sits on one of the desks in front of mine.

"I guess what I did was a bit thoughtless, but I thought it was important to get an idea on how you'd react in a real emergency situation... or at least as real as possible. The truth is that Mrs. Takawa asked me to give her my opinion on whether this training would be any use to you in such circumstances, and I thought this would be a good way to see for myself. If you'd have broken down just now, that would have given this week a real downer ending, but at least I could have reported to your therapist that this training wasn't sufficient on its own and that she'd best go and try something else. I figured the last thing you needed was a sense of security that'd prove to be false at the worst possible moment. I hope you can understand and that it helps to make you a little bit more confident about what you've learned here this week."

I can't say I don't understand his motivation, but I'm nevertheless unsettled at how panic-prone I just proved to still be even though it didn't paralyze me this time.

"You hesitated a bit, but you still reacted within an acceptable timespan. So I think you really deserve this."

He takes a fancy piece of paper from behind his back that I can see has my name on it and puts his signature on the dotted line near the bottom before handing it to me.

"Congratulations on succesfully finishing the training, Ikezawa."

I take it from him, still a bit shaky but also filled with a modest sense of pride.

"T-thank you."

"If you still have any questions for me, now would probably be a good time to ask. If not, I'm going to start packing up the dummies and get ready to head home."

I do have one question.

"Umm.... W-were y-you enacting an actual h-heart a-attack just now?"

"A little bit. Unlike what movies would like you to believe, heart attacks are rarely instantanous. But warning signs may vary from person to person."

"Warning signs?"

"You can find a list of the more common ones on page 34 of your binder. Though if you're currently thinking of your boyfriend, please be aware that what sent him to the hospital last time wasn't a traditional heart attack."

"Ah..."

"Remember that actual heart attacks involve the coronary artery getting clogged, resulting in part of the heart being deprived of oxygen and being damaged as a result. Your boyfriend's arteries are probably fine. His problem is that his heart occasionally starts a disfunctional rhythm. It's a different problem altogether. That doesn't mean he never experiences any warning signs, but... I think it's best if you try not to worry about those."

Not worry about them? Is he joking?

"Your boyfriend is probably well aware of his condition, and if any warning signs pop up that indicate an approaching episode, I'm willing to bet my life on it that he'll be aware of them long before you start noticing them. Ultimately it's his responsibility to take action and either slow down or warn others. If you sound the alarm each time he looks a little bit unwell, instead of trusting his judgement on it, you'll probably drive him and yourself crazy sooner or later. He's still as susceptible to colds and stomach aches as any other person after all."

That's a pretty good point, though I've never been good at applying the "no worrying" advice to my own life.

"If his heart gets into a disfunctional rhythm it won't come out of, the best thing you can do is be aware of the location of the nearest AED. I've noticed this school has quite a few of them hanging on the walls. I'm sure the head nurse here can get you a map of their locations."

"And outside of the s-school?"

"I'd like to suggest him getting an AED of his own at some point, but that's easier said than done. The one you've been practicing with this week costs as much as I pay in rent over the course of two months. Still, in the long term, it'd be a good investment."

"A-Anything else?"

He shakes his head and smiles.

"Try not to worry too much, and don't forget to enjoy life. Compared to other heart conditions, people with your boyfriend's condition still tend to live fairly long lives. And new scientific discoveries are made every day."

That cheers me up a little. I give him a tired smile and pick up my bag from my desk.

"T-Thank you...f-for everything."

"Glad to be of service. Have fun in Scotland."

"I w-will."

--------------------------------------
05
"E-Excuse me?"

After leaving the classroom, I decided to stop by at the newspaper club for just a few minutes and was greeted by Naomi and Jun who seem to be the only members still around the school grounds. When I entered the room, Naomi greeted me with a series of sounds that sounded like total gibberish to me.

"I said: 'Awrite! Hou's it gaun?' You don't know what that means?"

"S-Should I?"

"It means 'Hi. How are you?' in Scottish. You were supposed to answer with something like 'A'm fine, slainte!' "

Naomi looks very pleased with her performance, but Jun gives me a tired look.

"I looked up some Scottish phrases on the internet for her this morning, and she's been practicing them out loud ever since. Hopefully she'll stop now."

Naomi playfully sticks her tongue out at Jun.

"You're just jealous because my Scottish is better than yours."

Jun just rolls her eyes and Naomi takes the opportunity to continue the conversation.

"You haven't been practicing your Scottish?"

I haven't. Lilly assured me that our English would suffice, so I can probably communicate with the locals if (and only if) I absolutely have to.

"This week was busy for me."

"Oh, right. Still that first aid training, huh? How'd it go?"

"I finished it today."

I produce the certificate I got earlier from my bag and hand it to Naomi and Jun. Naomi looks it over for a second before passing it to Jun. They then smile and break out into a short but sincere applause. Or rather, Naomi's clapping while Jun's mimicking the motion as best as she can.

"Great job. I bet it's a little easier to go on vacation now with that one behind you, isn't it?"

"Yes. I'm happy the two didn't overlap."

"Looking forward to it?"

"I am. Do you h-have any vacation plans?"

Jun just shakes her head. Naomi, on the other hand, nods enthusiastically.

"I'm going on a trip across Japan. Natsume's coming too. We'll head north first, stay in Hokkaido for a bit, then head south towards Kyoto."

"That sounds enjoyable too."

"It will be. I'll be sure to take plenty of pictures. We can swap photos afterwards."

That might be a problem. My cell phone has a camera function, but it doesn't have enough capacity to store a large amount of photos, and I don't have an actual photo camera myself.

"I could… buy a g-guidebook while I'm there."

Naomi makes a face as if I just offered her a spoiled sandwich.

"That won't do. You're a member of the newspaper club now. That means you gotta walk the walk. No taking shortcuts."

"Ah… B-but I…"

"Just a sec."

Naomi gets off the desk she's sitting on and sprints into the room we use as our archive. Jun scratches her arm and turns to me.

"Naomi asked me to come along with her, but I need to have this cast removed next week. They're probably going to wrap it in stiff bandages if it's healed sufficiently. I hate these heavy things. They really itch."

"I'm s-sorry to hear that."

"It's okay. I have plenty of video games I still need to finish."

"Tadaah! Check this out!"

Naomi comes running back in, carrying a black bag in her hands. She opens it and fishes a slick-looking camera out of it, along with several small plastic containers with memory cards inside. She then gives me a triumphant grin.

"You don't have a camera yourself, do you? Well, what do you think of this baby? There's at least twleve gigabyte worth of memory cards in here too. You can take enough photos to wallpaper the entire classroom with and still have space to spare."

Wow! Is she really lending me this? That camera looks really expensive.

"F-For m-me?"

Naomi simply gives a cheerful nod.

"I was thinking of taking it myself, but since I'm dropping by at my parents' place before my own trip, I can simply take their camera instead. You can't fly to the other end of the world and not take any pictures. That's journalistic malpractice. And we won't have any of that around here."

"T-Thank you s-so much."

"You're welcome. If you want to thank me, maybe you could take some requests from me."

"Requests?"

"Since you're going to Scotland, are you going to visit that lake? You know, Loch Ness?"

"I hope so. It's only a few kilometers away from Inverness."

"They say there's a monster in there. It would be grand if you could snap a picture."

Jun promptly makes a facepalm gesture with her hand, which looks rather absurd due to the huge cast wrapped around it.

"You know that's an urban legend, don't you?"

Naomi shrugs.

"How about a picture of a Scotsman? You know, in traditional garb."

"I might be able to do that."

"Great. But no phonies. It has to be a true Scotsman."

"Ah… O-okay."

Naomi lets out a pleased giggle.

"Wonderful."

Naomi puts the camera back into its bag and hands it to me. I take it from her and put it into my own bag, being as careful as I can with it. This is a really pleasant surprise. I'm so happy I decided to drop by the club today.

"Now, in case taking those pictures gets your journalistic juices flowing, there's something you can brainstorm about. I've decided what the next club you'll be covering in your column will be."

"Which one is it?"

Naomi makes a face as if I just asked her a very stupid question.

"This one of course. You'll have the advantage of not having to put together a question list for an interview. Just write something up using your own experiences here, and we can take a look at it after the summer break to see if there's anything missing. Try to emulate the style of your previous column for consistency's sake."

"I'll do that."

She winks at me.

"Don't make us look bad."

I smile as I take my bag and get ready to head to my dorm room.

"I'll p-put some extra l-love into it."

Naomi gives me a thumbs-up.

"Attagirl. Well, guid cheerio the nou then."

"Eh?"

"Means goodbye. In Scottish."

"Bye."

As I leave the room, Jun comes after me with a conspiring expression on her face.

"If you DO take a picture of Loch Ness, could you mail it to me?"

She winks.

"I can probably photoshop a monster in there."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:32 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 20 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:47 am

06
"I'll let you handle the tickets, Hisao."

Hisao takes the envelope containing our flight tickets from Lilly and carefully puts them away.

"I'll make certain not to lose them, Lilly."

"Good. Have the two of you finished packing all your luggage already?"

"I have. Hanako?"

Fortunately, I have too. Knowing this'd be a busy week, I've already tried to pack whatever I could last weekend.

"Me too."

Lilly gives a satisfied nod. As I look around her room where we've spent the last half hour drinking tea and discussing the final preparations, I notice that Lilly's own suitcase is still only half-full, though I doubt I'd be able to even pack a single thing without being able to see.

"Do you need some help with packing, Lilly?"

"No, thank you, Hanako. I know exactly what items I still have left to pack, and I'll be sure to finish things up soon."

"Okay then."

Lilly lets out a short sigh.

"In other circumstances, we would be celebrating you getting your first aid certificate right now. I feel bad we lack the time for that at the moment."

"It's okay. It's for a good reason after all."

"We will hold a celebration for you once we're in Scotland, Hanako. That is a promise."

"T-Thank you, Lilly."

"I think it's probably best if Hanako and I take our leave now, Lilly. That'll give you time to wrap things up and get some rest."

"That might not be a bad idea, Hisao. Let us assemble in my room tomorrow morning at ten o' clock. That'll leave us enough time to get to the station and take the train to the airport."

"Sounds like a plan. Good night, Lilly."

"Good night, Lilly."

"Good night, Hanako, Hisao. Rest well. Tomorrow will be a very exhausting day for sure."

As I unlock the door to my dorm room and turn around to kiss Hisao goodnight, he puts one arm around me.

"Can I come in for a while?"

"Sure."

We enter the room, and I take a seat on my bed. I feel tired and tense at the same time. Today was stressful and exhausting. First the lesson on burns that hit several sensitive nerves and then the trainer's faked heart attack right in front of me. And tomorrow might even be more nervewracking.

"Wow, your shoulders are still really stiff. I guess that little get-together with Lilly didn't really help?"

Hisao has placed a hand on my shoulder and gives me a worried frown.

"It helped… a little bit."

"Maybe this will help a little bit more."

He sits down behind me and gently starts massaging my shoulders.

"That would be nice."

I let my head hang forward and try to relax as much as possible as Hisao massages the muscles of my neck and shoulders. This is something he's been doing for me since we started dating - a way to take away whatever stress I built up over the day.

"You can… d-do it a little more forcefully."

"This might make a difference too."

Hisao reaches around and unbuttons my blouse. I let it slide off my shoulders while he rubs his hands together to warm them. Moments later, I feel a warm hand on my bare left shoulder stroking it and then kneading it firmly. Minutes pass without either of us saying anything, but the silence fortunately isn't too uncomfortable. I've told Hisao all I cared to share about today earlier when I visited his room while he was in the process of packing his suitcase. Right now, there simply isn't much to say. After a while, Hisao gets off the bed.

"Hanako, can you lie on your stomach now?"

I comply with his request and feel my hips being pressed down as Hisao straddles me. Then I feel his hands press down on my upper back and make long, firm strokes.

"Hanako, I really appreciate the fact that you've made such a large effort this week on my behalf."

"It…wasn't just for you. It was also for myself."

"Well, regardless, I already feel a bit safer now than I did before."

I don't really share his optimism yet. This afternoon I've just barely managed to hold off a panic attack and that involved someone I hardly even knew. I'm still not very confident in my ability to hold things together if something were to happen to Hisao. Still, I feel a bit of happiness from his words.

"T-Thanks."

"You know, the last time I spoke with her, I asked Miss Takawa for advice on what to do if you got overwhelmed by stress or fear again. Because I don't want to feel helpless either. Like that time you had an episode in science class."

"What d-did she s-say?"

Hisao stops the backrub he's been giving me until now and gets off the bed.

"I really liked her advice."

"What w-was it then?"

He doesn't respond, but I hear a bit of rustling behind me. The moment I turn around, however, I feel a pleasant and warm sensation that elicits a surprised gasp from me.

"Hisao!"
07
It takes me a moment to realize that the rustling sound I heard earlier was Hisao taking off his shirt and while I was turning around to face him, he got back onto the bed and is now lying next to me and hugging me tightly.

"She suggested something like this."

I giggle.

"She s-suggested taking your shirt off?"

"Hehe, not exactly. She suggested cuddling, though I don't think she'd object to some added intimacy if it helps the cause."

I wouldn't know about that, and I doubt I'll ever find out. My sex life is the one thing I've kept my therapist out of and if possible I'd like it to stay that way.

"E-Even if she'd… object, I w-wouldn't."

Hisao laughs softly and then plants his lips on mine. At first, our kisses are gentle, and we're content to just hold on to each other tightly, but soon our kisses become more feverish, and we're rubbing our bodies against each other. Suddenly, Hisao moves his hand down and playfully squeezes my butt which causes me to let out a yelp and reflexively thrust my hips forward, causing my crotch to press against his.

Hisao chuckles at my gasp and stops our makeout session to let his forehead rest against mine and look into my eyes for several seconds before giving me a quick peck on the lips. I know what that gesture means. He's used it several times in the past to get a question across that'd be too embarassing to ask with words. Do you want to have sleep together? I also know how to give the affirmative response. If I respond with a quick peck back, the way things are now, it'll probably take less than 15 seconds for the last piece of clothing to hit the floor. Yet there's a small sense of anxiety I feel that prevents me from immediately reciprocating his invitation. Maybe it's written on my face or maybe Hisao has noticed the pause.

"…Hanako. Would you… like to...?"

I merely lower my gaze, trying to work out my feelings.

"Ummm…"

"It has been some time."

That's certainly true. Between that night in a hotel where we had intercourse for the first time since the start of our relationship and the moment when Lilly announced her departure, Hisao and I did it several times. While I tried to keep the afternoons and evenings open for Lilly during that time, I made sure to save the nights for Hisao. I learned two things about myself during that period in time. The first was the fact that I actually possess a sex drive. I still prefer the lights to be either dimmed or off altogether and Hisao's always the one taking the initiative, but I've been seeking him out all those times knowing full well that we'd probably end up between the sheets together, and, while we were busy doing the deed, I found myself welcoming the experience.

The second thing I learned, however, was that my sex drive is also rather closely tied to my state of mind. So while I was busy taking Lilly on all sorts of outings, Hisao and I were far from hurting on the physical intimacy front. After Lilly announced her departure however, I quickly found I was unable to get into the mood. And during Hisao's time in the hospital, well, I didn't think I'd even get so much as a kiss out of him anymore ever again. Even though we reconciled nearly two weeks ago, Hisao's been forced to take it slowly ever since, and I obviously haven't been eager to push him past his limits.

"I… I know."

"And you seemed to be in the mood just now."

I was and part of me still is. My mood isn't really the issue. If it hadn't been for the fact Hisao was just released from the hospital a few hours earlier, I would have been happy to have my first experience with make-up sex the very day we reconciled. What weighs upon my heart is his current condition.

"It's n-not that. It's j-just…"

He seems to guess where this is going. Which is not surprising since we've had this kind of discussion before.

"I've worked hard the last one and a half week to get back into shape. I did a light jog this morning without any troubles. My stamina's not at the point where it was prior to my accident just yet, but it's getting there. I'll probably be fine."

"Did you… t-talk to the nurse?"

"Not about this."

I let out a soft but still audible sigh. I can't say I blame him very much. I certainly wouldn't be able to do it. But Hisao's a lot more confident than I am, and he sees the nurse on an almost daily basis. But still…

"Look Hanako, I'm not gonna ask him if he feels I'm physically ready to start sleeping with you again. Because that feels to me like I'm asking him for permission to have sex with my girlfriend. And I bet he'd feel the same way."

"How c-can you b-be sure?"

"Because I know him. I'll have to spend months listening to his immature jokes."

He squeezes his eyes shut and contorts his face into a broad grin like the nurse's.

"Just let me check your heartbeat, Hisao. If you're good, I'll give you a lollipop. Or a night with your girlfriend. Which one would you like best?"

I giggle. There's something bizarre about Hisao's impression.

"I d-don't think…"

"Hisao, guess what? I'm having a sale right now. Get one night between the sheets and you'll get a second one for free. Today only. What do you think?"

I press my hand to my mouth to hold back a laugh.

"That's…hee hee..."

"Yeah, when you're not the one being made fun of."

Realizing we're getting off track, Hisao gives me another peck on the lips and genly presses my chin up so I'm looking right into his eyes again.

"Look Hanako, the nurse isn't going to stick around for the rest of my life, so in the end my own judgement will eventually be the thing I'll have to rely on."

That sounds a lot like what Nakamura told me earlier today… about not worrying about him too much.

"Hisao… I… I've been s-startled once a-already today, b-but if you really think you'll b-be okay, I'll t-trust your judgement."

I can see Hisao think for a moment, weighing the odds of his heart acting up. I'm not really that frightened he'll die on me if we end up doing it, but after today, I don't think I'd take even a flutter very well. Hisao seems to pick up on my thoughts and gives a short nod.

"Okay then, Hanako. We'll put it off for now."

I give him a quick kiss, feeling a bit guilty about getting cold feet, but also a bit relieved.

"Can I stay here tonight?"

"I'd really like that. We can still c-cuddle, if you like."

"That sounds good."

I get off the bed, take off my clothes and then lie down and pull the covers up to my chin. Hisao follows my example, settles down next to me, grabs me in a tight hug and whispers in my ear.

"I really missed this."

"Me too."

We spend some time snuggling up against each other while exchanging sweet kisses. We keep this up for some time until Hisao takes my face in both his hands and presses a quick peck on the tip of my nose.

"You know, I'm the one who has to take it easy, but I can still tend to you, Hanako."

He starts fondling my breasts and runs one finger up and down the front of my panties once.

"Ah…"

Part of me would probably like that, but another part feels guilty about the idea of me having a good time without Hisao. Ever since the first time we started our physical love life, we've done it on a strict give-and-take basis and even when we started having actual intercourse, we always tried to make certain that neither of us was missing out in any way. Hisao seems to guess what I'm thinking.

"Let's face facts, Hanako. You've had a trying day. Heck, you've had a trying week and tomorrow will be another day that'll probably push you way beyond your comfort zone. Why not let me help you unwind a bit - get everything out of your system? I'd say you've earned it. Forget about the equal exchange thing for once."

"Ummm… I-I think I'll b-be fine with c-cuddling."

"You sure?"

I take some time to figure out how to reply.

"I… want m-my first experience s-since we got back together to be a little bit special."

"Special?"

"Taking our t-time, s-sharing the experience, building things up gently and slowly…"

"Like that night in the hotel?"

"Yes, like that."

"You want it to be a bit romantic?"

Something like that. I like romance. At least, I think I do. But since silences between us are still awkward, our dates have centered around doing things that don't leave many silences such as watching a movie or playing video games. Fun, but not the most romantic way to spend time together. I'd argue that the most romantic moments we've shared are when we're together like this and we can communicate our affection for the other through cuddling, kisses and other non-verbal means.

"Yes."

"Okay then."

I snuggle up to him and give him one last kiss.

"Good night, Hisao."

"Good night, Hanako. Sleep well. We have a big day ahead of us tomorrow."
08
Last edited by Guest Poster on Fri Sep 26, 2014 12:47 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 21

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:47 am

Chapter 21
01
"Hisao, did you remember to bring a written statement from the nurse along regarding your medication?"

"It's kinda late to bring that up, isn't it Lilly? If I hadn't, it'd be too late to get one seeing that we're already past the security gate. Anyway, I did remember to pick one up yesterday and the lady at the baggage check-in said she'd make sure everything would be fine."

"That's a relief. Three weeks worth of medication must be quite a quantity."

"Seriously. Good thing Yamaku has its own apothecary."

This morning, our final preparations went off without a hitch, and neither our bus to the train station nor our train to the airport had any delays. We made sure to arrive at the airport three and a half hours before the departure of our flight, since getting around the airport wasn't going to be a quick process. Baggage check-in went well. That was pretty much where things went south though.

"Do you know what time it is, Hisao?"

Getting around the place proved to be a slow process and our odd formation must have turned several heads. Lilly had to be guided, of course, and I was placed in the role of navigator. With Lilly's hand on one arm and her carry-on luggage in the other, I've been leading our little group through the halls of the airport. Clinging to Lilly's other arm was Hanako, head down and hat lowered to obscure her face as much as possible, doing her best to block out the crowd all around us. The crowd didn't even turn out to be her biggest concern this day.

"We still have about 45 minutes until our plane departs, Lilly."

Having made it through airport security, we're now sitting in the corner of a small coffee shop near the gate, enjoying a drink and a light meal. The small talk between Lilly and myself is partially to kill time and partially to try and ease Hanako's tense mood. That Hanako would have a tough time navigating the airport was something to be expected - the terminal halls are quite a bit more crowded than the average street in the city, especially during this time of year.

"I wonder if we should already head for our gate."

During our trek through the main hall, we were suddenly approached by one of the security officials walking around the place who seemed drawn to Hanako in particular. A very uncomfortable pause took place when he walked up to us and then suddenly backed away for a moment upon noticing Hanako's facial scarring, though Lilly was quick to take control of the situation. When asked by Lilly if there was a problem, the guard explained to us that part of his job was to look out for people who were showing signs of unusually nervous behavior, and Hanako's body language caught his attention. We got a profuse apology afterwards, but the damage had already been done, and whenever I cast a sidelong glance at Hanako, I could see her eyes darting left and right as if watching out for other security officers who might see a potential smuggler or someone with some other form of guilty conscience in her.

"Isn't that way too early?"

Neither Lilly nor I bothered suggesting to Hanako to try and act more casually. She'd be as likely to do that as she'd be to don a bikini in the middle of the terminal. Both of us are aware she's emotionally in a bad place right now, but we also realize that openly worrying about her will only make her feel worse. We've come this far. The only way out is through and we're counting on the assumption that if we can get Hanako to her plane seat without her suffering a breakdown, she'll have plenty of opportunity to catch her bearings during the flight itself.

"International flights often start the boarding process about 20 minutes prior to departure. I'd like to be one of the first in the boarding area. Last time Akira and I got on a plane, we were among the very first people allowed to board. It's a courtesy policy of our airline towards disabled passengers. I see no reason not to take advantage of it. I would…"

Lilly hesitates for a moment.

"Yes?"

"I would also like to get past the security gate before a big line forms there."

This immediately manages to catch, perhaps unsurprisingly, Hanako's attention. She's been quiet the whole time we've been sitting here, but now she looks at Lilly with a look of dread on her face.

"But Lilly, d-didn't w-we already p-pass security?"

"I'm sorry, Hanako. But there will be another security check just before we enter the jet bridge."

Hanako sighs loudly.

When we accepted Lilly's offer to join her on her trip, we were asked if either of us had ever been abroad before. When this didn't turn out to be the case, Akira was quick to point out we'd need to get ourselves a passport in order to accompany her sister. The process of getting a passport in itself wasn't that big of a problem. The whole thing had to be finished on a very short notice, but thankfully getting a passport doesn't take too long a time in this country and Akira gave us plenty of pointers on how to complete the application process as quickly as possible. Hanako, Lilly and I skipped school the day afterwards in an attempt to get all the necessary steps on our part done before the end of the day. Everything went pretty well until it was time to submit the forms and the photos. There was a photo booth nearby, so getting mug shots wasn't a big deal, but we found out that there were some pretty strict guidelines regarding the pictures.

When Hanako realized that she was expected to have a picture taken that showed a full frontal, unobscured closeup of her face, we could tell that she was seriously considering backing out of the whole trip. With a lot of effort, Lilly and I managed to convince her to grit her teeth and go through with the whole thing, though it still took over 10 tries before we managed to take a picture where Hanako was able to force herself into keeping a relatively neutral expression on her face. The expression on her face when she submitted her passport photos to the clerk behind the counter was beyond troubled.

The whole experience made me realize that for Hanako, willingly showing her face to someone was something she considered extremely intimate and she later confided in me that the whole thing very much felt to her like having a nude photo stuck on her passport. Needless to say, the prospect of having to show her passport to yet one more security guard and getting the almost guaranteed shocked look in return is something that makes her more than a little bit anxious. I get up.

"Best thing we can probably do is get it over with quickly."

Hanako nods quietly though it's apparent she's not exactly eager about it. As Lilly also rises to her feet, she puts her hand on Hanako's shoulder.

"Hanako, I realize today has been difficult and confrontational for you, but I'm still really happy that you decided to come along."

For a moment, Hanako allows herself to smile softly.

"T-Thank you, Lilly."

--------------------------------------
02
"Your seats are on the left all the way in the back. May I help you with the luggage?"

Lilly smiles sweetly at the flight attendant welcoming us aboard.

"Thank you, but my friends and I will manage."

As Lilly predicted, the airline allowed us to board the plane before anyone else in economy class and we were all relieved we had the opportunity to get to our seats before the plane started filling with people. It looks like Akira put some thought into picking our seats. A place in the back meant there'd be fewer people around us and Hanako's scarred side would be facing the wall of the cabin.

We walk down the aisle with me in the lead, Lilly behind me with one hand on my shoulder and Hanako following very close behind us. As we get to our seats, three chairs next to each other in one corner in the back of the plane, I turn around.

"Ladies first."

Lilly smiles, but shows no sign of getting ready to sit down.

"Akira told me once that one's first plane flight is a very special moment, particularly the first takeoff when you see the land below slowly get smaller. I think a place near the window would be wasted on me. I believe the window seat should go to the only person who hasn't flown before. I certainly think she has deserved it."

That's a good point. Not to mention the fact that having both me and Lilly as a buffer between herself and the rest of the people on the plane will probably allow Hanako to relax a little more. I open the storage compartment above the seats and take Hanako's backpack from her.

"That's you, Hanako. Go ahead and take the seat in the back. I'll put your and Lilly's luggage away."

Hanako nods and quickly moves to her assigned seat while I put everyone's bag in the storage bin.

"So I guess the second seat will be mine?"

"Yes. You might still have the opportunity to enjoy the view a bit, assuming Hanako doesn't end up hogging all of it for herself. And better still, you'll get to spend the upcoming 12 hours with one lovely lady on each side. I'm sure many men would envy you."

"How can I say no to such a tempting offer?"

I take my seat next to Hanako as Lilly folds up her cane, puts it in her bag and sits down in the seat to my left. I take a look at my girlfriend. As expected, just before we could board the plane, she received another proverbial gut punch in the form of another security gate we had to pass. I can tell the whole thing has taken its toll on her as she's looking gloomy, exhausted and physically ill. I don't like the fact that we'll have to repeat this hassle again when we arrive in London, but I'm thankful that that moment is still about half a day away. Hopefully Hanako will be able to rest a bit during the flight and be less tense when we arrive at London Heathrow.

"Hanako?"

"Yes?"

"Can I have a book?"

This week, Hanako and I paid a visit to the library and made sure to borrow a few books that neither of us has read before, so we could swap them after we're finished with them. Seeing that we'll be spending several weeks in a foreign country, getting new books in Japanese will be all but impossible.

"Sure."

Hanako picks up her handbag and hands me one of our books. I expect her to get one for herself as well, but instead, she takes out a neat-looking photo camera.

"Hey, that's a nice camera."

"It is."

Lilly turns her head in our direction.

"I didn't know you owned one, Hanako. We should remember to register it at customs so you don't have to pay duty on it."

"It's… not really mine. It belongs to the n-newspaper club. Naomi let me borrow it."

"Really? That's really nice of her. Do you get along well with her, Hanako?"

Hanako seems to think a bit on that.

"She… often comes up to talk to me these days, although she… does that with all members of the c-club. Most of the time, she just talks… and I just try to k-keep up with her. But I don't exactly hate spending time with her. I think she means well."

Until Hanako joined the newspaper club, I never really interacted with Naomi even though we're both in the same class. I wouldn't exactly call them a natural combination, seeing how talkative and forward Naomi often is and how quiet and reserved Hanako usually is. On the other hand, the fact that moments with Naomi hardly contain any silences probably does a lot to hide Hanako's social handicap, and shared interests can go a long way in bridging gaps between people.

"Well, let's give her gift meaning by making sure to take lots of photos to remember this trip by. Perhaps we could start right now."

"Now?"

"Could I have your camera for a moment?"

With a puzzled expression on her face, Hanako hands over the camera. I take it from her, get up and beckon a stewardess who's walking down our aisle.

"Excuse me. Would you mind taking a picture of the three of us?"

"Of course not."

As the stewardess readies the camera, I quickly wrap one arm around Hanako's waist, pulling her a little closer, and put my other hand on Lilly's shoulder. I give the stewardess a affirmative nod.

"Smile please!"

The stewardess presses the button, we hear a sharp click, and then she hands the camera back to me. I thank her and return the camera to Hanako.

"Let's take a look."

Hanako presses a button on the side, and I can see a picture of the three of us on the display. It's not perfect… Neither Lilly nor Hanako are completely facing the camera. Lilly was probably still in the process of determining the exact location of the camera, and Hanako was trying to look into the camera while at the same time trying to keep her scars out of view. Still, aside from those small snags, it's a nice picture and probably the first one ever taken that features all three of us.

"I like it. The first picture of the three of us."

Lilly smiles.

"The first of many, I hope."

"Y-yes."

I open my book and start reading, trying to ignore the steady flow of fellow-travelers filling up the plane. I shoot a sideway glance at Hanako, but she's too occupied with examining the various options on the camera's display screen to pay much attention to the ever-growing crowd. That's probably a good thing. As I turn to page 12 and the flow of people starts slowly drying up, Hanako turns to Lilly.

"Ummm… Lilly."

"Yes, Hanako?"

"They have these… special clothes in Scotland, don't they? Like skirts?"

Lilly chuckles.

"Not many Scottish would appreciate you referring to them as skirts. They're called kilts over there."

"Do a lot of p-people wear them over there?"

Lilly shakes her head.

"Think of them as traditional garments, like kimonos, that are worn during special events but are uncommon in everyday life."

I scratch my head.

"Why the sudden interest in traditional local garments? Are you planning on getting one yourself?"

Hanako shyly shakes her head.

"Naomi wanted me to t-take a picture of a Scotsman. She m-meant a person in traditional clothes, I think."

Lilly thinks for a moment.

"The ideal occasion to get pictures would have been the Inverness Highland Games - a traditional sports event held once a year. But unfortunately, that event has been held in July already. I'm positive, however, that there are several tourist attractions in the area where you should be able to get a few shots of Scots in traditional garb. They are part of Scotland's national image after all, and we're in the middle of the tourist season."

I turn to Hanako.

"It's a small price for the opportunity to get a free camera, but it's still an odd request."

"She asked f-for a picture of the Loch Ness monster first, b-but then said a picture of a true Scotsman was fine too. She's a l-little strange sometimes."

"A true Scotsman? Oh my!"

Lilly raises her hand and covers her mouth, but it's not enough to hide a giggle and the broad grin on her face. I must have missed something, but Lilly seems to find Hanako's last remark extremely funny. Looking at Hanako, I can tell she's as confused by Lilly's reaction as I am.

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow. Care to enlighten us on what's so amusing?"

Lilly giggles once more, then scrapes her throat and composes herself.

"By tradition, kilts are worn without any underwear underneath. Asking a Scotsman whether he's a true Scotsman or not is the same as asking him if he's naked underneath his kilt."

Upon hearing Lilly's explanation, Hanako lets out a shocked gasp before turning bright red. Looks like Lilly just helped us dodge a bullet here.

"Thanks for saving us a really awkward situation. Hanako, do you think Naomi was serious or do you think she was playing with you?"

"It's d-difficult to t-tell with her sometimes. I t-think she was serious."

"Eh, we'll just take a picture of a Scotsman and tell Naomi it's a true one. Let her prove otherwise."

"Okay."

Before we can continue the discussion, the announcement system above our heads springs to life and we hear a chime followed by a male voice.

"Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to flight OCN007 to London. Thank you for flying with Oceanic Airlines. In a few minutes, we'll receive permission from the control tower to access the runway. In the meantime, please make certain that your seat is in the upright position, and keep your seat belt fastened for as long as the sign above your seat is lit. We're about to show you a short video with safety instructions detailing how to act in an emergency situation."

The displays on the back of the seats in front of us suddenly turn on, and a flight attendant is seen going through the safety regulations like the smoking prohibition and the request to turn off cell phones.

"...please take note of the nearest emergency exit indicated by the signs that are currently lit up. In case of limited visibility, follow the trail of emergency lights on the floor..."

Judging from the seat chart the nearest emergency exit is right behind us although I seriously wonder if I'd be in a condition to even make it there in case of an emergency landing.

"...in the case of the loss of cabin pressure, compartments above your head will open automatically to reveal oxygen masks. Always make sure to put on your own breathing masks before helping others with theirs..."

I wonder if I'm the only one who's a bit put off by how annoyingly cheerful the attendant in the video seems to be while describing a grave emergency situation.

"That d-doesn't h-happen often, d-does it?"

I'm surprised by Hanako unexpectedly chipping in and even grow a little concerned when I notice she's become pale and visibly shivering a bit.

"Hey, are you alright?"

Hanako nods weakly, but looks more than a little bit uncomfortable. While I'm still trying to figure out why Hanako, who hasn't shown any indications of flight anxiety before, is suddenly getting jittery, Lilly calmly answers her question.

"I wouldn't worry, Hanako. These worst-case scenarios are very rare, and air travel on the whole is a lot safer than travelling by car."

Hanako seems to relax a bit. The information video ends, and a few minutes later I can hear the plane's engines starting, and we slowly start moving. We keep moving for about a minute and then suddenly stop again, causing Hanako to give us a puzzled look. Lilly seems to guess her thoughts.

"This is perfectly normal. We'll probably start moving again soon."

Sure enough, after a short while we start moving again, and the plane makes a slow turn. As we stop momentarily, Lilly smiles.

"Here we go. You might experience some light ear pain during the takeoff or landing due to the changing pressure in the cabin. What I did last time was try to yawn a few times or chew some chewing gum. I have some in my handbag if you want it."
03
Just as she finishes, the engines start roaring louder, and we're pressed into our seats as the plane starts accelerating. Faster and faster we go, and then I get a strange feeling in my stomach as our plane leaves the ground. I put my hands on Hanako's shoulders and softly move her aside just a little bit so I can look past her out the window as well. I move my right hand up to her face and use my index finger to gently brush her bangs aside so she can absorb the view with both eyes. And an amazing view it is, just like Lilly said. Tall buildings are turning small like playthings. The countryside turns into big green blanket. And then, just before the pilot informs us we've reached cruising altitude, Hanako and I are faced with a vast ocean of clouds as far as the eye can see. As we sit here, my arm around Hanako and her cheek pressed against mine, I occasionally look at the expression on her face which has turned from silent awe to a beautiful excited smile. Over the course of this day, I've had my doubts from time to time whether this whole trip was a good idea, but that doubt is completely gone now. This experience, this moment we're sharing together, was totally worth it.

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:41 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 21 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:47 am

04
"Lilly?"

"What is it, Hisao?"

"I didn't wake you up, did I?"

"You didn't. I wasn't even sleeping. I already found out last time that I'm unable to sleep on airplanes."

"I guess that makes two of us. It seems like only Hanako will be getting any sleep for the rest of the day."

"So she's asleep right now? I already suspected as much by the sound of her breathing."

"She is. And what's more, she's currently using my shoulder as a pillow."

"It's not uncomfortable for you, is it?"

"No, far from it. However, I need to take a restroom break and take my medication, but I don't want to wake her up."

"What do you want me to do?"

"I've moved the armrests up. I'd like you to trade places with me for a little while if you don't mind."

"I don't mind. Do you simply want me to move to my right?"

"Just a second... Now."

I gently nudge Hanako upright a bit, then quickly get up as Lilly moves onto my seat before Hanako can slump back. I move away, and Lilly stays still for several seconds without even breathing. Eventually Hanako mumbles something in her sleep before settling down on Lilly's shoulder.

"Looks like we got away with it. I'll be back soon."

"Please don't rush yourself on my account."

I shake my legs, which have started tingling from the long bout of inactivity, back to life and wobble unsteadily towards the lavatory in the back. Opening the door, I'm taken aback for a moment at how cramped the thing is, but then take a deep breath and step inside. I'm pretty glad I'm not a claustrophobe right now. First taking the time to empty my bladder, I then open my backpack and get the usual dosage of pills out. A few hours earlier we had a modest meal (it was okay, though not exactly up to the standards of Lilly's cooking or Hanako's more succesful school lunches), and I made sure to order an additional flask of bottled mineral water for this occasion.

I use the water to flush the pills down my throat and yawn a bit. It should probably be night already, but if you look through the windows it's still broad daylight. Since we're flying west, we're essentially keeping up with the sun, making this possibly the longest day of my life. When we get to London, it'll be late in the afternoon. I hope I'm not going to experience jet lag while we're in Scotland.

When I get back to our seats, I see that Lilly made herself a bit more comfortable. She has her right arm wrapped around Hanako and holds Hanako's hand in her left hand. They look very cute together. I reach for Hanako's handbag near her feet, take out the camera and snap a quick picture. As Lilly recognizes the click from the camera she pouts with mock indignation.

"You should ask before taking pictures, Hisao. I probably looked a bit silly in this one."

"Nonsense, some of the best pictures are the ones taken spontanously. Ready to switch places again?"

Lilly considers for a moment.
05
"Actually, would you mind if I stayed like this a little longer?"

"Not at all."

I take a seat and look at the girls again. Lilly has a peaceful smile on her face. I don't think her request was merely about not wanting to risk waking up Hanako.

"There are blankets in the pockets of the seats in front of us. Would you…?"

"Yes please."

I take the folded blankets and remove the plastic wrapping around them. I softly wrap one of them around Hanako's sleeping form and pass the second one to Lilly, who merely folds it out and covers her lap with it. I sit down in Lilly's original seat and get my own blanket. I doubt I'll get any sleep, but I try to relax nevertheless.

"Hisao, how long is it until we reach our destination?"

I take a look at one of the monitors hanging from the ceiling. The screen shows various bits of information, like the temperature outside, the altitude of the plane and the estimated time of arrival.

"Four and a half more hours. I hope Hanako will have recovered her energy a bit by the time we land."

"I'm relieved she was able to relax. She seemed anxious when we were about to take off. I was afraid she'd turn out to have a fear of flying."

"I've been thinking that over and… I don't think it was the flight itself that got her nervous. In fact, she seemed to love the view. It's the first time I've really seen her smile today. It was probably…"

"Hmmm?"

"Ever since my first heart attack, I've hated hospitals. I dislike the sterile appearance and the overly clean smell. And I've really come to dislike heart monitors as well as anything that sounds like them. It's those beeps that really grate on me. Probably stir up some unpleasant memories. The same is true for Hanako, I think. She's been through a long stay in the hospital herself ten years ago. I was thinking that maybe…"

Lilly seems to get where I'm going.

"The oxygen masks?"

"Exactly."

She sighs.

"Today was certainly confrontational for her."

"Yeah and yesterday wasn't really all that much better, with her being forced to sit through a lecture about burn injuries and her trainer scaring the living daylights out of her by faking a heart attack. I really can't wait for this day to end."

"Hisao, do you know if Hanako has gone on any trips before she came to Yamaku?"

"I asked her that myself a few days ago. You probably know the answer already. She hasn't been on vacation since she lost her family. The orphanage occasionally organized day trips for the children there, but Hanako skipped most of those. The closest thing she's had to a vacation in a decade was that trip to Hokkaido."

Lilly softly squeezes Hanako's hand and strokes her long, dark hair.

"Hisao… Let's both do our best to make this vacation the most memorable and wonderful experience of her life."

I take another look at Lilly and Hanako. Many of the people I know at school hang out in pairs. I know Emi often hangs out with her friend Rin, Naomi from the newspaper club is often seen together with Natsume, her neighbor in class, and I've hardly ever seen Shizune and Misha apart from one another. But none of them seem to have that intimate emotional connection that Lilly and Hanako seem to share, especially now that they've settled their differences.

"You really love Hanako, don't you?"

She gives a deep nod, smiling warmly.

"I feel very fortunate to have her as my best friend."

"I think she's very lucky to have you too. I don't think she could have wished for a better friend."

Lilly gives a self-deprecating sigh.

"I think I merely provided her with company and comfort. It was you who first broke through the barrier she erected around herself and convinced her to start opening up to others, including me. And it's been the people at the newspaper club who made her start thinking about what to do after graduation. In the end, I wasn't really able to help her grow as others have."

Something about what Lilly just said has a very familiar ring. I attempt to hold back a chuckle, but it's still loud enough for Lilly to catch it.

"Did I say something amusing?"

"You're starting to sound a little bit like Hanako."

"I beg your pardon?"

"The whole thing of 'How useful am I to my friends?' and 'Do my friends get as much out of me as I get out of them?' is how Hanako used to think all the time. Probably it's how she still thinks now and then. But I don't think it matters. Maybe it's true that I helped Hanako grow more than you did, and maybe it isn't. Maybe it's true that the newspaper club helped Hanako grow more than you did, and maybe it isn't. But I think that's completely irrelevant. I'd like to think that Hanako goes to the newspaper club because she enjoys the activities. I'd like to think that the reason she hangs out with me is because she cares about me and feels appreciated and validated by me. That's probably also why she spends time with you. Everything else is just a bonus. I don't think it matters to her. It probably shouldn't matter to us either."

Lilly breaks out into an amused smile.

"You sound so wise, Hisao."

I get the feeling she's poking fun at me, but she still sounds appreciative of my words.

"What I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't sell yourself short. You're the first real friend Hanako's ever made in her life. That's got to count for something."

"The first real friend…"

Lilly seems lost in thought for a moment, then shakes her head as if dismissing some unspoken thought.

"I suppose I'd better do my best to prove myself worthy of that honor."

"Just being yourself should be more than enough to pull that off."

Lilly smiles, but there's a sad quality to her expression.

"I'm not completely sure about that. The dilemma I faced concerning my parents' summoning weighed quite heavily on me, and the fact that Akira was involved in the whole situation as well meant that I couldn't go to her for objective advice. By facing that decision all on my own and by opting to keep everyone else out of it, I could argue that I was very much being myself. And it didn't bode particularly well for me."

"I think that trying to address your own problems yourself is only human. We all like to be as independent as possible."

There's also the possibility that, given the way she acts, Lilly was probably raised and educated to behave as traditionally as possible and was taught that burdening others with one's problems is one of the biggest sins one can commit.

"True, but if it had been Hanako who had been in my predicament, I would have encouraged her to let others share the burden. I suppose... I don't always practice what I preach. If I had confided in Hanako sooner, I probably could have saved her a breakdown. And you a heart attack."

"You're forgiven. This time."

Lilly chuckles and then carefully caresses Hanako's hair once more.

"I'd like to return the trust that Hanako has placed in me, Hisao. The next time she extends me a helping hand or a shoulder to lean on, I'll make sure not to turn it down."

I smile at Lilly and softly take her hand which is still holding Hanako's.

"I'm sure she'd be very happy to hear that, Lilly."

--------------------------------------
06
"Hey Hanako, I think this one is ours. Can you take a look at the other side of the carousel? I'm aching to get out of here."

"O-Okay."

Hanako walks over to the far side of the conveyor belt that has long strings of suitcases going in an endless circle, and we start looking for our baggage. When our plane landed here at Inverness Airport, we made sure to wait until all the other people on the plane got out. When we reached the baggage claim, I expected our suitcases to be the only ones left, but it seemed another flight had already finished unloading as well, and now we're rummaging through a large pile of bags and suitcases in search of our own.

Lilly's suitcase is easy to recognize, containing both a sticker with the Japanese and a sticker with the Scottish flag on it, no doubt put there by Akira during their previous journey here. Hanako's suitcase, however, is as average as they come, and the only way it stands out is that it appears less used than most suitcases on the conveyor.

As I rummage through the contents of the baggage carousel, I let out a loud yawn. It's nearly seven o' clock in the evening right now meaning it'd be about six o' clock in the morning in Japan. All three of us are about ready to faint from exhaustion. Neither Lilly nor I have slept for the last 22 hours or so, and while Hanako did get some sleep in during our flight to London, the sheer amount of stress she's had to deal with, both before and after our international flight, has pretty much negated the advantage she had. London Heathrow was even bigger and busier than the airport we departed from, and both the crowdedness and the process of having to go through customs and security took a harsh toll on her.

From the corner of my eye, I can see Hanako throw me a quick wave. As I look at her, I can see her dragging my suitcase off the conveyor belt. I get over to her side and notice there are two other suitcases at her feet. Either she got lucky or she's still sharper than I am right now.

"You just take your suitcase, and I'll carry mine and Lilly's."

"Are you g-going to be okay?"

"I'll be fine. You just guide Lilly for me."

"Okay."

We head back to Lilly who's sitting on the floor leaning against one of the walls and talking into her cell phone. As we reach her, I clear my throat to get her attention.

"We retrieved all our luggage, Lilly."

Sporting a weary smile, Lilly closes her cell phone and gets up.

"Very good, Hisao. Akira says she's almost at the airport. I asked her to wait for us at the parking space in front of the terminal."

"I can't wait to get out of here. Is there anything we need to do before we leave, Lilly?"

"No, Hisao. We've already dealt with customs in London, so all we need to do now is leave the secure zone and get through the main hall of the terminal building."

I take a quick look around and see a sign on the wall indicating the direction of the exit. I point it out to Hanako, and she takes Lilly's hand and puts it on her shoulder for guidance.

"Then let's get going. The sooner we get out of here, the better."

Lilly smiles wearily and nods.

"Yes, let's go."

As we leave the baggage claim area through some automatic one-way doors, Hanako presses her hat down in preparation of another slow slog through the crowd. It looks like I'm not the only one who can't wait for this long day to end. Thankfully, Inverness airport isn't nearly as large as London's is, so it only takes us a few minutes to get to the main entrance.

We leave the building, and Hanako and I start looking around for Lilly's sister.

"Do you see her anywhere?"

Despite her weariness, I can tell by the tone of Lilly's voice she's extremely eager to meet up with her older sister again, despite the fact it's been less than two weeks since she left Japan.

"I don't see her. Hanako?"

"Maybe she got h-held up in traffic."

Lilly takes out her cell phone again and presses the recall button.

"Akira? We're at the main entrance right now. Did you already make it here?"

"You did? Hisao and Hanako haven't seen you."

"What? You can see us?"
07
Hanako and I immediately start looking around, and, sure enough, less than 50 meters away from where we're standing we can see a person with blond hair holding a cell phone to her ear with one hand and waving enthusiastically in our direction with the other.

"Nevermind, we spotted her. I guess neither of us thought of the possibility she'd be wearing plain clothes today."

Lilly puts away her phone, and we hurry over to our welcoming committee. Hanako and I politely wait while Lilly steps forward and gives Akira a long and loving hug. Chuckling, Akira breaks off her sister's embrace.

"Damn, you missed me that much? It hasn't even been two weeks."

I have the impression Akira's merely playing cool. She looks quite happy to see her sister again as well.

"I must admit it felt strange knowing that you were all the way on the other end of the world and I couldn't meet up with you whenever I wanted to anymore."

Turning to us, Akira gives me a friendly nod while playfully ruffling Hanako's hair - a slightly odd gesture that nevertheless makes Hanako smile.

"Yo. Guess you were looking for someone in a business suit, huh?"

We both look Akira over. She does look different from the way she usually does. Instead of her striped black suit, she's wearing jeans and a loose-fitting shirt. She also has a pair of sunglasses on her head.

"You look… c-cool, Akira."

I smirk at our welcoming committee.

"No fair coming here in disguise."

Akira laughs heartily at my comment as she opens the trunk of her car and takes Lilly's suitcase from my hands.

"Unlike some people in this family, I can still occasionally get away from my job. And today's weather was too nice for the suit."

She finishes putting Lilly's suitcase away and reaches for Hanako's. Lilly looks disappointed.

"So they really couldn't make it? Even though it's Saturday today?"

Akira shrugs.

"A foreign business delegation came over two days ago, and Dad wants to impress them, so he's showing them the sights this weekend. He and Mom are essentially playing tour guide right now."

Lilly frowns.

"Couldn't he have delegated it to someone else?"

"It's Dad we're talking about, remember? He really, really likes to keep on top of his business. Though I wonder if those people would still have been so impressed if they had known he put off an opportunity to greet his daughter who's been living on the other side of the world."

I put my own suitcase in the trunk, and Akira slams the lid shut slightly louder than necessary.

"Are you guys hungry? I'll treat you."

"I'm not. We've already had dinner on the plane and had another meal at the London airport. Hanako?"

"Me neither."

"I think all three of us are merely very tired right now."

"Fair enough. I'll treat you guys tomorrow then. A good night of sleep will do you a world of good."

Hanako and I get in the back while Lilly gets into the passenger's seat next to Akira.

"Our folks' home lies slightly to the northeast of Inverness. We keep following the shoreline, and we'll reach it in no time. All buckled up?"

Our last ride during that outing to a jazz club in the city near Yamaku showed us Akira's not particularly concerned with the speed limits, so we make sure to strap ourselves in firmly.

"Good. Let's go, guys!"

As we leave the airport behind us, I breathe a sigh of relief. Looks like the hard part of our vacation is over. Now the fun part can begin.
08
Last edited by Guest Poster on Thu Sep 25, 2014 3:47 pm, edited 6 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 22

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:48 am

Chapter 22
01
As I open my eyes and gaze at a completely unfamiliar ceiling, I'm unaware where I am for a few moments. The room I've woken up in reminds me more of a hotel room, with its large bed, a small table with two chairs near one corner and a doorway leading to a niche with a sink and a small shower stall inside, than an ordinary bedroom.

The curtains in front of the window facing the bed are still closed, but judging from the amount of light they're letting through, it's definitely not morning anymore. The dim light and the pleasant temperature give the room a cozy feeling.

For as long as I've known her, Lilly has always carried herself with a certain air of nobility, and when she shelled out a whopping 20,000 yen for Hanako's birthday present without a moment of hesitation, it merely confirmed my suspicions that Lilly came from a family that could be categorized as upper class. The fact that her family owned a summer home and didn't seem to mind paying for two intercontinental flight tickets changed my expectations from 'not strapped for cash' to 'rich'. Still, when Akira dropped us off at the Satou family's residence, I was taken aback by the size of the building. I think the word mansion would not be an exaggeration.

The long journey here had left the three of us so extremely exhausted that after Akira bid us farewell, we pretty much went to bed immediately without waiting for Lilly's parents to come home.

I look at the chairs in the corner again. My own clothes are folded over one of them. The other holds Hanako's clothes. I softly turn my head to the right, and I can see my girlfriend lying next to me. She's currently lying on her stomach and seems occupied scribbling words onto a small blocknote in front of her. Since she's not wearing her hair clip, and a lock of hair is obscuring the right side of her face, it appears she hasn't noticed me waking up yet. With the covers on her side of the bed pulled back and with nothing on except her panties and a T-shirt, Hanako is a pleasant sight to wake up to. Taking care not to alert her, I sneak a hand over to the left side of her lower back and playfully tickle the exposed skin there. Hanako responds with a cry of surprise, turns around and quickly pulls the covers up to her chest. She then looks at me and does her best to pout at me which looks more cute than intimidating, and when I smile in amusement, she can't help smiling back.

"Hey there."

"H-Hey. You're finally awake."

The Hanako lying next to me right now seems completely different from the way she was yesterday. While we were in the process of navigating the airports, Hanako seemed continuously in what I came to call 'survival mode'. Hat pressed down, eyes trained on the floor, gaze jumping back and forth as if scanning the ground for landmines and completely focussed on fighting off her anxieties that were trying to get a hold of her flight reflex. Right now though, she seems at ease, relaxed and there's a small twinkle in her eye as if she's eager to drag me out of bed and start experiencing our vacation for real.

"Finally? What time is it?"

This gets me a sheepish look.

"It's nearly five o' clock in the afternoon."

"Five o' clock in the afternoon already? Ugh, my sleeping patterns must have been more messed up than I thought."

I grin at Hanako embarrasedly.

"I hope you didn't think I died in my sleep or something."

"I... did... check your vital signs a f-few times... just to be s-sure."

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence."

"Sleeping for nearly 24 hours straight isn't really n-normal."

"I didn't exactly sleep 24 hours. It was more like 8 hours, followed by 10 more. I've been awake for most of the night."

Hanako's expression shows a hint of worry upon hearing this.

"Did j-jetlag hit you that hard?"

"It's probably more than just jetlag in my case. I've been busy switching back to my regular medication over the last few days and due to the trip and the time differences I wasn't able to take my meds according to the usual schedule yesterday. My chemical balance was probably as stable as a chair with a missing leg."

"How about now?"

"I took my meds before going back to sleep. I'll take my next batch after dinner. I'll be okay."

"Did you just sit here all the time while you were awake?"

"At first I did, but then I decided to take a restroom break, and on my way back I ran into Lilly who heard me flush the toilet. Turns out she couldn't sleep either, so she ended up giving me a tour of the house. Seeing that we went to bed almost immediately after getting here, I appreciated the chance to sightsee. Afterwards we spent time hanging out in the living room until we got sleepy again. Which was probably around half past 6 or so."

Hanako looks dejected at this.

"I wish you'd have woken me up. I wanted to hang out too."

"You were looking so cute in your sleep, I couldn't bring myself to wake you. Besides, we both agreed that you're the one with the healthiest sleeping pattern right now."

Hanako considers this for a moment, then nods.

"So ummm... What's the house like? I would have liked a tour myself."

"It's pretty large. Large enough to cause Lilly to have the occasional bit of trouble navigating it. Seems like there are three bedrooms aside from the master bedroom including this one. Lilly slept here during her last trip, but since no other guest room has a king-sized bed, they decided to let us have this one. The living room is really nice. Big fireplace, soft couches. The kitchen is pretty large too. Two fridges, a kitchen island with several stoves and according to Lilly they have a cellar with a wine rack too."

"It seems... very... large for just two people."

"According to Lilly they employ two servants as well as a housekeeper who does the cooking most of the time."

"Wow."

"Did you know Lilly's family was this wealthy?"

Hanako thinks for a bit and then nods.

"Lilly's not very comfortable with it. I got a general idea from some of Akira's stories."

"You're gonna be surprised when you see the study and the bathroom."

"How so?"

"Most of the house is built in western style, but the study and bathroom are in traditional Japanese style. It's a very weird contrast, almost as if the house has a split personality. Lilly said her father still seems to have a strong emotional connection to his home culture."

"Have you m-met Lilly's parents already?"

"No, I haven't. Lilly said they briefly visited her room to welcome her when they came home last night, but when I woke up it was around midnight, and they already went to bed. I don't think they felt like waking us up just to say hello."

"I am a little bit curious about them."

"Just them?"

Getting my point, Hanako smiles excitedly.

"A lot of other t-things too."

"I guess we'd better get out of bed then, huh?"

I reach out and playfully stroke the top of her head. As I do so, I notice her hair is slightly moist. Come to think of it, I recall she was wearing her nightgown when we went to sleep.

"You already took a shower?"

"You should t-take one too. It's nearly time for dinner already."

She gets out of bed, walks up to the dresser and takes a bath towel out of it. As I get my clothes off the nearby chair, take off my shirt and make my way to the shower stall, she hangs the towel over my shoulders.

"By the way, Hanako, how long have you been up?"

She doesn't respond but instead tugs both ends of the towel gently, drawing my face close to hers, and gives me a light peck on the lips. I suppose she's not gonna tell me, but judging from the position of the bookmark in the book on her nightstand, she's been awake a lot longer than I have been.

I take a quick shower, dry myself off, put my underwear back on and am about to put on the rest of my clothes when a thought suddenly hits me.

Most of my medication is still in my suitcase. If it stays in there, I might end up forgetting about it again just like what was nearly the case when we went to Hokkaido. It'd be really inconvenient if I ended up in the hospital here. I quickly head towards my suitcase in search of my pill collection.

"Hey Hanako, do you mind if I put my medication on the little shelf above the sink so I won't…"
02
"Ah. Good afternoon, Hisao."

My sentence is cut short when I emerge from the doorway, and I find not just Hanako but also Lilly standing there. Well, Lilly's actually still standing in the doorway. How the heck did I miss the sound of her knocking? As she observes me standing there in nothing but my boxers, Hanako's eyes grow wide and she puts her hand in front of her mouth in order to suppress a gasp.

"Lilly!"

Hanako's eyes dart back and forth between Lilly and me. I can tell she's trying to figure out what to say or do but she doesn't seem quite able to think of anything. Obviously Lilly can't see me, though I bet she'll deduce that something's off if both of us just keep standing there without saying a word. I swallow quietly and do my best to sound as casual as possible.

"Sorry, I didn't hear you knock. Did I interrupt you two?"

"Not at all. I merely came to tell you and Hanako that dinner will be served in half an hour. It's been a rather warm day today, and it will apparently remain pleasant for most of the evening, so you can probably afford to change into some light clothing if you haven't done so already."

"Thanks. I'll keep that in mind. Will we be eating in the dining room?"

"I've asked if we can have our meal on the patio behind the house. Apparently the view is quite lovely, and some fresh air will do us good after spending an entire day indoors."

"Works for me. Hanako?"

"S-Sure. I'm g-getting a bit hungry t-too."

Lilly smiles broadly.

"Very well. I will see you in thirty minutes then."

"…Right."

Giggling softly, Lilly turns around, feels her way over to the door and leaves the room. I quickly retrieve my pill bottles and start getting dressed. Hanako lets out a loud sigh.

"That w-was…awkward."

"It kinda was. We got away with it though."

"Thank goodness."

--------------------------------------
03
As Hanako and I make our way to the sliding doors leading outside, we can see someone in the distance standing by the table on the patio. Hanako leans in and whispers to me.

"That's not Lilly's m-mother, is it?"

"Dunno. I don't think so. She has brown hair…Lilly's mom is probably blonde, isn't she?"

"The maid then?"

"Most likely. I wonder if she speaks Japanese."

"I don't think she does."

We walk outside and the woman near the table, who upon closer inspection indeed seems to be wearing a servant's uniform, turns around and makes a deep and polite bow before addressing us.

"Welcome."

"Hey, you speak Japanese! That's a relief. I'm not exactly a fluent English speaker."

My hopes are quickly dashed when she sheepishly shakes her head and starts talking to us in English.

"Whoa there! Hey Hanako, can you tell what she's saying?"

"Ummm… She's s-speaking rather quickly, but I think she's s-saying she only knows a few s-standard phrases in Japanese."

"That's a shame. Err… The English say 'How are you?' and 'Fine, thank you.' when they greet each other, don't they?"

"I d-don't think it's p-pronounced that way."

While the two of us are still figuring out how to communicate with the woman in front of us, she suddenly bows again and delivers another greeting, one in English this time. We look behind us and see Lilly standing there. As I listen to her replying to the woman, I notice she appears a little disappointed.

"Lilly! Good timing. What are you telling her?"

"I was telling her it was a shame she gave away my presence to you. I had been hoping to hear how far you'd get in your communication with her."

For a moment, I wonder if she's teasing us, but Lilly seems entirely sincere.

"Well, now that you're here anyway, would you mind doing the introductions?"

Lilly nods and starts talking to the servant woman. It's not easy to follow her, but we can clearly make out our own names among her words. The woman smiles and repeats our names.

"Hanako and Hisao."

We both smile a bit at hearing our names spoken in such a foreign accent.

"Hanako, Hisao… This lady is called Allison. She's my parents' housekeeper and coordinates the rest of the staff. She's also in charge of making whatever purchases the household needs and is often tasked with the meals as well. It is her cooking skill we'll be enjoying during our stay here. I have learned during my last trip here that she's a very good cook."

"Hello Allison."

"H-How d-do you do, Allison?"

Allison smiles at our attempts to get her name right and from her subtle grin, I can tell we're mangling the pronunciation a bit.

"Her name can be tricky for Japanese to pronounce correctly, but you still did rather well."

With the formalities out of the way, the housekeeper motions us to sit at the table which has already been laid and, as Lilly prepares to take a seat, draws up a chair to assist her. Before walking back into the house, Allison turns to us and gives us a short explanation which makes little sense to me but results in an approving nod from Lilly.

"What is she saying?"

"We'll be having chicken soup to start with, followed by freshly made pork pie as the main course and pumpkin crumble for dessert. She hopes we'll enjoy it."

"It sounds good."

Hanako and I sit down, Hanako picking the seat that makes her right side face away from the house.

"The Scottish kitchen may take some getting used to if you've lived in Japan all your life. But if it's not to your tastes, don't hesitate to let Allison know."

"I hope it won't come to that. With the level my English skill is at, what's meant to be 'Could I have something else for my next meal?' could very well come out as 'Your nose reminds me of a pork sausage.' "

Lilly giggles at what she probably thinks is an exaggeration.

"Surely you're not that bad? This vacation offers you the opportunity to get in plenty of practice. And you did remember to bring along a dictionary, did you not?"

"I did, though I was kinda hoping that with you along, we weren't going to need it."

Lilly makes a face as if I just asked her to rejoin the student council.

"I don't mind playing interpretor every now and then, but I won't be around you 24/7. Unless you intend to stay in your bedroom all the time while I'm away, which would be a terrible waste of opportunity, you'll have to interact with others without any help on my part at some point or another."

"Huh? What do you mean away?"

"Initially, my parents were reluctant to pay for two additional tickets. They changed their minds when Akira pointed out that while I was spending time with them, one accompanying friend would just spend a lot of time alone. Two accompanying friends could keep each other company. I did come here to spend time with my mother and father, so during those times I won't always be able to hang out with you."

I kind of understand where Lilly's coming from, though with Hanako and me any kind of contact with the locals is still going to be tricky. English is pretty much my worst subject at school and conversations with people here will probably be difficult and drawn-out if I have to do the talking. Hanako's English, while definitely not on Lilly's level, is still a lot better than mine, but her lack of social skills and unease in dealing with people in general completely destroys the advantage she has over me in the language department. All in all, neither of us is really fit to interact with people around here.

Still, seeing how unique an opportunity we were given by being able to come here, I don't think even Hanako wants us to spend the entire vacation holed up in our room.

"So I suppose Hanako and I will have to find our way around. Any tips?"

"Being a city with an extensive tourist industry, Inverness is easy to navigate by coach. There's a bus stop not too far from here. I'll ask Allison to stop by the tourist information center tomorrow and get you two bus cards, some pamphlets and maps with the major tourist attractions and bus routes."

"That would probably be a good start."

"Are you two more interested in nature or culture? There's plenty of both in the area."

"I think I'd personally like a bit of both. I think the smartest thing is for Hanako and me to do the scenic parts by ourselves and save the cultural spots for when you're coming along so you can translate whatever the tour guides or videos have to say and we don't miss anything."

I look at Hanako who briefly nods to indicate her agreement.

"That sounds like a very good idea, Hisao. I'm sure we'll still get plenty of those opportunities."

At this moment, Allison returns with the first course of our meal. The soup tastes differently from the soup I usually buy from the cafeteria, but it's quite good nevertheless, and I think I can learn to really like this. As we eat, I take some time to look the girls over. Lilly's wearing a blouse with fairly short sleeves, sandals and a skirt that reaches down to her knees - a lot less conservative than her usual skirts which reach all the way to her ankles. Hanako's pants aren't unlike the ones she usually wears, but her blouse is slightly lighter. It still has long sleeves to cover the burns on her right arm, but the area around her neckline shows slightly more skin than her usual outfit does.

"Do the two of you have any plans for the evening?"

"I promised Hanako a tour of the mansion. She was really eager to see the rest of it for herself."

"Did you really sleep for nearly 24 hours, Hanako?"

"N-Not really. I woke up at ten o' clock. I just… wanted to finish m-my book first before going out."

Wow, that means she's been just lying next to me for nearly 7 hours. No wonder she was so eager for me to get up. I don't exactly buy the excuse about the book, and from the looks of it Lilly doesn't either. It's a whole lot more likely that Hanako decided not to leave our room because she was afraid of awkward encounters with the housekeeping staff or worse - with Lilly's parents. She probably dreaded the idea of making a poor first impression on them.

"I'll be honored to give you a small tour, Hanako. Any other plans?"

"No. Perhaps take a walk along the l-lake. We could see it from our bedroom window."

"Akira and I often went there during our last stay here. She often challenged me to swimming matches, though I'm afraid it was never much of a competition. It's not truly a lake by the way, despite Akira calling it that. Moray Firth is more like a cove or a bay. It's connected to the North Sea, though since it's almost completely surrounded by land you don't experience a lot of waves."

"I didn't even bring my swimming trunks, so I hope she's not thinking of challenging any of us."

"I don't think she will. She has her job here now, so after tonight we probably won't be interacting with her a lot, unfortunately."

"Tonight?"

"She called me about an hour ago and invited me to come and visit one of the local pubs with her tonight. I was hoping you'd be willing to come along as well."

"She's not wasting time in making good on her promise to take you out for a drink once you got here."

"It appears so. We'll be heading to downtown Inverness and see if we can find a place we like. I think she'd enjoy your company as well."

"That jazz club outing last time was pretty fun."

I look in Hanako's direction to see what she thinks. She seems to take a moment to consider the offer and then softly nods to indicate her agreement.

"O-Okay then."

"Wonderful. Let's make tonight the first of many memorable experiences."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:43 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 23

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:48 am

Chapter 23

"Let's get out here. The place should be around the corner."

Akira takes out her wallet, pays the cab driver and motions us to get out. She then takes Lilly's hand, puts it on her arm and carefully starts guiding her down the street. Hanako and I take a moment to look around. The airport and the green hills of the countryside could have been mistaken for being located somewhere in Japan, but that's definitely not the case with the town. Especially the older buildings we pass feel extremely foreign to us. They serve as an unavoidable reminder, aside from the cab driver's incomprehensible dialect, how far away from Japan we are.

“Shall we?"

I playfully take Hanako's hand and place it on my arm similar to what Akira just did. Hanako giggles, wraps her arm around mine, and we start following Akira's lead. After less than a minute, we reach the entrance of what seems to be a bar. Before we enter, Hanako turns around, pulls her photo camera from her bag and takes several pictures of the picturesque buildings lining the street.
01
“Want me to make some recommendations?"

As we enter, Akira cheerfully points to the bottle-filled shelves behind the bar. The place has a bit of an old-fashioned quality to it with most of the furniture made from unpainted wood and a stuffed head of a stag on the wall near the bar. The front of the room is fairly crowded, but there are several free stools near the bar itself. Near one wall is a small podium, and I think I can see something resembling a pool table in one corner on the far side of the room.

"They probably have soft drinks here, don't they?"

Lilly throws us a slightly mischievous smile as she folds up her cane and takes a seat on one of the bar stools.

"Would the two of you object to a glass of wine so we can perform a proper toast to Akira?"

I sit down one seat away from Lilly so Hanako can sit in between us and not worry about other patrons staring at her.

"Have you forgotten that the three of us are only 18, Lilly?"

Lilly chuckles, obviously having expected that answer.

"18 is old enough in this part of the world, Hisao. You can order whatever you like here."

"That's pretty convenient, though we'd still better moderate ourselves. I'd hate the idea of one of us getting sick in the cab on the way back."

"We won't be taking a cab, Hisao. We'll have a private transport to take us back to our parents' place. Even so, you make a good point. Let's not get carried away while we're here."

I throw a look at Hanako, probably the one among us with the lowest alcohol tolerance, to ask her opinion. She gives a brief nod to indicate it's okay, and I turn back to Akira.

"So I guess we'll have four glasses of wine. Would you mind ordering? I bet I'm incapable of even pronouncing half of the names on those bottles."

Akira grins.

"Heh, would you believe lots of those brands are new to me too? Fortunately I've had a taste of several ones during our last time here. You won't be disappointed."

She beckons to the barkeeper and points to one of the bottles on the shelf behind him. After the barkeeper finishes handing us all a glass, Lilly takes hers, sniffs carefully to take in its scent and then raises it with an appreciative smile.

"I would like to perform a toast to my hard-working and wonderful sister, who has started working her way up the ranks here at head office. May her new job be met with great success and ample satisfaction. And may it be known that I admire and respect her very much."

"Cheers!"

"C-Cheers."

We raise our glasses, perform a toast and each take a sip. The slightly sweet taste of the white wine Akira has gotten us is surprisingly similar to what we had during Hanako's birthday party. Akira seems to have a knack for picking tasty drinks. While Hanako, Lilly and I down our drinks in small, measured sips, Akira manages to empty her entire glass in a single gulp. Upon putting her glass back on the bar, she flashes Lilly a sheepish smile.

"Man, you may have a knack for speeches, Lils. Though I feel kinda compelled to point out that my current position probably has less to do with my work record than it has to do with me being a Satou."

Lilly gives her sister an encouraging smile.

"I know Father pulled a few strings to get you that recommendation, but I also know that now you're here you will do everything in your power to prove yourself and push yourself to excel until everyone at the office is convinced that putting you where you are now was not a special favor, but rather an act of foresight."

Akira gives Lilly an amused look, but when she speaks her tone is somewhat wistful.

"Probably... I guess... that's part of being a Satou as well, isn't it?"

"I wouldn't be at all surprised if Father felt the same when he first came here."

"Heh, from his reputation at the office I'd say he's still in the middle of that process. People seem to regard him as some kind of one-man army over there."

"You had better not become such a workaholic that our phone calls start getting phased out over it."

While Lilly's tone is playful, both she and Akira fall silent for a moment. Until now, it appears that they met up with one another whenever they could and contact took place on a regular basis. When Lilly returns to Japan however, their contact will be limited to carefully timed international phone calls and there's no doubt in my mind that both of them are painfully aware of this right now.

"Don't worry about that, Sis. I'll be sure to keep my priorities in order. Let's ditch the depressing thoughts tonight and have a good time."

Akira raises her hand and affectionately ruffles Lilly's hair, surprising her for a moment and then gestures to the barkeeper for another drink. While he's refilling her glass, the barkeeper says something to Akira that I can't quite make out but causes Lilly to ‘hmmm’ quietly. Akira then nods and passes him several bills from her wallet.

"What was he saying?"

"There's pub quizzes being held here during the weekends and the next one's about to start. I just paid him the admittance fee. You two interested in teaming up with us?"

I exchange a glance with Hanako. I don't think I'll be able to pull my weight here. I probably won't even understand the questions, let alone know much about what probably passes for common knowledge around here. Hanako seems a bit hesitant as well.

"I think we'll pass. I noticed a pool table in the corner over there and Hanako still owes me a rematch after our last game in the jazz bar."

Hanako nods with a small smile, eager to get farther away from the din in the front area and have a small competition with me.

"I accept t-the challenge."

"Have fun you two. We'll be at the table near the podium if you need us."

"Would it be okay if I paid a visit to the restroom first? I doubt we'll be allowed to leave our table during the quiz itself."

"Sure Sis. Let me show you the way."

Lilly folds out her cane and places her hand on Akira's arm. We follow them to a small corridor near the back.

"Ladies room is the door on the left."

As Lilly nods and navigates down the corridor, we turn to Akira.

"Lilly sure knows how to perform toasts. Sisterhood must be a wonderful thing."

Akira nods and smiles warmly.

"Several of my colleagues can’t stand their siblings. I think I just got lucky. We've always gotten along well despite the 7-year age gap. We got even closer when it was just the two of us living together."

"That couldn't have been easy, a 19-year old and a blind 12-year old living on their own, even with Lilly being as independent as she is."

"Don't mention to her that I told you this, but back when our parents first moved to Scotland, Lilly wasn't independent at all. I mean, whenever one of our parents wanted something done that they couldn't do themselves, they'd ask me to do it. Before our parents left, they liked pampering Lilly."

"So you taught her how to do stuff like laying the table and cooking?"

Hanako suddenly stifles a soft giggle. Akira grins broadly.

"In case that didn't tip you off, cooking isn't exactly where my talent lies, to use Lilly's words. That's as polite as she can be about it. That ought to tell you something."

"If you didn't then who did?"

"After our parents left, we hired a housekeeper who stuck around for some time. "

"And this housekeeper taught Lilly?"

"At my request in exchange for a very generous bonus. I wanted some peace of mind. I wanted to be able to sleep peacefully at night and do my job without worrying all the time. The burden of responsibility was enough as it was. I could have hired someone else. Heck, I could have easily hired two... Mom and Dad never really left us strapped us for cash. But..."

"Yes?"

"I really hated still depending on our folks' money all the time - as if things were alright as long as they just kept paying. If we'd get independent enough for the two of us to get by without additional help, I wanted to shoot for that. And we reached that point eventually. Lilly was a very diligent pupil and a fast learner."

Akira seems aware of the fact that her own pride played a role in this whole thing and looks at the floor for a moment. I quickly move in to fill the moment of silence.

"Lilly's probably more self-sufficient than many of her classmates who have partial eyesight."

"That's a good thing. University probably ain't gonna be as accommodating to blind people as Yamaku. If she wasn't as independent as she is, she'd have had no choice but to follow me to Scotland."

Noticing the door of the ladies room opening, Akira points at the pool table nearby.

"We'll be heading to our seats. You two have ever played English billiards before?"

"English billiards? I thought this was a pool table."

"Look at the case on the wall. You can't play pool with only three balls."

I look into the direction Akira's pointing and notice a device on the wall with three balls, a white, a yellow and a red one, resting in three indentations at the top and a coin slot on the front. Akira walks over to it and takes one of the balls. Immediately, a high-pitched buzzer sounds, causing Lilly to flinch a bit. She quickly puts a coin into the coin slot and the noise stops.

"First game's on me. When the buzzer goes off you'll either have to insert another coin or return the balls to the case. You guys know the rules?"

One look at Hanako tells me she's as much in the dark about how to play as I am. Akira seems to read our expressions.

"One player uses the white ball and one player uses the yellow one. You score points by hitting the other balls with your cue ball in various ways. You get points for bumping the other balls into a pocket with your cue ball which is called a 'winning hazard' or by pocketing your own cue ball after contact with another ball which is called a 'losing hazard'. It's 3 points for moves involving the red ball and 2 points for moves involving the other player's cue ball. You also get points if you hit both other balls with your own cue ball in one shot. I believe they call that a...er..."

"A cannon."

Akira shoots Lilly a smirk after the latter finishes the explanation for her.

"Heh, showoff. Let's hope your recollection of trivia is also gonna help us win that quiz."

After giving us an explanation about where to put the balls after pocketing them and what constitutes a foul, Akira points at the scoreboard on the wall.

"You can decide for yourself whether to make up a winning score or just play until the time runs out. Everything clear?"

"I think so."

"Yes."

"Great. Have fun. And wish us luck."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you."

"Good luck."

As the Satou sisters make their way to the front of the pub, Hanako hands me a cue, and we each shoot a ball across the table to see who gets the first turn.

"Looks like you're closer to the front area than I am. Do you want to play with white or yellow?"

"Hmmm... I'll take white."

"I think it's best if we simply play until our time is up. Okay?"

"Okay."

Taking a moment to plan her move, Hanako shoots her cue ball forward and hits the red ball with considerable force, but then misses the yellow one by only a few centimeters.

"My turn."

Hanako's shot has left the balls in an advantageous position for me, and after taking careful aim, I manage to knock my own cue ball into the pocket after just barely grazing the red ball. This game is definitely gonna be trickier than that time we played pool. Since we're both new at this, the odds should be fairly even but I learned last time that Hanako has slightly better form than me. Beating her isn't going to be easy.

"Good shot."

"Thanks."

I put my cue ball on the designated spot on the table and try to shoot a repeat of my previous shot. This time, however, my aim is slightly off and my ball lands in the pocket without hitting any others.

"Ugh, a foul. That means you get 2 points, doesn't it?"

"Y-Yes."

I move the sliders on the scoreboard and watch Hanako lining up her shot. The expression on her face is that same mixture of concentration and relaxation she had during that last game of pool we played. There are quite a few people in the pub at the moment, but now that the quiz has started almost everyone is gathered in front of the stage on the other side of the room, and nobody seems to be paying us any attention. I try to make out what the quiz host is saying, but can't really catch more than a few words here and there. We probably made the right decision in not going along with Lilly and Akira. The whole situation gives me a slight feeling of déjà vu.

"This sure brings up memories, doesn't it? The four of us going out and Lilly and Akira doing their thing while the two of us spend the evening knocking billiard balls around."

As she hits her cue ball and bounces it off both other balls, I can see Hanako smile at the memory.

"Let's h-hope this evening will b-be just as fun."

I had fun at the time as well, though in a moment of naïvete I also made a mistake that evening that nearly sank my chances with Hanako. When I told her, while she was in the process of opening up to me, that I was happy to protect her, it was a remark said with nothing but the best intentions. It wasn't until our confession in the park that I realized just how denigrating that must have sounded to her.

"I'll try not to mess up and say anything hurtful this time around."

"W-What?"

Hanako was preparing an attempt to pocket my cue ball with her own, but upon hearing my words she looks at me and gives me a confused look. She thinks for a moment, then realizes what I was referring to.

"Oh... ummm... It's okay. I nearly f-forgot a-about that already."

"Sorry for bringing it up."

Hanako reaims her cue and takes the shot, but misses her intended target though her ball manages to touch the red ball before coming to a standstill.

"I'm... trying n-not to ponder the p-past while I'm here."

"You're right. Better to focus on the present."

As I move in to take my turn, I notice Hanako shaking her head with a shy smile.

"I... really... like the present as it is r-right now. I think I can... enjoy it more if I don't think too hard about things. But I still n-need to figure out what I want in the f-future."

That's the first time I’ve heard from her about that. I've asked her about it before, but she always told me she didn't know yet, and I'd drop the subject in order to avoid putting pressure on her.

"Good to hear you're giving it serious thought."

"I... I'd like to have it sorted out before c-classes start again."

"Do you have a general idea already?"

I've made an effort to come up with suggestions myself before, but it's kinda difficult because Hanako doesn't seem to have any subjects she naturally excels in, unlike Lilly and myself. However, also unlike Lilly and myself, Hanako doesn't have any subjects she's particularly bad at either. It's almost as if even Hanako's test scores are focussed on the purpose of not standing out. That does make planning a future a tricky activity.

"Maybe."

I take a shot and manage to nudge Hanako's cue ball into a pocket.

"Care to tell me about it?"

Hanako doesn't respond, but merely looks at me. I know that look on her face. It's her ‘Quid pro quo’ expression.

"I'll tell you about my plans in return, okay?"

"Okay."

I make an attempt to pocket the red ball this time, but my shot is too soft, and my target stops mere centimeters away from the pocket in the corner.

"After starting the club with him, I think I'd seriously break Mutou's heart if I didn't pursue science as a career path. That part is pretty much a done deal. Unfortunately, I'm not sure yet about the specifics. That's why I asked Mutou to cover a wide range of topics at the club during the upcoming months."

"You're hoping to... c-come across a subject eventually that you feel a c-click with?"

"That's the idea. Also, there are several universities in my hometown that offer wide selections of scientific studies and whose entrance exams I should be able to handle. If I could make it into one of those, I could save on the costs of renting a dorm room on campus by moving back in with my parents. I have to be mindful of my family's financial situation."

Hanako nods understandingly and prepares to finish the shot I failed to get right.

"So how about you?"

"Ummm... Did you... like my article? About the science club?"

"I loved it, and it seems like Mutou did too. Why?"

"Naomi wants m-me to write the next ones too."

"Will you?"

"Yes. The next one is about our own club, so I can use my own experience. There's no need to contact a teacher or club president, which makes it easier."

Personally I'd still be at a loss on what exactly to write and how to word it. Writing essays was never my strong suit, but Hanako doesn't seem worried about that. Come to think of it; when I woke up I saw her scribbling on a notepad.

"Were you busy writing your next column when I was waking up?"

"Just b-brainstorming a bit. But I want to have it finished before we fly back to Japan."

"I suppose this is related to your plans for the future, isn't it?"

Hanako takes aim and knocks both the red ball and her own cue ball into the corner pocket.

"Maybe... I could... do something related to that."

"You mean... study journalism?"

Hanako doesn't answer immediately. She merely gives me a long look as if to try to read my thoughts and determining whether I think she's gone crazy. After a few silent seconds, she slowly nods.

"What do you think?"

I'm not sure. No matter how hard I try, I'm completely unable to picture Hanako pushing herself through a thick crowd in order to shove some celebrity a microphone in their face. On the other hand, from what I've learned about her activities at the newspaper club, she's been genuinely enjoying them, and people are always more eager to push their boundaries when they're working on something they're interested in. And pushing boundaries and devising workarounds to our limits is what every student at Yamaku is encouraged to do. I'd never imagine Emi's friend Rin to be an artist either, seeing that she has no arms, yet she has learned to transcend that limitation, and now she's supposedly one of the best painters in the art club. Could it be the same with Hanako?
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:44 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

Post Reply