Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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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.

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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.

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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."

--------------------------------------
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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
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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."

--------------------------------------
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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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
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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.

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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.

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Chapter 23 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:49 am

"To be honest, it comes a bit out of the blue. It's not anywhere near the direction I thought you'd be heading into."

Putting the balls back on the table, Hanako smiles meekly while preparing to strike her cue ball.

"Ummm... What d-direction did you...AH!"

I'm having the impression Hanako's mind wasn't really into that last strike, since it's way too hard and as a result her cue ball flies off the table and rolls towards the bar, coming to a stop underneath one of the occupied barstools. I look at Hanako, and she gives me a pleading look back. I suppose it's up to me to be a gentleman.

"I'll go get it."

Hanako smiles in relief and gives a silent nod. I put down my cue and walk over to the people seated at the bar. I can see a businesswoman, a redheaded man dressed like a tourist and an older woman wearing a rather expensive beige jacket. As I approach, the two women turn around and look me over.

"Ah...please excuse me."

I instinctively bow before remembering that's not exactly a common practice in this country. I then bend down and reach out to grab Hanako's cue ball which has rolled under one of the women's barstools. But before I can take the ball, I hear the occupant of the barstool clear her throat. With a puzzled look I get back up. She gets off the barstool, reaches down, takes the ball and drops it into my hand.

"There you are."

"Thanks, but it really wasn't... necessary to..."

The woman stops me with a gesture and gives me a mischievous smile.

"You were just… retrieving something you dropped, correct?"

"Yes?"

I wonder what exactly she's getting at? She chuckles as if I just said something hilarious.

"Every Scotsman is... familiar with that old trick, lad."

What does she...WAIT A SECOND! As I realize what she's insinuating I visibly reel in shock.

"I wasn't trying to..."

The bartender and the other woman both laugh as they watch me blush.

"It's a joke, lad. I hope you're not angry."

Not really knowing how to respond to her, I simply shake my head and walk back to the billiards table.

"I had to go through a lot to get this back for you."

Hanako smiles and plants a soft kiss on my cheek.

"Thank you."

Since Hanako got a foul by striking a ball off the table, it's now my turn again. I retrieve my cue and take careful aim.

"By the way, what was it you were about to ask before you bounced that ball off the table?"

"Hmmm? Oh, I wanted to know... what direction you thought I h-had in mind for myself."

I strike the cue ball and manage to hit both other balls, but my ball ends up resting against one of the edges of the table, making the next shot a tricky one.

"Well, my reasoning was that since you seem to handle computers pretty well you could perhaps try for a career in the IT sector. There's a pretty high demand for people with experience in that area."

Not to mention the fact that that area also draws people with slightly less well-developed social skills, meaning Hanako would stand out less. I decide not to mention this though.

"I did... think about that. There's this girl at the n-newspaper club who does the editing together with me."

"The girl with the large cast on her arm?"

"Yes. Jun. She really likes computers. The few times we speak, she usually speaks about them. About v-video games and computers in general. It made me realize... I l-like working with them, but they d-don't interest me enough to make a career out of it."

I am about to reply to her when we're surprised by a sudden buzzing noise.

"Time is up."

"And you've won."

I have, though only by a few lucky shots. We are only a few points apart. If we play another game, it might very well end differently. We both look at the buzzing case with a look of annoyance. Hanako starts gathering the balls in order to return them to the case while I start searching my wallet for coins to insert into the slot. Before either of us can finish, the buzzing suddenly stops. I look up and notice the patron who flustered me earlier standing next to the time clock. She must have put some coins of her own into the slot. She gives us a friendly smile.

"To make up for ********* *****."

"Ah, excuse me?"

Hanako seems to have caught the patron's meaning as she whispers into my ear.

"She said it's to make up for embarrassing you. What d-did she do?"

I briefly tell Hanako what happened when I went to retrieve her cue ball. Hanako looks a bit sheepish. I can tell she finds it somewhat amusing, but doesn't want to laugh since I went to get the ball back that she shot off the table.

"I have no idea if this is the famed British humor or if this person is just plain weird."

The patron watches our conversation with an amused expression, though she obviously can't understand what we're saying. When we stop talking, she shrugs her shoulders.

"Well... it... was a rather bold action."

"Sorry... err... We're on... vacation here. My English... is not very... good."

This gets her to smile.

"It's not that bad. I can understand you well. Your… pronunciation is good."

"That's... ah... good."

I'm finding her rather easy to comprehend compared to most people here, and suddenly I realize why. Instead of a Scottish dialect, she's been speaking to us in common English without a very noticable trace of a local accent and it sounds like she's been doing her best to speak slowly and clearly.

"You're... not from around here?"

"I am, but I deal with many people from abroad at my work so I try to speak plain English when talking to people who aren't Scottish themselves. I can speak Scottish if you like."

"Please don't."

"Or maybe I should speak in Japanese instead. It'll probably make it easier for us to understand one another."

Both Hanako and I gasp in surprise since that last statement was delivered in accented but otherwise completely fluent Japanese.

"Y-Y-You speak Japanese?"

The woman allows herself a brief laugh at our astonishment.

"Hmm hmmm. I've lived in Japan for over 20 years. "

The woman makes a polite bow.

"I'm very honored to meet my daughter's best friends."

"Are you...?"

"...Lilly's and Akira's mother? I am. Here in Scotland we're not as formal as people are in Japan. Would you mind if I address the two of you by your first names while you're here?"

I share a quick look with Hanako, who is still trying to digest what just happened and can only manage a flabbergasted nod. When in Rome...

"Err... That's okay."

The woman smiles broadly and extends her hand.

"Then I will address you as Hisao and Hanako, and you can call me Karla. Pleased to meet you."

Despite my dumbfoundedness, I manage to extend my hand and am given a firm, confident handshake. After a subtle nod in her direction, Hanako remembers to follow my example and hesitantly sticks out her hand for a handshake as well.

"Karla?"

"Yes. Karla Satou."

After shaking Hanako's hand, Lilly's mother turns to me.

"It seems I caught you two by surprise. Didn't Lilly tell you that I'd be picking you up tonight?"

"She did mention we'd get 'private transport', but I didn't expect anyone to turn up this early. I also wasn't quite sure what either of you looked like."

"I suppose I did get here sooner than initially planned. I was getting a bit tired of courting investors, and my husband and the colleague who was with us seemed to be handling things fine without my input. I was already slated to leave early in order to pick all of you up, so I figured I could be missed for a little while longer. I don't get many opportunities to see my two daughters together."

She gives the two of us a long analyzing look that makes Hanako fidget nervously.

"I wasn't sure what either of you looked like either. We spoke briefly on the phone before, didn't we? I think you look a little like I imagined you to look like."

"You look quite a bit more like your youngest daughter than I imagined."

She chuckles modestly.

"I'll take that as a compliment."

My words were more an honest appraisal than an attempt at flattery. I can instantly tell that Lilly gets most of her looks from her mother. Karla Satou is a tall woman, probably as tall or even slightly taller than Lilly with a similar figure. Although her hair is significantly shorter than Lilly's - about neck-length from what I can see - there's a familiar waveyness to it, and its color is the same vibrant blond as that of her daughters, although it's already slightly grey near the roots. Her eyes are deep blue like Lilly's, but unlike Lilly's cloudy and unreadable stare, Karla's eyes have a sharp and curious gaze to them, and I can see a twinkle in there that I've seen in Akira's eyes as well. Karla's wearing a neat-looking business suit, but the lower part of it consists of a dark skirt that reaches down to her knees instead of pants like Akira's, and around her neck is a cross-shaped necklace similar to the one Lilly often wears. While looking just as formal, Karla's attire looks a lot more feminine than Akira's office clothing. She must be in her fifties already, but she's still quite good-looking. Unlike Lilly, who has a rather pale complexion, Karla has a rather obvious tan, suggesting she's an outdoor person. It would explain her rather fit and healthy appearance.

"Do Lilly and Akira know that you're here already?"

"They do. I made sure Akira spotted me when I came in here. Unfortunately I can't just walk up to them to say hello while the pub quiz is still going on. People might think I'm feeding answers to my daughters. So until that quiz is finished, it'll be just the three of us. If you don't mind some company while playing billiards, that is. I promise not to intrude."

She winks at me.

"I can even retrieve stray cue balls for you if you like."

Ouch!

"I... don't mind."

"M-Me neither."

"Wonderful. I'll go and get my beer from the bar. Can I get you two anything to drink? It's on me."

"Really? Could you please get me an orange juice then?"

"F-For me too, please."

"Coming up."

As Lilly's mom walks back to the bar, I turn to Hanako with a slight smirk.

"Lilly’s figure coupled with beer and a business suit. I'm shooting for a 50/50."

Hanako presses her hand to her mouth to hide a giggling fit. Looks like I wasn't the only one appraising Karla and trying to determine whether she's more like Lilly or Akira.

"Yes."

"So, wanna go for another game? I believe I now owe you a rematch."

"Let's play again."

As we put the balls in position, Karla comes back and places two glasses on the edge of the billiards table.

"Lilly told me the flight was kind of a taxing experience. Have you two gotten your bearings back already?"

"I'm still suffering from jetlag, but I'm pretty well-rested right now. The accommodations have been really good."

Karla smiles appreciatingly.

"Don't hesitate to ask if you need anything. If I'm not around, feel free to approach the staff. I take it you've met Allison?"

"We have. She's a very good cook."

"She is. If you get homesick, be sure to ask her to cook up some Japanese meals. She may not speak your language, but she knows a truckload of Japanese recipes. *chuckle* She IS employed by my husband after all. And don't be afraid to ask her if you need anything else."

It's nice to hear we're essentially having our own private restaurant. This vacation just keeps getting better and better. Hanako and I resume our game, and true to her word, Karla mostly goes back and forth between watching our game and listening to the quiz host's questions without making a lot of conversation aside from occasional small talk. We hear the buzzer again after what turned out to be an intense neck-and-neck race, and I let out a sigh as I realize that I'm a handful of points behind Hanako.

"Well, at least we kept the suspense going until the very end."

Hanako permits herself to show a proud little smile.

"It was a good game."

"I guess you two are even now, huh?"

Karla picks up the balls and puts them back on top of the time clock device, shutting down the annoying buzz.

"We are. We may need a third game to break the tie."

Hanako's expression tells me she'd be up for that, but Karla motions toward the front area and I notice the quizmaster is no longer on stage.

"You might want to wait with that for a moment. It looks like they're checking everyone's answers right now. We'll probably hear who has won in a few minutes."

"I wonder how they did."

"What team name did they come up with?"

"Team name?"

Karla gives me an amused look.

"Not familiar with pub quizzes, are you? It's sort of a tradition for each participating team to think up a creative name. Like erm...'Knuckleheads' or 'Intellectually Challenged' or 'B for Dyslexic'. That sort of thing."

"They've probably picked one without us. We'll just have to see."

Knowing Lilly, it might very well be a play on blindness of some kind... That'd be the sort of thing she'd do, though that wouldn't apply to Akira, so maybe they went with something else.

Suddenly the quizmaster gets back on stage and gives a few taps on the microphone in order to make clear he has something to say. I try my hardest to make out what he's saying, but his accent and our distance from the stage make that somewhat of a lost cause. Lilly's mom seems to read my mind.

"Right now he's simply thanking everyone for participating. The people who came in third will get a free drink, the ones in second place will get three free drinks and the winners will get a special prize."

"And what would that be?"

"Usually just drinks. This is a pub after all."

The quizmaster makes an enthusiastic gesture, and the people in the room burst into applause at his words.

"Third place goes to 'The Masters of Romance'. I don't think that's them."

"Doesn't sound like it. Who on earth would think up such a name anyway?"

Another announcement from the quizmaster and another applause follows. I can see Lilly's mother smirking briefly.

"Second place goes to 'The Master Baiters'. That had BETTER not be them."

"Naw. Lilly's too classy for that."

Finally the winner is announced and Karla brightens up.

"Well, well. Winner of tonight's quiz is 'Oriental Express'. Heh, clever."

Sure enough, I can see Akira and Lilly getting up as a thunderous applause fills the room. Karla, Hanako and I are happy to join in with the applauding crowd. Akira takes Lilly's hand and carefully guides her up the stage.

“That’s pretty amazing. Two people who’ve lived in Japan their entire life beating what’s probably a bunch of locals.”

“Heh, the questions they use here are never about local tidbits during the summer break. Gotta give the tourists a fair chance, after all. It’s still impressive though.”

After the quiz host gives both of them a firm handshake, Akira feistily throws her hand up in the air and gives a 'V for victory' sign. Lilly merely gives a few modest waves as she's handed a bag presumably containing their prize. Their presence on stage results in another wave of applause and more than a few wolf whistles as well. Lilly and Akira seem to take the attention pretty well, but I'm happy Hanako and I decided not to join the team. I don't think getting up on stage would be Hanako's idea of a great time.

Knowing that Akira will eventually go back to where she left us, I decide to stay near the billiards table rather than meeting the sisters in the middle of a noisy crowd. Eventually they get down from the podium and slowly make their way back to where we are. Akira is wearing a confident grin.

"Man, those guys were no challenge at all. Imagine how easily we'd kick their asses if we'd take them on on our home turf."

"Well done you two."

"Congratulations. What d-did you win?"

"Let's have a look, shall we?"

Akira takes the bag from Lilly and looks inside, then fishes up a bottle with a honey-colored liquid inside.

"Heh, Scotch whisky. Two bottles. I should've guessed."

I take a look at the name on the bottle's label and promptly get a headache.

"Geez, can people around here actually pronounce that name?"

"Auchentoshan? Can't say I've tasted that one before, but this is not cheap liquor we've got here. Looks like we just won back our entry fee big time. Although..."

Lilly smiles playfully.

"I wonder..."

I'm sure I know what Lilly's thinking. I'm not sure how serious she is, but I can see her mother's eyes narrowing.

"Lillian!"

"Mother!"

Lilly's pout and the slightly whiny tone of her reply, as if she just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, seem so out of place for her that Hanako can't hold back a giggle. Lilly quickly recovers though and puts on her usual composed smile.

"Please use my real name, Mother."

"I hope you weren't seriously considering drinking that."

Lilly doesn't answer immediately. I know from experience that she has a habit of carefully choosing her words before speaking, but the slight delay seems to annoy Karla a bit.

"I admit it might be a little bit irresponsible."

Karla shrugs her shoulders.

"Only if you haven't been carefully and gradually building up your alcohol tolerance while you were in Japan."

"I have not."

No carefully considered reply this time. Lilly seems to recognize the importance of quickly denying Karla's suggestion. I wouldn't be surprised if Lilly's mother thinks that Lilly never even drank alcohol before. Akira grins an amused grin before coming to her sister's rescue.

"She does have a point, Lils. This Scotch contains 40% alcohol. That's a bit much if you're not used to alcohol or don't know exactly where your limits lie. Since it's a shame to waste our prize, why don't you let me try exchanging it at the bar for something milder? Like a few bottles of quality wine."

"Would that be acceptable, Mother? There's still a toast I have to perform when we get back."

Karla considers it for a moment and then gives a resigned nod.

"I'm personally fine with that. Just remember that we have a picnic scheduled for tomorrow, and you're coming along, whether you're feeling up to it or not."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:47 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 24

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:49 am

Chapter 24
01
"I think it's only fair for me to take my half of the spoils."

Akira reaches into the bag, takes two bottles of wine out of it and hands them over to Lilly.

"These two should get the three of you through the night. Don't drink it all at once, kids."

After winning the pub quiz and getting two bottles of Scotch whisky as a prize, Akira made a deal with the bartender and exchanged the two bottles of Scotch for four bottles of wine. We didn't stay at the pub for much longer afterwards, opting to spend the rest of the evening at the Satou home. When we got there though, Akira expressed the desire to be brought back to her place. Karla seems a bit disappointed.

"I'll be returning to the place where your father is having his meeting. If you'd like, I could take you along to meet the investors we've been dining with this evening."

"Naw, I'd rather just get some extra rest."

Lilly walks over to Akira and places her hand on her sister's shoulder.

"Thank for the fun evening, Akira. And remember not to drink those bottles of yours alone. You know what they say about those kinds of people."

Akira grins.

"Maybe I should return to that pub and pick up one of the guys who seemed so extremely interested in us."

Lilly's smile drops.

"I hope you're not being serious there."

"Tell you what... You can share it with me if you can find it in your schedule to drop by my place after I'm off-duty."

"I will remember that."

Akira gives us a small wave and then walks off, followed by her mother. Lilly turns to us, still holding her two bottles of wine.

"We're going to need a corkscrew and some glasses. The staff have already gone home, so we'll have to search the kitchen ourselves. If you come across any snacks you like, feel free to take them as well."

Hanako and I guide Lilly to the mansion's large kitchen, and the two of us start searching the various cupboards and drawers. I quickly find a corkscrew in the drawer containing the cutlery, and when I turn around I can see Hanako very carefully taking three glasses out of a cupboard.

"Lilly, I found some crackers and a box of olives. Can we take them?"

"Of course, Hisao. Is there any cheese in the refrigerator?"

"Yeah, a fairly big block. Not sure what kind it is though."

Lilly walks over to me and carefully sniffs the cheese.

"Have you ever had Cheddar before, Hisao? It's very popular here, but, like most kinds of cheese, considerably less so in Japan. "

"I don't think so. It can't hurt to give it a try though."

"Hanako, could you help me cut it into smaller pieces?"

"Sure."

As the girls prepare to start cutting the cheese, a thought suddenly springs up in the back of my mind.

"Lilly, before we left the pub, your mother spoke of a picnic."

"Yes, are you up for one? Supposedly the area she's picked is quite interesting."

"Is that okay? You said you'd be spending some time alone with your parents without us around."

"Mother's still curious about both of you. I don't think she'll object."

"Very well then."

Lilly smiles.

"There should be a set of notes nearby somewhere. Could you get me one and a pen, please?"

Hanako puts a piece of paper and a pen in Lilly's hand, and I can see her slowly and carefully writing a small note that she then puts on the kitchen sink unit. It says: 'Picnic for four. Please change shopping list accordingly.' She then turns to Hanako.

"It is usually Allison handling the food for a picnic, but it might be fun for us to prepare it instead tomorrow morning. Will you help me?"

"Sure. I'd love to."

"Wonderful. I'm looking forward to it. That's for tomorrow though. Tonight, let's hang back and relax."

Taking the bottles, glasses and snacks with us, we make our way to the mansion's spacious living room.

"Is there a remote control lying around here, Hisao?"

"There's one near the fireplace. Want me to give it to you?"

"Just press the on-button. It should still be on the right setting."

I do as instructed and I hear a beep coming from the fireplace. A moment later, flames appear behind the glass window covering the fireplace. The light and heat coming from the gas fireplace give the room a cozy atmosphere. Lilly starts filling our glasses and gestures towards a smaller couch near the low table in the middle of the room.

"I think it'd be most appropriate if the two of you take the love seat."

"Okay."

I take one of the glasses off the table and sit down on the single cushion couch. Following my example, Hanako sits down next to me. Lilly takes a seat on the larger couch on the other side of the table. Waiting a moment to make certain we've gotten comfortable, she smiles at us and raises her glass.

"A second toast this evening, this time for my wonderful friend Hanako, who has, last week, succesfully completed her first aid training and is now a qualified first responder. May she never need the skills she was taught there, and may it be known that I admire and respect her very much."

"Cheers!"

"C-Cheers?"

Hanako blushes lightly, not sure how to deal with Lilly's praise, obviously not finding it completely unpleasant, but not completely comfortable either. As if attempting to look for distraction, she puts her glass to her lips and starts sipping at it. Looking at Lilly, I notice she gives a soft nod.

"Well, bottoms up."

--------------------------------------
02
As Lilly finishes a story about a funny incident involving Akira, I can hear Hanako giggle and suddenly feel her hand ruffling my hair. That's probably the fourth time she's done this over the last fifteen minutes. We've been hanging out here in the living room for well over an hour, and we finished the first bottle of wine a few minutes ago. To say that the atmosphere is cheerful is quickly becoming an understatement. I don't think anyone's actually completely drunk yet, but I'm sure we've reached the point where each of us is getting rather tipsy. The fact that the wine Akira obtained for us is really tasty, that the atmosphere between us is completely relaxed and that we don't have to be secretive about having a few glasses this time around probably all contributed to that.

I remember the time the three of us had our first encounter with alcohol during Hanako's birthday party. While Lilly merely became slightly more playful and forward than usual, the effect of the wine on Hanako was noticibly less subtle. Not only did her usually rigid inhibitions fall away after she had a couple of glasses, but she also became remarkably clingy. I'm starting to notice that aspect of her returning as the evening goes on.

"Heh, so even Akira screws up sometimes. She doesn't seem like someone you'd usually have a lot of worry over."

"Those occurences are indeed very rare. She's more responsible than she seems at first."

"Like earlier this evening? When she joked about going back to that pub and pick up some guy, you seemed put off."
03
Lilly's smile fades just a little. For a moment her thoughts seem elsewhere. Then she takes a sip from her glass and sighs softly.

"It's not really that... It's just..."

Suddenly the atmosphere is starting to get gloomy. Did I touch some unknown nerve?

"You are aware that Akira was in a relationship until recently, are you not?"

"Yes, when we decided to spend a long weekend in Hokkaido, you mentioned we'd be cleaning up the place because Akira and her boyfriend would be using it the week after."

"That... trip never took place. We were the last ones to use the summerhouse before it was sold."

"When we first learned about your parents' summoning she mentioned having broken up with him."

"She intended to spend the weekend with him there and tell him about her new job at the end of it. But it turned out he already knew about it."

"How?"

"Yuichi's employed at the sales department of the company's Japanese branch. He and Akira met at work, although they generally didn't see each other on the workfloor very often. He heard the news about Akira's promotion through the grapevine, so to speak, before we even got back. When she invited him to spend the weekend with her, he confronted her with the rumors he heard."

"I suppose he wasn't very happy about it."

"I don't know the details, but I do know that they got into a fight, and she broke up with him then and there. They've been together for quite some time, and Akira seemed happy with their relationship. She doesn't show it, but I'm positive she's still hurting over it. She came back to Japan knowing she was going to break up her relationship, but this was not the way she wanted things to end."
04
"That kind of explains your reaction to her remark. Then again, maybe all that attention in the pub wasn't for her but for you."

Lilly giggles.

"I certainly hope not."

"Why not?"

"Perhaps I'm jumping to conclusions, but I do not think any person who wolf-whistles a lady would be my type."

Somehow that answer doesn't surprise me at all. Lilly is still a lady through and through. That does make me wonder about something else, though. Hanako mentioned once she didn't remember Lilly ever having had a boyfriend while she was attending Yamaku, despite the fact Lilly's a very popular student. Perhaps she has some very particular tastes?

"If you don't mind me asking a bold question... What kind of person would be your type, Lilly?"

Lilly sends me a very cheeky grin in return.

"That is a bold question, Hisao. May I ask why you are so interested? You already have Hanako, after all."

I can tell that Lilly's merely being a tease, but I nevertheless feel a sharp stare coming from my right. Looks like Lilly's remark is pushing me into very dangerous territory.

"Looks like a guy can't even be curious about his friends anymore without being accused of considering infidelity. Forget what I just asked, okay?"

"It's okay, Hisao. It wasn't an unfair question. But not an easy one either."

As Lilly takes some time to think up an answer, I give Hanako a quick reassuring kiss on the cheek although it doesn't seem to completely get rid of her suspicious frown.

"I think I would be most attracted to the type of person who has a bit of a gentlemanly streak and is kind and honest. He should have a caring personality and a bit of a laid-back pace. I don't think I'd be able to keep up with someone who'd always hurry me along. He does not have to be extremely social, although he should be fun to talk to."

So far no surprises there.

"He should not be adverse to me mothering him a bit at times, but he should display initiatives from time to time as well. He should be able to get along well with my sister and my best friends. It's fine if he doesn't share my musical tastes, although I'm not sure if I'd be able to be around someone who'd be playing... well... jackhammer music all the time."

That's a pretty interesting way to describe music with a loud and heavy bass and percussion. I can get why Lilly, who mostly uses sounds around her as orientation dislikes overbearing music.

"Above all, he should treat me as a person and not look upon me with pity."

I know for a fact that she's not the only person in the room who values that part.

"I would have to like the way he looks as well."

What?

"I'm sorry, did you just say 'look'?"

Lilly sniffs curtly as if admonishing me.

"Of course. Just because I cannot see doesn't mean I don't have my own preferences."

"And what would those preferences be? I imagine something like hair color is a foreign concept to you."

"I think it's very hard to explain to people who do not use their sense of touch to determine appearances. What I 'see' may be completely different from the way you see things or people. I think the term 'I'll know it when I see it' applies here. Somewhat. I have a general idea of what most people I regularly interact with look like..."

Does that include Hanako? I quickly look at her. Hanako seems to understand what I'm thinking for she nods in affirmation.

"A little while back."

Lilly's dazzling smile confirms Hanako's words. I’ve never heard about that before. I'm impressed. That would make Lilly the second person Hanako has allowed to look upon her face voluntarily. No wonder they have been so close lately. This is probably about the biggest gesture of trust Hanako could give someone.

"Hisao..."

Lilly slowly gets up.

"Yeah?"

"I was wondering... There's one dear friend whose face I still can't picture in my mind. Would it be okay if I...?"

I immediately look at Hanako.

"Is it okay?"

Hanako pouts slightly.

"Why are you asking m-me?"

She's right. Asking her for permission only makes it seem like an act of intimacy. Lilly's been a treasured friend since I came to Yamaku and having her take a look at me is nothing unreasonable although Hanako doesn't seem to enjoy the idea. Still, I don't think this is something I can reasonably refuse.

"Alright then."

I walk around the table and take Lilly's right hand which I then guide to my face before letting go. None of us says a word as Lilly's hand moves over and around my features, from my chin, to my cheeks, to everywhere else including my hair. I expected this to feel a lot more disquieting than it does. I suppose that's because the action is entirely a matter of practicality, being functionally no different to simply looking at someone's face. However, I notice that as she runs her fingers back and forth, a mischievous smile starts appearing on her face as if she's enjoying some private joke. Before I can figure out what it might be, I suddenly feel my arm being grabbed and pulled back just far enough for my face to retreat beyond the reach of Lilly's fingers.

As I look at Hanako, I notice that slightly disapproving pout is still on her face. I'm not sure how long this process usually takes, but from Lilly's slightly sheepish look, I'm almost beginning to wonder if she was... Can you accuse a blind person of staring?

"Thank you, Hisao."

"Ah... Right. Have you memorized it all?"

"I have."

I prepare to get back to the couch we were sitting on, but Hanako isn't moving yet. She's still waiting as if expecting Lilly to say more. Eventually, Lilly smiles playfully.

"It seems you were spot-on about him, Hanako."

I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but Hanako's eyes grow wide in horror, and she lets out a gasp, then immediately wraps both arms around me and pulls me back a little further before giving me a pleading look.

"Hey, don't look at me like that. What did you say about me?"

Instead of answering, Lilly merely teasingly shakes her head.

"Sorry Hisao. That's girls' talk."

I get back on the couch, and Hanako sits down next to me, but still holds onto me. I can only assume that Hanako confided in Lilly once that she thought I looked handsome or something and Lilly's statement of agreement, very likely combined with the wine that was consumed, has now triggered some sort of rival reflex in Hanako. Eager to change course and steer out of this minefield, I latch onto the first safe subject that springs to mind.

"You mentioned musical tastes, Lilly. I suppose that excludes anything with a prominent bass. I guess your tastes are more traditional? Like ballroom music?"

I recall Hanako taking Lilly on an outing to a night club that held a ballroom dance night a few weeks ago, so it's a safe bet that Lilly's into that kind of music.

"Ballroom music is among the things I like to listen to. Classical music in general is something I really enjoy listening to. Perhaps youth nostalgia plays a role as well."

"Youth nostalgia?"

"My mother used to play classical music, and me listening to her practice was one of the highlights of my day."

"What does your mother play? Would it be bagpipes or is that too cliché?"

Lilly makes a face.

"Not every Scotsman plays bagpipes, Hisao. And they're not very useful for anything other than Scottish folk music."

"Then what instrument does she play?"

"My mother's rather skilled at playing the cello. Perhaps I can convince her to give us a small performance this week. Assuming that she's kept up with her practice."

Cello, huh? I suddenly remember something I noticed when I was first shown this room.

"I think she has. There's a black case standing in this very room. I bet it contains her instrument."

Lilly's face lights up upon hearing this.

"Oh, she's keeping it here?"

"Yeah, there's a large case standing in one of the corners. I'm pretty sure there's a cello in there."

"Hmmm, would you mind bringing it over here for a moment? Please be very careful with it."

I walk over to the corner and carefully carry the cello case to the couch Lilly's sitting on. She kneels down next to it and slowly feels her way over to the small latches on the side. Opening the case, she takes the instrument out of it and gently, almost tenderly, feels its neck, fingerbox and strings. As she starts toying with the tuning pegs and occasionally plucking a string before carefully adjusting the corresponding peg, a nostalgic look appears on her face. The way she's tuning this thing gives me the impression this is far from the first time she's handled an instrument like this.

"From the looks of it this isn't the first time you've handled a cello."

"It is not. I had music lessons in middle school, and we were allowed to pick an instrument to familiarize ourselves with. I chose the cello, hoping my mother had passed her musical instincts onto me."

"And did she?"

"I don't think she did. I know how to play, but I'm not especially good at it. I haven't touched a cello after I graduated middle school."

"But you do know a few pieces, right?"

"A few. It takes a bit of time to learn to play a song completely by ear and from one's memory, especially if you weren't familiar with it before."

"Care to give us a demonstration?"

"Now?"

"If it's not a problem."

Lilly thinks for a moment before taking her glass and taking another sip.

"Very well then. On one condition."

"What condition?"

"Please close your eyes, and keep them closed until I stop playing."

Huh? What an odd request. I'm a bit puzzled but decide not to think too hard on it and close my eyes.

"Okay, my eyes are shut."

"Mine too."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 12:58 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 24 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:50 am

05
I can hear ruffling sounds coming from Lilly's direction, followed by a squeaking sound that's probably her adjusting the screw securing the endpin, followed by some more ruffling and finally silence. Then I hear a few strings being plucked and the beginning of a soft melody. It sounds slow and uncertain at first, but gradually picks up. As I listen to the song, I can tell Lilly's earlier appraisal of her own skills was not inaccurate. She's handling the instrument itself well enough, which is something I'm positive I wouldn't be able to do, and she tuned the instrument correctly, but the pace of the song is a bit unsteady, and I can clearly make out the occasional wrong note in there. Then again, it's also possible she's occasionally messing up due to the alcohol having diminished her hand coordination a bit. Suddenly, the song stops, and Lilly lets out a soft, but frustrated sigh. I curiously open my eyes and see a frown of concentration on Lilly's face. After a few moments however, her face relaxes again and she picks up where she left off.

The right notes must have slipped her mind for a few seconds. Memorizing an entire song seems like a massive task to me. I take advantage of the opportunity to quickly look Lilly over. She's still sitting in her usual spot on the couch, holding the cello in front of her. The fingers of her left hand are hard at work trying to keep up with the quick movements of the bow in her right hand. Her handling of the bow is remarkably fluid, considering the fact she's had several glasses of wine already.

As my gaze lowers slightly, I manage to suppress a gulp with supreme effort as I suddenly realize why Lilly wanted us to close our eyes. I remember reading once that the cello used to be considered an inappropriate instrument for women to play because the usual playing posture involves spreading the legs with the instrument between them. Nowadays women probably wear long dresses, but the knee-high summer skirt Lilly's been wearing this evening doesn't even remotely qualify as one. The cello is more than large enough to block the view of her panties, but I can definitely see way more of Lilly's long and shapely legs than anyone would consider appropriate.

Before this latest image can sink into my mind, I feel movement on the couch next to me and the next moment, I can see Hanako getting up and positioning herself in front of me. Getting the hint, I quickly close my eyes again. I don't feel her getting back on the couch though. Is she just going to stay in this position until Lilly stops playing? I cautiously take a peek and sure enough, Hanako is still in front of me, her arms spread wide as if to try and block as much of my view as possible. I fight to hold back a chuckle. Truth be told she looks more than a little silly. There's just something... exaggerated... about her disapproving pout as if she's trying just a little bit too hard to be intimidating, and the result is more cute than threatening.

I open my mouth to tell her to sit back down and assure her that I have eyes for nobody but her, but I'm pretty sure Lilly would immediately pick up any attempts at conversation and figure out what's going on here. I try to get my answer across to Hanako by using gestures, but she either doesn't understand their meaning or is simply refusing to pay attention to them.

Resorting to other means, I reach up, carefully take her face in my hands and bring it down until her eyes are at the same level as mine. I give her a soft kiss on the lips, making sure to keep it as quiet as I can. That makes her relax a bit, though she still shows no signs of sitting back on the couch next to me. My eyes wander along her body, and I quickly avert my eyes as she catches me staring down the neckline of her blouse for a moment. When I look back at her face, I'm taken aback by the change that has come over her expression. Her disapproving pout has made way for a broad and childish smile that makes me a bit wary. She moves a hand over my face as a gesture for me to close my eyes, which I reluctantly do. I concentrate, trying to pick up any sounds from her, but it's impossible to hear anything over Lilly's music.

Just when I consider taking another peek to see what she's up to, I feel a weight dropping down on my lap and when I open my eyes I can barely hold back a shocked gasp. What caught me off guard wasn't the fact that Hanako has straddled my lap; that much I felt the moment she lowered her hips, but what shocks me is the fact that she has unbuttoned over half the buttons of her blouse, giving me an ample view of her belly and chest while still hiding most of the scarring on her right side. I instinctively try to look past her to see if Lilly has noticed anything, but as I try to do so, Hanako takes my face in her hands and gently but firmly presses it to her chest.

Of all the thoughts that suddenly assault my brain at once, the first one is bizarrely the realization that I know a story (was it a book or a movie?) where a woman distracts a guard in exactly the same way. Come to think of it, distraction is probably the underlying thought behind Hanako's action. She's beating Lilly's distraction by offering a more tempting one.

How am I supposed to deal with THIS?

I didn't expect Hanako to be this bold, even after emptying a few glasses of wine. Lilly can't see us, but even so...

I can't just tell her out loud to get off my lap and button up her blouse. And Hanako's probably well aware of that. The circumstances effectively have me gagged.

I slowly turn my head to the side. Hanako's breasts aren't large enough to smother someone, but it's slightly less uncomfortable with my nose no longer pressing against her breastbone.

I wonder if this is what she gets like every time she's had too much to drink. She also got pretty clingy the last time. When I went to put her to bed that night, she latched onto me in a similar manner and wouldn't let go. I never asked her how much she remembered from that night and how much in control she was of her actions.

Making one last attempt to get Hanako off my lap, I brace myself and raise my hips, preparing to grab hold of Hanako in case she loses her balance. It doesn't have the intended effect though. My movement merely causes our crotches to firmly rub against each other and the sensation causes both of us to simultaneously let out a sharp breath. Startled by our mutual reaction, I hold my breath for several seconds, and when I look up at Hanako's face I can tell from the fact she's using one hand to cover her mouth that she did the same. When it's clear that Lilly didn't hear us, we both relax and Hanako once again presses my head to her chest, this time letting her chin rest on top of it and softly running her fingers through my hair. Though she's holding onto me pretty tightly, there's still a certain tenderness to the whole thing.

The wine has left me a bit fuzzy as well, but with some effort, I manage to collect my thoughts enough to assess the situation. This is a bit of a weird predicament, but there's probably no need to panic. As long as neither of us makes any sudden movements or sounds, Lilly's probably not going to notice what's happening in front of her. She'll soon finish her song and Hanako will get off my lap on her own since we'll have to put the cello back where we found it. I might as well enjoy the experience in the meantime.

Deciding to reciprocate Hanako's oddly expressed affection, I move my hands underneath her blouse, wrap my arms around her lower back and pull her closer. Hanako's body feels wonderfully warm. I can't exactly hear her heartbeat, even with my ear pressed against her chest, but I can faintly feel it. I'd be lying if I said I hated this. As my fingers detect the thin layer of perspiration on her back and the smell of her body enters my nostrils I can sense desire slowly welling up inside me. Hanako's method of 'seducing' me may be extremely unrefined, but I can't dispute its effectiveness.
06
I'm not sure how much time passed between the moment I decided to get a little bit more comfortable and the moment Lilly finishes the last notes of her song, but I have to admit I wouldn't have minded if it had lasted a bit longer. As it becomes clear that the song's really over, Hanako lets go of me and leans back a bit so we can both give Lilly a round of applause. Considering the fact she hasn't practiced in years, Lilly did rather well though one still wouldn't mistake her for a professional musician.

"Great performance, Lilly."

"Well done, Lillly."

I notice a slight slur in Hanako's voice, though it's not nearly as pronounced as it was during our last encounter with the bottle.

"Thank you, you two. I hope the occasional slip-ups weren't too grating."

Preparing to get up, Hanako slowly raises her hips. I can tell from the look on her face she wouldn't have minded this taking a little bit longer either.

"Not at all. In fact..."

I pause for a moment. I'm not sure if it's a wise idea to let the genie out of this particular bottle, but seeing that we got away with our previous moment of shared affection...

"I personally wouldn't mind an encore."

"I hope you're not making fun of me."

Lilly sounds a bit suspicious as if she's not completely convinced of my sincerity.

"It wasn't perfect, but all things considered it sounded pretty well. And it's cool getting a private performance from a friend."

"Hmmm..."

"I'd... like to hear mmore too."

"One more time then. Close your eyes again please."
07
As I raise my head to give Hanako a knowing look I can't help but notice the glowing smile on her face as if I just proposed to her. I suddenly realize I've seen that type of triumphant smile before. It's an exaggerated version of the 'Hurray, I won!'-smile she shows whenever she wins a game we play together. I suddenly realize that by her slightly intoxicated logic this may very well have been a competition...she felt Lilly was encroaching on her territory and me allowing her to remain where she is for a little while longer confirmed to Hanako that she succesfully seduced me away from the 'competition'.

I can hear some ruffling behind Hanako as Lilly readies her instrument for a second song. Hanako softly takes my face in her hands, brings her face close to mine and when the first musical notes start vibrating in the air I find myself locked in a quiet kiss with her. We stay like this for several seconds until, during a particularly loud note, Hanako breaks it off and we let out a gasp that's hopefully drowned out by the music. I once again wrap my arms around her, and when we share another kiss, I notice that Hanako has started moving her hips a little. I give her a surprised look. She's taking it slightly farther than I anticipated. There's a playful smile on her face - broader than usual with just a tiny tinge of embarassment. Her face and upper chest look flushed, either from embarassment, intoxication or arousal. Probably a combination of all three.

I'm not sure whether to feel nervous from or excited by Hanako's bold approach. Her motion, a slow but steady grind, has caused a pleasant feeling to start spreading from my groin to the rest of my body and as a sense of arousal starts building up inside me, I find that, without having noticed it, I've started making small grinding movements with my own hips to match hers. I lean back to look at her face and I can see she's trying her utmost to avoid making any sounds. In fact, we're both going back and forth between holding our breath and exhaling sharply whenever Lilly's song picks up slightly in volume. It's somewhat of a reassurance that Hanako's still going out of her way to make sure Lilly can't hear us, even with her usual inhibitions lowered.

The question is how long we can keep this up. The experience is both pleasant and extremely frustrating at the same time. The friction caused by our nether regions rubbing against each other is starting to feel better with each passing moment and when I look at the way Hanako squeezes her jaw shut and closes her eyes every few seconds I can she very much feels the same thing. But neither of us dares to make even the slightest sound or move a single muscle except for those required to continue our grinding motion. At the same time, despite the fact we're in somebody else's living room, despite the fact our best friend is only a little more than two meters away from us, despite the fact a single loud gasp or moan could betray us, I can barely resist the temptation to kiss her passionately, to fondle her supple breasts, to touch her everywhere. I put my hands on her hips and press her down a little harder. As a result we both let out an involuntary sigh.
08
Suddenly, I can hear something behind Hanako and when I look in Lilly's direction, I notice she has abruptly stopped playing and has gotten up from the couch. My heart skips a beat and for a moment I worry I might end up having an episode right here on the spot. Did Lilly catch us?

"Lilly?"

"I... I think I hear a car outside. My parents must be home. I'd better put the cello back."

SHIT! This is bad. If Lilly's parents catch us the way we are now they'll probably either drown us in the nearby bay or ship us back to Japan in the cargo hold of a plane. Or maybe both. When I look at Hanako, who's in the process of getting off my lap, I notice she looks scared as well. Lilly has already started messing with the endpin's screw, but can't really get it loose. I hurry over to her, grab hold of the screw and give it a few hard twists until it's loose enough to dislodge the endpin. When I look back at Hanako, I notice she's frantically trying to button up her blouse, but her nervousness coupled with the effects of the wine she's had make her unable to get even a single button fastened. Somewhere in the house I can hear the sound of a door. We have to get out of here or this vacation will meet a very premature end. As if some divine entity has decided we still have business here, a semi-acceptable excuse suddenly finds its way into my brain. I quickly run over to Hanako who's still fumbling with her blouse.

"Lilly, I think it might be better to introduce ourselves to your father when we're completely sobered up. We don't want to create a bad first impression. Please excuse us for tonight."

"Ah... Hisao? Wait, what...?"

No time for discussion. We probably only have a few seconds left to spare. I grab Hanako's hand and make a mad dash for the exit.

"Good night, Lilly."

In our haste to get out of the room, up the stairs and into our guest room, we nearly trip over our own feet a few times. When we reach our room I throw open the door, pull Hanako inside, close the door and frantically lock it as if some demon from the netherworld has been chasing us. As I confirm that the door is really locked, it takes me a few seconds to realize we're safe. Man, what a screwup this could have been. I turn around to face Hanako, the both of us still panting heavily.

"We're... safe...I think. We... got away... with it."

"Y-Yes..."
09
We take a moment to catch our breath, look at each other as if to say 'Now what?' and then burst into an uncontrollable laughing fit. The situation is simply too ridiculous to grasp. When we have finally gotten the tension and adrenaline out of our system, I get close to Hanako and hug her gently. Should we go to bed now? If last time was anything to go by, we'll probably feel like crap in the morning. But I can't say I'm tired yet. And as I hold the still softly giggling Hanako, the warmth of her body brings back the feelings we shared in the living room earlier.

I'm probably not the only one feeling that way as Hanako hugs me back less than gently and presses herself against me like she did after her birthday party. This time, however, she raises her head and starts kissing me. In contrast to the few careful and quiet kisses we shared downstairs earlier, the ones we're exchanging now are passionate and filled with longing. A slight aftertaste of the wine we've had earlier fills my mouth as our tongues dance around in a fevered embrace, and I feel my head getting a little fuzzy again. I can feel her hands move underneath my shirt and stroking my back. Eager to return the favor, I move my hands underneath her blouse. As soon as I do so, she lets go of me and starts shaking her shoulders, trying to shake off her blouse without breaking our kiss. Since she's gotten slightly sweaty already, causing the blouse to stick to her body a bit, I decide to speed things up by taking it off myself. I raise my arms, hoping Hanako gets the message, and sure enough a few seconds later my shirt is pulled over my head and dropped at my feet. We resume our makeout session, and with more luck than skill I manage to get Hanako's bra off in a single try. We edge towards the bed step by step without breaking our embrace or our kisses and somehow manage to kick off our shoes on the way. Keeping one arm around Hanako's waist, I start fondling her left breast with the other hand, drawing a nasal moan out of her in the middle of our kissing.

When we finally reach the bed, there's only one thought on my mind. I want her. The desire she's awakened in me isn't going to be satisfied with mere kisses anymore. I feverishly try to undo the button of my pants. It seems to take an eternity. The moment I get it loose and unfasten my zipper, I feel two hands grab hold of my pants and pull them down in one go, taking my boxers along with them. Emboldened by Hanako's act, I reach out, unbutton her pants, and a moment later her pants and panties are around her ankles as well. With the last pieces of clothing (somewhat) out of the way, we indulge in the mutual hunger we feel. As we act out our desire, it strikes me how different this is from how we usually do this. Whenever we satisfied each other in the past, we made certain to build things up slowly and carefully, making sure to keep things tender and gradually explore more intimate areas as we proceeded. This is nothing like those other times. We're feverishly moving our hands across each other's body, almost at random as if we're possessed by an unbearable itch yet we can't find the correct spot to scratch. The wine we've had this evening is probably at least partially responsible, but I don't think that's all there is to it anymore. Is it the fact we were stimulating each other earlier while being forced to repress every signal our body was trying to let out? Or is it the fact we haven't done it in a month and we're both dying to change that? Taking a moment to finger her, I can instantly tell that she's ready. We were probably both ready the moment we dashed into this bedroom. I lift one of my legs, trying to get my pants off without taking my hands off Hanako's body. However the next moment, my leg gets stuck, I lose my balance and I nearly fall backwards. The only reason we remain standing is because Hanako manages to brace herself in time. That was close. I could have hit my head against the nearby dresser and broken my neck. What a pathetic way to go that'd be. We'd better do this another way. I turn to the bed and pull back the sheets.

"Hanako, ah let's get on the bed."

A feverish kiss, followed by a gasp.

"Y-Yes."

Then one more.

Hanako gets onto our bed, crawls a little farther onto it and then starts wiggling her legs in an attempt to get rid of her pants. I nearly feel my heart stop at what I see before me. The sight of a thoroughly exposed Hanako, on all fours and completely naked safe for her socks and the pants and panties around her ankles, is a temptation I can't resist. I get on my knees on the bed behind her and carefully, yet firmly take hold of her hips.

"Hanako...c-can I...?"

The brief nod that follows is all I need. I put the tip of my member against her entrance, carefully use my fingers to brush her labia aside and then push myself forward and into her.

"Hhhhh!"

"Eaagh!"

Hanako gasps in surprise as I enter her, and the intense pleasure I feel as her insides envelop me forces a loud moan out of me. It's soft and warm inside of her and from this position I can penetrate her slightly deeper than usual. I remember to check on Hanako, but notice she shows no signs of discomfort. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction as I thrust my hips back and forth, as if I've been staring at a wrapped present for days on end and finally get to open it. The pleasure that shoots through my hips is enough to cause my knees to buckle slightly, and I hold onto Hanako's hips for added support. I notice the sounds that Hanako's making are a bit louder and more unrestrained than usual. Wanting to pleasure her more, I bend over a bit and fondle her breast, then try to position my hand near the spot where we're joined, so I can finger her some more. As I feel my way around, I suddenly feel Hanako's hand over my own as she guides me to the right spot. It's a bit awkward since I can't move as easily while bending over her like I am. Still, Hanako's cute moans in response to the stimulation more than make up for that. As I feel my limit approaching, I take hold of Hanako's hand, which is still resting on top of my own and press it against the spot I was focussing on until now. She doesn't react immediately, and for a second I believe she's not going for it. Then she furiously starts rubbing and I firmly grab hold of her buttocks with both hands and start thrusting again. The sight of Hanako in front of me, the wonderful sensation that runs through me with each movement of my hips, the sound of our heavy breathing, even the sound of my body slapping against hers (which we usually find embarassing) all combine to push us towards our rapidly approaching climax. Shaking the last few shreds of embarassment from my mind, I give in to lust and give us the final push towards the inevitable.
10
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:52 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 25

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:50 am

Chapter 25
01
I wish I was dead.

Was it this bad the last time?

It might have been but there's no way to know for sure. Even digging through my memory feels like smashing my head into a wall. Or into a pile of broken glass. Or into a wall with broken glass embedded in it.
02
I grit my teeth as I try to bear the painful pounding inside my head. It doesn't really help, although I am getting slightly more aware of my surroundings. I notice a lot of light around me. A painful lot of light. Too much light. I roll onto my back, use both hands to shield my eyes and carefully open them. Even the small rays of light slipping through the cracks between my fingers manage to hurt my eyes, but I nevertheless keep them open. Eventually my vision has adapted enough for me to look around the room through squinted eyes. The torturing light turns out to be sunlight from the nearby window. My eye falls on the nearby curtain. If I could get to that curtain and close it that would make things a lot more bearable.

Damnit.

Of course, the curtain's too far to close from where I'm lying, so I'll have to get out of the bed and make my way over there which is easier said than done. My arms and legs feel like someone snuck up to me in my sleep and injected lead into my veins.

I really don't want to get out of bed, but that light isn't going away by itself.

I manage to make my way to the edge of the bed, but as I prepare to step out of the bed I notice that something is somehow keeping my legs stuck together. I pull away the covers just a little bit so my feet become visible and I notice that I'm still wearing my socks and that my boxers and pants are around my ankles. I groan softly in exasperation. The way I'm feeling right now, even the effort of having to pull up my pants and underwear comes across as an excruciating task. Still, I'll have to do it if I want to make it over to the window. Trying my hardest to ignore my body's protests, I manage to sit up, reach out and pull up my pants. The window is only four to five steps away, but it feels more like fifty. When I finally reach the window, I give a sharp pull on the curtain and sigh as the lighting in the room dims. It does little to diminish the throbbing sensation under my skull, but I do feel a bit of relief now that I can open my eyes without getting the sensation of someone rubbing them in with pepper extract.

Now that I can look around the room without squinting, I notice a motionless form on the bed. I faintly recall waking up partially lying on top of something warm and soft before rolling onto my back. Hanako's still largely covered by the bedsheets, but I can see her long dark hair stick out on one end and her socks and pants sticking out at the other end. I let out another soft groan. It hurts to think too much right now, but I manage to remember just enough of last night's events to blush a bit.

Despite feeling sick and exhausted, I hesitate to get back between the sweat-soaked sheets and opt to take a quick shower instead. The warm water running over me feels good although it does less to ease my hangover than I was hoping for. It does ease my hurting brain a bit, allowing me to think back on last night's events. It's not the first time a few drinks have left Hanako a bit clingy, but it's definitely the first time she's gone this far. It's not like I've been acting like the adult in the room though. After last time, I thought I'd be able to handle Hanako just fine, even if she got like this. But now it turns out that that Hanako is able to handle me just fine as well.

I get out of the shower, not really feeling any better but certainly feeling more awake. I still have a headache and feel rather exhausted. While it took me very little time to fall asleep, my sleep was restless for most of the night. I wonder if getting back into bed will be a good idea. I take a look at Hanako who's still lying on her stomach in exactly the same position as before and probably hasn't moved a muscle since I went to take my shower. Last night, after we finished, we pretty much collapsed on top of each other, and I somehow managed to get my hands on a sheet to pull over us. Under other circumstances, I'd have no seconds thoughts about getting back in bed. Hanako's sleepy smile in the morning is one of the most beautiful things in the world to wake up to. This morning, however, it's pretty likely she'll feel as queasy as I’m feeling right now, and I'm not so sure how she'll react to the memory of last night's events, but smiling about the whole thing will probably be the least likely reaction. I think the best thing for me to do is give her the opportunity to recall the whole thing herself and let it sink in without my presence adding an extreme amount of awkwardness to the situation. With some effort, I put on some clothes, unlock the door and leave our room.
03
As I close our bedroom door behind me, I realize I'm not even sure what to do now. I find that I even lack the energy to think up ways to keep busy. The pounding feeling inside my head has subsided to give way to a still slightly unpleasant throbbing, and my throat is unusually dry. I wonder if I'd be allowed to get something to drink from the fridge. While searching the kitchen for snacks last night, I remember having seen several bottled drinks there. While making my way down the staircase, I slowly become aware of music coming from somewhere in the house. As I stop to listen, I realize that I've heard both that song and that instrument before. I follow the melody to its source and end up in the living room where I see that the cello is now being played by its actual owner. Compared to yesterday, Karla is dressed a lot more casually this morning. Instead of her business suit, she's wearing a pair of sporty jeans and a light blouse. Upon noticing me, Lilly's mother gives me a cheerful nod and a smile.

"Good morning, Hisao."

"Good morning. I hope you don't mind an audience."

She makes a quick gesture with her head.

"I already have an audience, but I don't mind a larger one."

When I look behind me, I notice that the large couch on my side of the table isn't as unoccupied as it seemed when I entered the room. Lying on the couch with her eyes closed is Lilly. She's wearing the exact same clothes as yesterday, making me wonder if she's been to her room at all last night. She hasn't really acknowledged my presence since I entered the room, though with Lilly it's sometimes difficult to tell whether she's asleep or not since she also has her eyes closed half the time when she's awake.

With Lilly taking up all the space on the couch, I simply take a seat on one of its armrests and listen to Karla's playing. I recognize the song as the same melody Lilly played for us last night. Even in the rather sorry state I'm currently in, I can make out the subtle difference between Lilly's playing last night and Karla's performance right now. Somehow Karla's playing seems to flow more naturally, and there's an effortlessness about her movements that hints at quite a bit of experience. The melody itself is subdued and soothing to listen to, but also a bit melancholic. Eventually, the song ends, and I think about clapping for a moment, but then decide that the noise would probably hurt my brain and settle for an appreciative bow.

"That sounded good. Is it a Scottish piece?"

Karla shakes her head.

"The name of the song is 'Concord', and I believe it's originally Canadian. I picked it up before I first moved to Japan. It's always been one of my favorite pieces though it's kinda lacking without a piano accompaniment."

"Do you often practice in the mornings?"

Karla grins and shakes her head.

"I wasn't practicing. When I came home last night, I caught my daughter examining my cello, and she asked for a performance. I wasn't dressed for the occasion at the time, so I put it off until today, and when we found her on the couch this morning, I decided a morning concert was a nice way to wake her up."

"Is she awake now?"

Lilly answers my question by letting out an uncharacteristically loud yawn. Karla grins mischievously.

"'Awake' is probably stretching the definition."

Lilly groans softly and slowly sits up, gently massaging her forehead. Looks like what's ailing me is also wreaking havoc on Lilly. Wait... Did Karla just say that Lilly spent the night here in this very spot? I take a look and notice a particularly large drool stain on a part of the couch near Lilly's head that escaped my attention before.

"Did you say she slept on the couch? Why?"

"Beats me. She was rather tipsy when we came home last night, so we were quick to call it a night. We took her upstairs, and she mentioned wanting to take a lavatory break. Haha, I thought she was maybe going to offer a little prayer at the porcelain altar, so we decided not to wait until she was done and bid her goodnight. Her room was right next door, so we figured she'd be able to find her way there. But for some reason she decided to go back downstairs and pass out on the couch instead. The housekeeping staff found her here when they arrived. My husband has been really grumpy about that this morning."

Lilly groans as if even formulating words is already unbearably painful.

"Like I... said... before. My bedroom... door was... locked."

Karla shrugs her shoulders with a puzzled expression.

"She says her door was locked when she went for her bedroom, but when I checked this morning that didn't turn out to be the case."

I'm about to dismiss the whole thing when I suddenly remember something that Lilly told me yesterday.

"Lilly didn't sleep in that particular room the last time she stayed here, did she?"

"No, she stayed in the room you and Hanako are currently using. We decided to let you two use that room since it's larger and more suitable to accommodate two people."

If I remember correctly that restroom is situated right between our bedroom and Lilly's.

"I locked our door last night before we went to bed. Perhaps... err..."

"..."

Lilly doesn't respond, furrowing her brow instead as if trying extremely hard to remember her exact train of thought from the night before and not quite succeeding.

"Which door were you trying to open after you got out of the restroom? The one on your left or the one on your right?"

"..."

"You didn't forget that you changed rooms this time around, did you?"

"..."

Karla has watched the one-sided conversation with more than a small hint of amusement and takes this moment to chip in.

"Hahaha, you're lucky you locked your door last night, or you'd have had one hell of an awkward awakening."

She has no idea just how awkward.

Lilly seems to have given up trying to figure out how she ended up mistaking our room for hers and lets out another tortured yawn. Karla shrugs.

"Well, at least that little mystery is now solved. That leaves us with the matter of getting you back to the land of the living."

"I'm... okay."

"Not convincingly so. Why don't you go and take a bath? It might make you feel better. Let me take you there."

Lilly slowly gets up from the couch, her movement stiff like an old-fashioned robot. I turn to Karla.

"So much for the effectiveness of using a cello as an alarm clock."

"My own mother used the the good ol' ladle and frying pan combination to get people out of bed. I should give that a try next time. I've always wanted to wake someone up that way."

That may very well be the cruelest thing I've heard in my entire life, and from her visible cringe, it appears that Lilly completely shares that impression.

"Please... don't... ever..."

Karla playfully chuckles at the comically terrified expression on her daughter's face and then takes her daughter's hand and starts guiding her towards the exit. Before leaving the room she turns around to address me.

"Just make yourself comfortable, Hisao. I'll be right back."

As Lilly and her mother leave the room, I take a seat on the couch Lilly was occupying earlier. Looks like Lilly's not in any better shape than I am, though it appears her parents at least remained unaware of last night's events. Lilly's mother didn't seem to mind the fact that we're all feeling rather queasy, although it seems her father didn't take it quite so well. I feel a bit bad about that. It seems unfair that Hanako and I got away with our little act last night, and Lilly might get into trouble for an innocent, if rather dumb, mistake. That's of later concern though. I should probably focus on how to act around Hanako when she wakes up. As I'm pondering the matter, I hear footsteps behind me and see Lilly's mom enter the room with a glass of water in her hands that she hands over to me.

"You're looking a bit worse for wear yourself, so I got you something to drink."

"Thanks."

The water doesn't do much to dull the throbbing sensation in my head, but it eases my throat a bit and makes speaking a bit less painful. Karla sits down on the love seat across from me and starts putting her cello back into its case.

"Just give it a bit of time. You'll probably feel better in a few hours."

"I suppose there aren't any effective folk cures for this?"

Karla grins.

"There's this old Scottish remedy of putting poultices of onions under the armpits to draw toxins out of the body. But I wouldn't recommend that."

"...good."

"Last night we could already tell that Lilly had several glasses, so we left a message in the kitchen asking Allison to make and leave you some BLT sandwiches and plenty of juice in case you guys'd be suffering from a hangover. They'll help getting you back on your feet."

"They actually help?"

"They'll make you feel a little bit better."

"Ummm... Not to pry into your affairs, but... was your husband very upset about Lilly drinking?"

Karla frowns for a moment and gives me a sheepish look.

"He wasn't upset that you guys had a few glasses or even that you got a little drunk. We felt that if Lilly failed to mind her tolerance threshold, the resulting hangover would be enough of a punishment already. What rubbed him the wrong way was that it was the housekeeping staff who found Lilly sleeping on the couch this morning, and they seemed to find it extremely funny. My husband felt his daughter embarrassed him and caused him to lose face in the eyes of his personnel. "

"Is she going to get into trouble?"

"He said she's not going to be allowed to do any more drinking for the remainder of her stay here."

Knowing Lilly and how much she enjoys the occasional sip of wine, that seems extremely harsh, especially since getting her hands on wine back in Japan is going to be tough with Akira now having moved away. Of course, since Lilly's parents presumably don't know that about their daughter, they probably don't think it's that severe a punishment.

"Really?"

She looks at me.

"You think that's too severe, don't you?"

I don't think it's my place to tell parents how to deal with their children. Even if those parents haven't had contact with their children for years.

"I'm not sure."

Lilly's mother gives me a tired smile.

"My husband hails from a rather traditional Japanese family, and he was taught from an early age that causing a family member to look bad or embarrassing them in any way is pretty much the biggest sin you can possibly commit."

"I don't think Lilly would ever embarrass her parents on purpose."

"I don't think so either. My husband's been rather tired and anxious the last few weeks. Work-related stress, no doubt. He hasn't been sleeping well either. It's making him more irritable than he usually is. I'll talk to him later. He might change his mind."

She gives me a playful wink.

"You guys aren't looking like you're going to hit the bottle again anytime soon anyway..."

She has a point there. Just the idea of drinking alcohol again is enough to worsen my headache.

"...but enough about that for now. There's something I wanted to ask you."

All of a sudden, her playful look seems to have turned serious.

"As you know, we have a picnic scheduled this afternoon. I was thinking of combining it with a bit of physical activity. You two know how to ride a bike, don't you?"

I've never asked Hanako, but it's fairly safe to assume she knows how to ride one. Lilly on the other hand...

"I do and Hanako probably does too. But how about Lilly? She won't be sitting on the rear rack of your bike, will she?"

"Leave that to me. What I wanted to know is if you're up for it. Lilly didn't give me a lot of details, but I do know you've had an accident recently that resulted in a short hospital stay. Something to do with your heart? It was the reason Akira postponed her flight. There's a hospital only a few miles away from here, but I wager it's not among the sights you're planning on seeing during your stay here."

"Seems like a good goal to shoot for."

"Do you think you'll be able to handle it? The weather predictions for this afternoon say it's gonna be fairly hot, but we'll have plenty of time so we can take it as easy as we like."

I can't say I take to hot weather very well, but between the three of us I'm the only one working out on a daily basis. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm in better shape than Lilly and Hanako, despite my heart condition.

"I might be able to handle it. I work out nearly every morning at school. I've gotten a fairly decent idea of where my limits lie."

"You work out, huh? We have a home trainer in the attic. I like to take bike rides around the countryside when the weather's good, but I make a lot of use of it during the winter. If you want to continue your daily regimen you're more than welcome to use it."

"Thanks for the offer. I'll keep it in mind."

"If you think it won't be too much for you, we'll leave the car at home today."

She takes a look at her watch and gets up from the couch.

"I have to stop by the office for a few hours. Today's officially my day off, but I promised I'd drop by to ensure everything's going well. I have to make a little arrangement for our picnic trip too. I'll be back shortly after noon. Can I give you guys some advice?"

"Sure."

"Make sure to get rehydrated and restock on the nutrients. Help yourself to the sandwiches Allison left in the kitchen, drink plenty, get some fresh air and then get some additional rest. You'll feel a lot better afterwards."
04
As Karla leaves, her hand held high in a parting gesture, I take some time to reflect on what she said. What she suggested had better be nothing short of a miracle cure. We agreed to prepare the food for the picnic, and now there's a bicycle ride through the countryside to get ready for as well. The way I'm feeling right now, I don't really feel up for even one of these activities, but Karla's enthusiasm is hard to refuse. Fighting the lethargic sensation that's still weighing me down, I get up and make my way to the kitchen. Not hearing any sounds coming from there, I assume it to be empty and walk in letting out an unrestrained yawn that dies abruptly as the person standing near the kitchen sink unit turns around and gasps.

"Hanako! Ummm...I mean, good morning Hanako."

I hadn't expected Hanako to be up already. She probably went straight down to the kitchen to get something to drink. She doesn't look in much better shape than Lilly or myself, but as we spot each other, our hangovers are quickly made irrelevant by a more pressing matter. Looking at her promptly brings back the memories of last night's events, and I cannot help but blush a little. There's no questioning whether Hanako picked up on my reaction as she instantly flowers into a full blush herself, followed by a desperate whimper. At least this removes any doubt about whether either of us has had enough drinks last night to suffer a convenient memory loss, and with it my hopes of being able to settle this matter by simply denying it even happened in the first place are cruelly dashed. For a moment I can see Hanako's gaze dart around the room as if looking for an escape route, and upon concluding that I'm standing in front of the only exit to the room, she pitifully crosses her arms in front of her chest and lets her head sink, unable to look me in the eyes. I don't think there's ever been a more awkward moment between us, and we've had several over the course of the few months we've known each other.

How do you deal with a situation such as this?

Apologize?

Laugh about it?

Avoid the subject?

I'm probably not going to get a lot of input from Hanako on this one. She seems completely preoccupied with fighting the urge to bolt from the room. While I'm still deciding on how to act towards Hanako, I notice something moving from the corner of my eye, and when I look through the window I can see a person in her twenties approaching the house. She must be part of the cleaning staff. I look back at Hanako who has noticed the woman as well and is looking slightly panicked.

If people see us acting the way we currently are, they're surely going to suspect something fishy is going on. We'll need to get this matter settled before the picnic this afternoon. We're going to need some privacy. Maybe the nearby beach Lilly showed me during the initial tour she gave me. We could eat at the same time.

I notice the sandwiches Karla spoke about lying on the kitchen sink unit. I turn to Hanako and do my best to sound as casual as I can.

"Hanako, Lilly's mother said those sandwiches were prepared for us. We could have some drinks as well. I'd like to take a short walk to get some fresh air. Will you please join me?"

Hanako doesn't react at first, but right before I'm about to repeat my question she gives me a barely visible nod. I take a small shopping bag that's hanging from a hook on the wall, put several sandwiches inside and then open the fridge to look for drinks.

I'd really rather not address this matter at all, but if Lilly notices how awkward we are with each other right now, she'll almost certainly jump to conclusions. I don't think we'll have much of a choice but to settle matters before Lilly gets back. She was probably puzzled enough already by our sudden escape from the living room last night.

As I reach out for one of the several small bottles of juice labelled 'Irn-Bru' or something, I suddenly have a flash of insight.

What if Lilly heard us? We tried really hard not to make any sounds, but we couldn't supress everything. Her hearing can't be that good, can it? But she did hear the sound of her parents' car. I don't think I picked it up myself, and neither did Hanako. Crap! What were we thinking anyway?

Doing my best to put these thoughts aside, I help myself to a few of the bottles, put them in the bag, close the fridge and beckon Hanako to follow me outside.

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Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 3:55 pm, edited 6 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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