Page 4 of 22
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:53 am
I guess these belong to Lilly's parents.
After we got back from the beach, Hisao went down to the kitchen to get something to drink while I went to our room to put away my diary and brush my hair to get any tangles out. Now I'm holding two bathrobes that I retrieved from the bathroom's small changing area on my way here. The changing area contained shelves and baskets for clothing, but I doubt we'll be slipping back into our clothes again after we're done bathing, so I might as well leave my clothing here. I just hope Lilly or her parents aren't going to miss the bathrobes this evening.
I walk up to the window, close the curtains, take off my clothes and put one of the bathrobes on. Both are a little bit too large for me, though, since I'm used to wearing a rather oversized nightgown, it doesn't feel too awkward. I fold my clothes over one of the chairs, leave the bedroom and make my way over to the bathroom.
Two of the changing area's walls look suspiciously like reinforced room dividers, suggesting that the bathroom and this tiny changing area used to be part of the same room before the Satous moved in. I conclude with a sense of relief that the outer door can be locked from the inside, meaning that even if Lilly or her parents were to come home early there'd still be no risk of them accidentally walking in on us. In addition to a shelf with baskets for clothing and a space for shoes along one wall there are two cabinets near the exit; one containing bottles of liquid soap and several types of shampoo and the other containing washcloths and towels. I take two of each, making sure to get a bottle of shampoo for myself that contains conditioner and suits my hair and then slide away the inner door and enter the main bathroom.
While it's certainly not as large as the public baths I've visited in my childhood, it's definitely larger than any bathroom I've ever been to before. The floor is covered with slightly rough tiles to avoid slipping. On the far wall is a fairly large window with sun blinds in front of it.The wall near the bath consists of a large tile mural depicting a few large waves in front of a mountain. The bath itself seems large enough to hold about seven or eight people. The opposite corner of the room consists of facilities to clean oneself before bathing. Two pairs of faucets are attached to the wall in that part of the room, and each pair also has a detachable shower head connected to it.There's a small mirror on the wall above each pair of faucets and a pair of wooden buckets and low stools nearby. The floor near the faucets and shower heads seems to be slightly sloped so the water can flow into the drain near the corner.
After putting the soap and shampoo near the stools and leaving the towels on the edge of the bath, I examine the bath a little closer and notice a few small buttons and a display embedded into part of the edge showing a number.
45 degrees. That's much hotter than I can probably handle. I wonder whether this is the default temperature or if Hisao set it to that level. I hope my preferred temperature doesn't feel too cold for him. I press the button with a minus sign on it a few times until the display shows 37. That's probably a more responsible level for me.
"Pretty impressive, isn't it?"
I turn around and see Hisao entering the room wearing the bathrobe I left in our bedroom. He gives me an expectant smile and walks back into the changing area. I meekly follow him.
"Ummm... D-did you lock the door?"
"When I came in. How's the temperature? There's a panel near the door we can use to turn the room's heating up."
Hisao probably used that already since it's pleasantly warm in here. When we take off our bathrobes, it probably won't be the temperature that'll make me feel uncomfortable.
"It's... probably w-warm enough."
"How about the light? I noticed that the light switch has a dimmer."
That might make things easier. I play around with the slider a bit until ultimately simply turning off the lights, leaving the changing area in near pitch blackness.
"Err... Hanako... I think we're going to need some light, or we'll be setting ourselves up for some very painful pratfalls."
I feel my way over to the inner door and slide it open. While the changing area is pitch black, the bathroom itself is only moderately darkened due to it still being light outside and the sun blinds in front of the window letting more than enough light through to make out the room's interior.
"I guess we'll be okay after all, at least until the sun sets completely."
He puts a hand on my shoulder.
"So... Shall we?"
I hear some rustling next to me, and a few seconds later Hisao, now completely naked, strolls past me, heads over to the washing area, sits down on one of the stools next to the faucets, reaches forward and starts filling up the wooden buckets, occasionally testing the temperature of the water inside them with his finger. I find myself staring at him for a moment, then let out a soft sigh. I guess it's too late to start having second thoughts. I remove my bathrobe, slowly approach Hisao and sit down on the stool next to him. I appreciate the fact that he's been considerate enough to let me sit on his right so my scarred side is facing away from him.
"Is this close to the right temperature?"
Without looking at me, Hisao moves one of the buckets to his right and I dip my finger in to check the temperature. It could be a little hotter; I don't want to start feeling chilly when we're in here for a little while. I add hot water until the temperature is acceptable, pour the contents of the bucket all over myself and then start refilling it while quietly watching Hisao do the same. We repeat this process a few more times, and when we're both completely drenched, Hisao turns in my direction.
"Can you hand me a bottle of soap and shampoo?"
I take a bottle of each from the small shelf nearby where I put them earlier, pass them to Hisao and then take of bottle of both myself. I guess I'd better get started quickly, because something like this usually takes a long time.
"When you're f-finished, you can go ahead and enter the bath."
"Even when you're not finished yet?"
"Washing my hair usually takes a long time."
"Yeah, I bet it does."
A slightly uncomfortable silence follows. What do you talk about in situations such as this?
"Can I help you... you know... wash your hair? I can wash your back too if you don't mind. I'll let you wash mine in return."
I blush a bit. I didn't expect him to offer that. It might not be a bad idea, provided we can limit ourselves to just washing. It might actually be enjoyable.
"Ah... O-okay then. But c-can I... w-wash you first?"
"Be my guest."
I get up from my stool, kneel down behind Hisao and ready my washcloth before deciding it might be more fun to proceed without it. I unhook the shower head from the nearby wall, turn it on and briefly spray his back and his hair. I then put some liquid soap into my hands, rub them together for a moment and start soaping his back.
I tenderly stroke his shoulders and upper back, occasionally pausing for a second to apply some more soap to my hands.
He exhales sharply as I move my hands down and playfully stroke his sides and armpits with my fingers.
"H-Hey! No tickling."
I giggle at the cuteness of his response.
"Just remember I'll be in a position to return the favor later."
My knees start hurting a bit from kneeling on the rough tiles, so I move my stool behind Hisao, sit down on it and put my hands on his shoulders.
"Hisao... could you... l-lean back a bit?"
He seems puzzled for a moment, but then complies and carefully starts leaning backwards. I use my hands to guide him until he's leaning against me with the back of his head resting against my chest. We both let out a slightly nervous laugh.
"Is this really okay?"
It's a bit of an odd feeling to be in this position, but it's also rather intimate. I carefully get some shampoo from the bottle nearby, apply it to my hands and then start running my hands through his hair, gently massaging his scalp in the process. We stay like this for several minutes, neither of us saying a word the whole time, but the silence doesn't feel uncomfortable. I'm just happy carressing him like this, and he seems content to let me. Eventually, after deciding I'm done, I get a shower head and wash the shampoo out of his hair. Afterwards he sits up and looks at me from over his shoulder to indicate it's my turn. Suddenly feeling a little self-concious, I cover my genitals with one hand and use my other arm to cover my breasts as much as I can, drawing a small amused smile from him.
"Hanako, could you turn around and face the other way?"
I do as he asks, separate my long hair into two halves and drape it over both shoulders, exposing my back. With my hair no longer partially covering the scars on my back I feel even more exposed than before, but my anxiety slowly starts ebbing away when Hisao kneels down behind me and starts rubbing soap on my back and shoulders. My upper back hasn't been very sensitive since my accident, but his touch nevertheless feels good in the places where I can feel the sensation. After finishing my back and shoulders he gently pulls me backwards until I'm leaning against his chest. I turn my head a bit so I can listen to his heartbeat - something that always manages to put me at ease. I close my eyes and try to relax as his hands start rubbing and stroking the top of my head.
"I... uh... don't really have much experience washing hair as long as yours."
I giggle at his uneasiness.
"Shall we... s-split the workload?"
I take the half of my hair that's draped over my left shoulder and swing it back. He carefully takes the ends of it in his hand.
"I guess I'll do this part then. Wow, it's kind of heavy when it's wet. Doesn't that strain your neck?"
"I'm used to it."
I can't help but smile. I have to admit that his sudden curiosity about my hair is more than a little endearing.
"I'll just watch and do what you do then."
I take the ends of my hair in my hands and start massaging the shampoo into them, carefully working my way up from the bottom. I've done this often enough to be able to do it in my sleep, but this time I deliberately slow down a bit so Hisao can see how it's done. If he messes this up, I'll have two distinct halves of hair tomorrow. That'd be a real problem.
"Man, long hair can be a real chore to maintain."
"You get b-better at it after a while."
"I was wondering... Have you always had your hair this long even before your... accident?"
"It... used to be just a little bit shorter when I was little, but I had my hair longer than shoulder-length even as a child. My..."
I hesitate for a moment, not sure whether to smile or feel sad at the resurfacing memory.
"My m-mother r-really liked my hair. She h-had hair j-just like mine. We'd always bathe together and she'd take her time washing it and telling me how b-beautiful she t-thought it w-was."
"I think it's very beautiful as well. It's pretty eye-catching too."
"Yeah. That day when Mutou introduced me to the class, you were the first student in class I took notice of. Your hair was probably the reason why."
I'm not sure how to feel about that. I don't really like any part of me to be considered eye-catching, because trying to avoid standing out has always been part of my survival strategy, but to hear Hisao say that I was the first person he took notice of in class and to hear him say that he considers my hair beautiful nevertheless makes me very happy.
Truth be told, I really like my hair as well. Covering myself up with it makes me feel safe, as if I have my own personal protective cloak. Well... hardly completely safe but just a little bit safer.
"This may be a weird question, but... About your hair, do you... err...?"
I suppress an amused giggle at his awkwardness. I think I have a pretty clear idea of what he wants to ask.
"In the o-orphanage, one of the staff would cut my hair, so I w-wouldn't need to go to a barber. Eventually, I l-learned how to cut it myself."
What I don't say is that it was out of necessity. Going to the barber and exposing my facial scarring would be one of those things I could lose sleep over for days in advance.
"You're a girl of many talents, Hanako."
He drapes the hair he was tending to back over my left shoulder, embraces me from behind and kisses me on the cheek. Then he just holds me for a little while. Eventually, after determining that the conditioner must have had enough time to do its thing, I take the shower head and use it to rinse the shampoo away. I guess this is the point where we'll soap up the rest of our bodies. Or maybe...
Just when I'm about to dismiss the thought I just had, Hisao puts his hand on my shoulder. I'm willing to bet he had the exact same thought I just had and unlike me he didn't think it was too inappropriate to suggest.
"Can I... soap your front as well?"
"I... liked washing your back."
"...If... If I can w-wash y-your f-front as well."
I think I can see the traces of an awkward smile on his face as sits in front of me, using his hands to cover himself in order to prevent things from being too awkward. I retrieve the soap, put some of it in my hands and start running my hands up and down his legs and feet, then continue on his arms. While I'm busy soaping his shoulders, I suddenly become aware of his gaze trained on my chest, making me a little uncomfortable. Since I can't cover myself up and wash him at the same time, I gently nudge his chin up with my finger and place my lips on his. Keeping him occupied this way, I reach down, pour some more liquid soap into my cupped hand and then start on his chest, paying special attention to the scar in the middle. I feel his breathing speed up as my hands go lower and lower, rubbing his abdomen before stopping at the place his own hands are covering.
I break off our kiss and exchange an awkward look with him. I wonder if this is one spot he wants to do himself.
"Uh, Hisao... D-do you... uh...?"
My boyfriend lets out a nervous laugh and then moves his hands away. My eyes grow large, and I barely manage to suppress an uncomfortable giggle. The sights and sensations of our act have left his manhood completely erect and my mere glance is enough to make it quiver a bit.
"I guess this was kind of inevitable..."
"Hanako, could you... uh... help me with this before we get into the bath?"
I blush heavily, but nevertheless find myself nodding. We get on our knees, I apply some extra liquid soap to my hands and then I take hold of him, wrapping my other arm around his neck. I start kissing him once more, moving my hand as I do so. I consider slowly building things up, but by the way he's thrusting his hips I don't think he's in need of a warm-up at this point. I tighten my grip a bit and move my hand up and down his length in tandem with his thrusts. I think I'm getting pretty excited myself from the reactions my caresses are drawing out of him.
Hisao probably had a point just now. When a girl and a boy who haven't been together for all that long get together in a bathroom, stuff like this is pretty inevitable. I'm actually a little bit surprised that he didn't suggest doing it with me right here and now. Maybe he was thinking the same thing I was: the only options we'd have here would be doing it on the bathroom floor or in the bath itself. The first option probably would have been rather uncomfortable and the second option would have been a really bad idea.
I can tell from the way he moves that he's nearing his limit. Deciding to end things with a bang, I get behind him, hug him tightly from behind and start pleasuring him using both hands while rubbing myself against his back. Since he's still covered with soap, it goes really smoothly, and I have to admit it feels pretty good to me too. Both his breath and his movements grow faster and faster, and I enthusiastically adjust the speed of my own movement to his until he suddenly exhales sharply and makes several jerking thrusts with his hips. I wait until his climax has subsided and then hold him in a tender embrace until I can feel him relax. After letting go of him, I take one of the nearby showerheads and use it to wash my hands. Then I place my hand on his chest until his nod tells me that he's alright and use the showerhead to get the soap off, wash the evidence of our activity down the nearby floor drain and clean him from head to toe.
As I turn off the water, my boyfriend smiles at me.
"Thanks, Hanako. That was really good."
I fidget a bit upon hearing his praise and then simply nod my head. This is not a subject I want to get into a back-and-forth with him over.
I guess it's my turn next.
I'm not really sure what to do now, so I simply sit here and wait until Hisao comes over to me, sits down on my left and embraces me from the side.
"You can lean into me a bit, Hanako."
I do so and try to relax as much as possible as he takes the bottle of soap, pours some into his hands and starts rubbing it onto my arms and shoulders. I barely manage to hold back a giggle when he playfully tickles my left armpit. I don't think a simple washing is all Hisao wants to give me.
"Can you move your right leg just a little bit, Hanako?"
Feeling a little bit flustered, I open my legs a bit and let him wash them though I quickly cover up my intimate area with one of my hands when he approaches my inner thighs. He moves on to my tummy and sides without breaking stride, but pauses for a moment when he gets near my chest. Then he gently tucks my chin up with his finger.
My voice is cut off when his lips lock with mine, and he starts kissing me. His initial kiss is so intense it actually makes my head spin, and I barely even notice how his hands are massaging my breasts, covering them with soap. Not content with just that, his hands proceed to carress my chest, first tracing my breasts with his fingertips, then holding them in the palm of his hands before fondling them and kneading them, his fingers feverishly stroking my nipples.
Encouraged by my muffled moan, he slowly, but steadily moves his hand downwards. He has almost reached my private area when I suddenly think of something and quickly grab his hand.
"You... eh... don't want me to...?"
"There's... uh... s-soap on your hands..."
Soap I'd rather not accidentally have forced inside me.
He takes the showerhead that I used to clean him, turns on the faucet and washes the soap off his hands. Then he sits behind me and hugs me, softly kneading my breasts for a second time.
Now his hands are covered in soap again.
I hear him chuckle.
"Yeah, I know. Maybe I should simply do it without using my hands."
Chapter 29 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:53 am
Still fondling one of my breasts with one hand, he picks up the showerhead and aims the water spray at my chest. I gasp for a moment when one of the jets of warm water hits my nipple for a moment. Looks like I'm still pretty sensitive from his touch earlier.
His hand slides downward and gently spreads my legs.
His only response is a quick peck on my cheek. Just when I'm about to ask him what he meant with that earlier comment, his other hand moves downward as well and the warm sensation that was focussed on my chest earlier is now emanating from between my legs. My body jumps a bit as my most intimate place is suddenly stimulated by several narrow streams of water at the same time.
This is... a pretty new sensation. It's different from when he uses his fingers. The fact that the stimulation is continuous is... not bad at all.
Hisao's other hand moves up again and goes back to fondling my breasts. I try to focus on the feeling in my chest since it's the more familiar one...
...which is getting harder and harder as the sensation from the water continues and starts feeling better and better, and I start getting more and more aroused because of it.
And then he turns the switch on the side, disabling the smaller jets and turning on the stronger stream from the holes in the center, which intensifies the sensation even more.
I start panting, my body reacting strongly to the stimulation.
The place between my legs starts feeling extremely warm, hot even, but it's not due to the temperature of the water.
I can't believe this is happening.
He moves the showerhead even closer to my sensitive spot, making the sensation even more overwhelming than it already was. A moan of pleasure escapes from my lips.
I don't think I'll ever be able to look at a showerhead again without blushing.
My legs and thighs have now started trembling from the pleasure. My breathing comes out in sharp gasps as the non-stop sensation rapidly drags me towards my limit. My moaning is starting to get audible above the sound of running water.
I squeeze my eyes shut and grit my teeth in an attempt to brace myself.
And then the climax hits me; several jolts of intense pleasure that cause my body to shudder uncontrollably. It's like a white light flashes brightly in the back of my head. I let out a whimper of ecstasy before I can control myself.
After the last shock has passed through me, I instinctively push the showerhead away and let out a long, deep sigh. Hisao turns off the faucet and just sits there holding me for several minutes until my heartbeat and breathing have returned to normal. Then he turns the showerhead back on and washes me all over. When the last traces of soap have been rinsed off, he turns off the water, gets up and looks at me.
"Hanako, can you stand?"
He extends his hand towards me, I take it, and he pulls me up. My legs are still a bit shaky, but the small distance to the bath shouldn't be a problem. Hisao gets in the bath ahead of me and takes my hand. He helps me in, and then we sit down and huddle together in one of the bath's corners.
We let out a long mutual sigh as the warm water envelops us.
This feels so good.
I lean against Hisao and let my head rest on his shoulder. I'm suddenly starting to feel really sleepy. Today was a long and eventful day. I got up early in the morning, we took a trip that lasted for most of the day, and then there's the overload my senses experienced minutes earlier. All in all, I'm pretty tuckered out right now and slipping into a warm bath feels like the epitome of relaxation.
I close my eyes and try to empty my mind, focussing only on the comfort of every single muscle in my body relaxing in the warm water. I feel Hisao's head tilting and leaning against mine. I guess he's pretty worn out as well. That's fine though. We can stay in here as long as we like. There's nobody else around, and we have all the time in the world right now. What more could I possibly want?
For a long time, my mind keeps floating in the place between slumber and awareness, content to just relax and enjoy the warmth all around me and I find myself losing track of time.
When I feel Hisao shifting a bit, I open my eyes and the first thing I notice is that it's slightly darker than before. I wonder how long we've been in here already.
When I take my head off Hisao's shoulder, I feel him turning towards me.
"Good morning, sleepyhead."
"I... wasn't asleep. Just... relaxing a bit."
"I might have dozed off myself a little as well."
"I think it's a little darker outside than it was before. Do you know what time it is?"
"I don't know... or care. I don't have any further plans for the evening, so we can stay in here as long as we like."
"I'd like to stay here for a bit longer. The water's really comfortable."
"Glad to hear that."
"Is it... comfortable for you too?"
"But... y-you like your baths hotter, don't you?"
"Only a little. That doesn't mean the current water temperature is uncomfortable. Far from it."
"Hey, don't be like that. Like I said, it's still a very nice temperature. And the last thing I want is for you to get unwell again."
"I'm... s-sorry about last week."
"I'm sorry too."
"When we came back from that picnic last week and you went to get some rest after dinner, Lilly's mom approached me and asked me if you were prone to heat illnesses, because she said... uh... burn victims are sometimes more vulnerable to them than most people. I... ah... didn't really know how to answer that. She then told me that I should keep an eye on you during warm days so you wouldn't get unwell again."
I already thought it suspicious that nobody ever brought the subject up again after that day. I shouldn't have been surprised that it was discussed without me present.
"I'm sorry. I d-didn't mean to cause trouble."
"It's fine. I felt a bit stupid though. I always overlooked the fact that maybe your... injuries came with some catches of their own. I kind of feel I should have made an effort to learn about them. Either by reading up on the subject or by simply asking you."
"Well, you're keeping an eye on me too. You even followed a first aid course to be better suited to watch over me. I feel I can't do anything less."
That's not a bad point. We're supposed to look out for each other. I never really talked to him about my burn injuries because I don't like talking about them in general. But after hearing what he said just now, I feel that it's not him who ought to apologize for dropping the ball, but me.
"You d-don't need to apologize. I... probably should have told you."
"I'm willing to listen at anytime you're willing to talk."
"Only if you're comfortable with it."
I don't think I'm very comfortable with it, but I would like to get it out of the way, and I'm feeling fairly comfortable right now.
"There's... n-not really that much to tell. There are a few minor things like... ummm..."
I think for a moment.
"My scars are usually r-really dry and stiff in the morning. I often have to do a few... stretching excercises after I get out of bed."
"Because scarred skin can't produce sebum?"
"Is... that's what it's called?"
"I... often use m-moisturizing cream to make them a bit more supple."
"Yeah, I noticed the bottle in our room. But you usually don't put it on until you're ready to get dressed, do you? I mean, we've slept in several times this week..."
"S-Sometimes it's more noticable than other times. I only put it on immediately if it itches too m-much when I wake up."
"Speaking of your scars being dry... That's kind of what that incident last week was about, wasn't it?"
"Scars... c-can't sweat either, so when the weather's warm or I... exhaust myself, it takes me longer to cool down again."
Though my physical condition really could have been better that day as well. Lilly's mother was probably right and part of the problem was the fact I wasn't even properly rehydrated to begin with.
"What happened that afternoon, has that happened to you before?"
"A... few times... in the past. But it hasn't happened in a long time, not counting last week."
"Hanako... maybe this is a silly question, but is there any risk of you... uh... 'getting overheated' when we sleep together?"
I giggle. Is this how it's going to be from now on? Two people exchanging an 'are you alright' after each time they sleep together?
"I've b-been fine so far. I think... if you can handle what we do, I can handle it as well. So please don't worry about me. Besides... c-cooling down just takes me a little longer. It's n-not like I can't s-sweat at all anymore..."
"Yeah, good point."
There's a brief silence that's slightly uncomfortable. At least Hisao was diplomatic enough to stick with a generic answer. I suppose I should be grateful that I still have enough functioning sweat glands to engage in modest physical activity without fainting or killing myself, but the annoying thing about having less sweat glands than usual is that the ones I do have have to work overtime in order to compensate, which can lead to some extremely unladylike results. Hisao surely must have noticed already that during our activities in bed, part of me always remains almost completely dry while the other part is sweating like a pig. Thank goodness we always do it without any clothes on.
"Umm... you know... I used to like my baths a little hotter than this too, but ever since... my accident... I've been a room-temperature person. Hot and cold temperatures just quickly feel... uncomfortable to me now. Umm... S-scar tissue doesn't isolate as well as normal skin."
"Yeah, I thought so."
"That's m-most of it. If... it wasn't for my appearance, the s-scars would probably only be a minor inconvenience in everday life."
"Okay. Thanks for telling me."
"P-Please don't go worrying about me."
"I won't if you promise not to worry about me too much."
The conversation having reached its end, we fall silent again, though the silence is comfortable this time. I feel Hisao's hand sneaking up my arm and shoulder, and he starts running his fingers through my hair. I sigh contently and snuggle up to him a little more.
"It's still really nice in here, isn't it?"
My boyfriend chuckles.
"Maybe we simply ought to spend the night here."
"W-We shouldn't. Lilly and her parents would think we're strange."
"If they'd even notice. Lilly's mom's usually away from the home the whole day unless she's taken a day off, and I've barely seen Lilly's dad at all."
"I... spoke with him this morning. In his study."
"You had a conversation with him?"
"Not for very long. But... he did tell me that if we wanted to read any of his books, we could borrow them."
"You mean the contents of that bookcase in the study? I figured they were books on business or heart equipment and stuff."
"No, almost all of it is fiction. And it's all in Japanese too. He has a very impressive collection. You should have a look at it tomorrow."
Hisao grins at my failure at hiding the excited tone in my voice.
"So he's your hero now?"
"N-No, but it's a very generous offer."
"Yeah, it is. I might check it out when I have the opportunity. Did he say anything else?"
"He told me I should make use of the bathroom if I liked an opportunity for a traditional soak. I was actually already c-considering giving it a try before you came and invited me to have one together."
"Well, that was some good advice then."
My thoughts return to the last words he said.
"He also... t-thanked me... f-for looking after Lilly."
"Well, that's kind of ironic, seeing that she's really been looking after us, in a manner of speaking."
"That's what I thought too."
"I suppose you didn't... correct him?"
Are you crazy?
"You didn't tell Lilly about what he said, did you?"
"No. I think she'd be upset, and I d-don't want to complicate things between them."
"There was a similar thing during that picnic last week, wasn't there?"
"You noticed that too?"
"Uhuh. Well, Akira did say that Lilly wasn't very independent when their parents left Japan. Still, seeing them be this out of touch with Lilly kinda suggests some estrangement with a capital E, don't you think?"
"I... d-don't know. I think the situation is... just r-really complicated. Lilly's parents seem... v-very busy all the time, Akira is... rather hostile towards them and is k-keeping them away and Lilly's... floating somewhere in between them."
"Sounds like she has her work cut out for her, huh?"
"Yes. I wonder if there's anything we can do to help."
"I don't think we should meddle in this. Obviously a lot of stuff happened in the past, and we don't know anything about that, so getting involved would just mean getting in over our heads."
"I don't think Lilly came here expecting to undo six years worth of estrangement in only a few weeks. I think she simply meant this to be a beginning of something. Something she wants to maintain with weekly phonecalls while she's in Japan. This is probably a long-term thing to her. At least, if she's realistically-minded, it should be a long-term thing to her."
"Yes, you're probably right."
"Her mom's already taken quite a bit of time off to spend with her, and her dad said he'd try to get some time off at the end of the week. It's a modest start, but it's still a start. I don't think we need to do anything. Well, except maybe hang out and have fun with Lilly whenever she feels like it. But we're already doing that. And we'll just keep doing that, right?"
"Yes! We will."
"In the meantime, seeing that Lilly's not here right now, there's no point in worrying about her. Let's focus our attention on something else, shall we?"
I smile as he wraps his arms around me waist and pulls me onto his lap.
"Umm... l-like what?"
He snickers and gives me a kiss on the cheek.
"We could... I don't know... go out onto the beach and count how many pebbles there are..."
I turn around and smilingly shake my head.
"...or we could... like... go to the yard, draw some squares on the ground and play a game of hopscotch..."
I giggle, shake my head again, and we share a kiss. Ever since he embraced me, my desire's been steadily rising.
"...or we could simply return to our room and have a good time together."
I smile, eagerly nod my head, and we share another kiss. Then I let my forehead rest briefly against his. A quick peck on my lips seals the deal and I get off his lap.
I feel a bit dizzy upon getting up, so I quickly sit down on the edge of the bath until the feeling passes. We get out of the bath, dry ourselves off with the towels I left nearby and then carefully, walking hand in hand, make our way back to the changing area. The bathroom itself was already pretty dark, but the changing area is pitch-black. Nevertheless, we manage to find the bathrobes we left here with relative ease, and after putting them on, we quickly walk back to our bedroom.
We enter, and I waste no time in locking our bedroom door. Not that I expect anyone to come in here unannounced, but better to be safe than sorry. When I turn around, I notice Hisao has already turned on a small lamp on one of the nightstands, bathing the area in a light that's just bright enough to see clearly, but still dim enough not to make me feel too uncomfortable. I notice there's a bit of a nervous expression on his face as he sits down on the edge of the bed. Feeling a little awkward myself, I sit down next to him on his right side and wait for him to initiate the next step.
Chapter 29 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:53 am
"Uh... Want to cuddle a bit first?"
That's a bit odd. When we were getting ready to get out of the bath, the atmosphere was such that I expected him to jump on top of me the moment we set foot in this room, and yet he seems hesitant right now. Nevertheless, I've never said no to a cuddling session before, and I have no intention of breaking that habit. I get a little farther onto the bed and wait for him to make the next move.
He gets closer to me, pulls me into a hug and then lets himself fall backwards, causing me to end up on top of him. The feeling of his hands stroking my scalp and shoulders and the sensation of his ankles rubbing against mine are very pleasant indeed, but every time we make eye contact and I give him an expectant look, he merely gives me a sheepish look back. He's definitely stalling for some reason.
Come to think of it, this situation actually feels familiar.
"Ummm... it's not like this doesn't feel good, but... this... feels a little like last week, d-doesn't it?"
'Last week' in this case referring to the evening he convinced me not to go with the usual way of him lying on top of me and give spooning a try, which I actually ended up enjoying quite a lot.
The half-guilty look on his face all but tells me I was right on the mark.
"Heh, perceptive as ever, I see."
"What... were you thinking about?"
"Just a passing thought."
"Promise me you won't laugh."
He leans in, kisses my ear and then whispers something to me.
I don't laugh, just like I promised. That was hardly going to be my first reaction anyway. I merely fall prey to one of the most luminescent blushes I've ever experienced. He wants to do... that?
Hisao's awkward look shows that he's already sorry he said anything.
"Eh... On the other hand, never mind."
"Uh... curiosity, I guess. And we just got out of the bath. And... uh..."
"It's also supposed to feel really good."
That's as good a reason as any, I suppose.
In fact, it's probably a better reason than any other.
It's still extremely embarrassing though.
But if it feels really good to him...
It might be worth it.
If it feels really good...
As long as I don't mess up, of course.
"Uh... W-what if... What if I m-mess up?"
There's a surprised silence on his end. He probably didn't expect me to even consider it.
But if it feels good to him...
"If you mess up, we'll just go back to sticking to what works, and I'll do my best to make it feel extra good to you. And we'll just deny that it ever happened."
Denial? Yeah, I guess denial works for me.
Another awkward smile. Let's hope this isn't going to result in mutual regret.
"So... uh... it's probably going to be easiest to take turns, right?"
"Y-Yes. Uh...w-would you l-like to g-go first?"
I get off him, and we both sit up. I start fumbling with the belt of his bathrobe, taking several seconds to get it loose. He allows the bathrobe to slide off his shoulders and then starts loosening mine as well.
"If it's okay with you."
I'm not completely comfortable, but I nod nevertheless. As I let my bathrobe slide down as well and then drop both robes over the edge of the bed, I only hope that the atmosphere isn't going to remain this awkward the whole time.
When I turn back towards Hisao, I see an expectant expression on his face. I'm not really that confident myself.
"I... d-don't really know h-how to do this."
He lets out an uneasy chuckle.
"I don't either, but... I think it's simply... using your hands... without using your hands. I'm not sure if that makes sense."
"I... I think it does."
"That's probably a good way to go about it."
At least I have a general idea now. I give a hesitant nod to Hisao who lies down on his back and then beckons me to lie on top of him. I do so and we share a few kisses and cuddles until my nervousness starts to die down a bit.
I suppose it's up to me now.
Use my hands without using my hands.
I give him one more peck on the lips and then move sideways until I reach his ear. He shudders lightly as I take his earlobe between my lips and start kissing it. His hands wrap around me and stroke my back as I move from his earlobe to his neck and let my tongue do what my fingertips have done several times before. Before moving further down, I suckle gently on the most sensitive part of his neck, making sure not to leave a suction mark. I quietly smile to myself when I think of what comes next.
His chest has been a source of fascination for me ever since he revealed his chest scar. There might be other heart patients at Yamaku, I neither know nor care about that. But as far as I'm concerned, that light horizontal line there is a sight that is truly unique to him. His chest may easily be my favorite part of his body. I love stroking it with my hand or laying my head on it and listening to his heartbeat. Perhaps these acts are my way of reminding him of my acceptance.
And now my head is hovering a few centimeters above his chest, the scar in the middle nearly touching the tip of my nose. I give his chest a loving stare and then start planting kisses on it, first slowly, but then faster and faster. Every so often, I briefly pause to listen to his heartbeat before resuming my pampering.
Eventually, I look up and see an encouraging smile on his face. He seems to like it so far. Emboldened a bit by this, I move my attention back to his chest and stick out my tongue, letting it travel from his chest scar to his right nipple. I teasingly circle it a few times before flicking it with the tip of my tongue and am pleased by the gasp that follows. I let my tongue wander from his right nipple to his left and start caressing it in the same way. Rewarded with another sharp breath, I decide to step up the pace a bit, I lick one nipple, then move to the other, then back again, sneaking in little kisses near his armpit, side and collarbone on the side. By this time his entire body has started moving underneath me, shuddering at each contact with my tongue and his breathing has grown quick and shallow.
I don't think I'd mind going on like this for a long time, but when he gently puts his hands on my shoulders and gives them a few short taps with his fingers, I realize that he's ready for the main event. I giggle a bit as I playfully rub his erect nipples with the tip of my nose and give him one last kiss on the scar located in between them.
Then I move downward a bit and kiss him again, lower myself even more and kiss him once more. Laying a trail of kisses in the process, I work my way from his chest, past his tummy and finally down to his abdomen.
When I finally come face to face with his member, I can't help but swallow a little lump in my throat. I've seen it plenty of times before, but never from up close like this. I'm not supposed to... put that in all the way, am I? I'll choke for sure.
It's also supposed to feel really good.
I shoot an uncertain glance at Hisao's, who's watching me with a mixture of embarrassment and anticipation on his face.
"Just... take it slowly, Hanako. And just stop if you don't like it."
I thank back on what he said earlier. Use my hands without using my hands. Most of the time, I'd start by simply running a finger or two along. I could do something like that now as well. Leaning on my elbows, I lower myself to his base, my face hovering mere centimeters over his length. I giggle briefly when I see his length twitching ever so slightly whenever I breathe on it. That actually looks kind of cute.
I finally take a deep breath, take his member between my fingers, stick out my tongue and touch it against his base. Then I run it along its length, stopping just as I reach the head. I hear a pleased sigh coming from Hisao. It sounds like he likes this and doing this isn't so bad, so I run my tongue along the length of his member again.
His breathing has started running in tandem with the caressing of my tongue. Having gained some courage from his reactions so far, I take his member in my hand and gently pull it upright. I notice that the tip is glistening ever so slightly. Forcing my hesitation aside, I lower my head, place a gentle kiss on it and then give it a quick flick with my tongue. As I do so, a faint, foreign smell enters my nostrils. Trying to avoid thinking too hard on this, I start licking the tip some more, each flick of my tongue slightly more forceful than the previous one.
While I'm busy tending to him, I suddenly feel a strange sensation in the back of my head, and when my gaze shifts up for a moment, I realize why. Hisao is looking straight at me. He's looking at what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. My head instantly goes into tomato-mode, and my gaze starts jumping between random points in the room in an attempt to evade his.
"Uh... You were doing really well just now, Hanako. It's been great so far."
"H-Hisao... P-please don't look at me."
"It's... r-really embarrassing."
He briefly opens his mouth to say something, but then seems to reconsider and merely nods his head.
"Okay, Hanako. I'll keep my eyes closed."
As he says this, he indeed lies back and closes his eyes, leaving me to pick things up again. Feeling a little more at ease now that he's no longer watching me, I lower my head again, part my lips and carefully wrap them around his tip. Not sure how to proceed, I tilt my head a bit and let it rub against the inside of my cheek. I carefully start moving my head a little and get a soft sigh in response. I move my head a little faster in response until I suddenly hear a loud yelp which causes me to quickly pull back.
"Ah... B-be careful with the teeth!"
It sounds like his tip accidentally brushed against my teeth. I didn't even notice it myself, but he must have gotten extremely sensitive and just that little touch was painful for him.
"If you like..."
I lower my head again and take him in my mouth once more. This time I try to keep it in the middle of my mouth and away from my teeth. I attempt to keep my jaw as relaxed as possible as I slowly slide up and down. This is hardly the most comfortable act in the world as I have to brace myself at the end of every downward motion in order to prevent myself from letting it slide in too far. I wonder if I'm even doing this right. Hesitantly, I start moving my tongue around a bit. It seems to get him even more aroused than he already was, but my initiative quickly comes to bite me when he suddenly bucks his hips ever so slightly and his member goes in just a little bit past my comfort zone, causing me to immediately pull back again just before I have a sharp coughing fit. He immediately sits up and opens his eyes, a worried expression visible in them.
"Hanako! Are you alright? I'm really sorry."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to do that. It just... happened automatically."
"It's... okay. I'm p-probably just not any g-good at this."
"...Hanako, I... realize this is kind of selfish, but could you try one more time and just focus on the tip this time? Maybe you could get a little more comfortable too."
"Maybe you could lie down on your side?"
I was about ready to throw in the towel, but the look in his eyes convinces me to give it one last shot. It's not like actual intercourse was something I immediately got right. I nod, and he lies down again. I lie down on my right side and lay my head on his belly as if it's a pillow. I gently take hold of him again with my left hand and wrap my lips around the head once more. This position is a lot more pleasant than the previous one and I soon become comfortable enough to make little nodding motions with my head while suckling on his tip as if it's an ice cream cone. He lets out a pleased sigh.
"That's... really... good, Hanako."
Suddenly, I feel his hands on me, and for a moment I'm afraid he's going to grab hold of my head, but then a warm sensation spreads across the left side of my face and I realize he's stroking my cheek with his fingers while his other hand is gently running through my hair. I'm amazed at how tender and loving his caresses are and how good they make me feel. If we can keep doing things this way, I can probably keep this up until the end.
With newfound enthusiasm, I start nodding my head a little faster, using my left hand to rub and stroke his base and my tongue to dance and slide around him. Ever since I first started using my tongue on his tip, a slightly odd taste has been spreading through my mouth, but to my surprise it hasn't even been unpleasant. His taste is slightly salty with just a little hint of sweetness, and while I'm not really sure whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, it's much too mild to really bother me.
He keeps caressing my cheek, and it makes me feel so content that I snuggle up against him. I notice that his breathing has become labored, with more and more gasps and sighs in between breaths. I eagerly keep going, the tenderness of his touch and the arousal in his voice filling me with happiness and lust at the same time. I close my eyes to better concentrate on both.
I love the way he's cooing my name. It makes me want to pleasure him even more.
"H-Hanako... aah... I..."
He's nearing his limit. The way he breathes, the way he moves, the strain in his voice. He's almost there.
But what am I supposed to do now? Should I keep going? Should I stop? Should I pull away at the last moment? Is he telling me to pull away or to brace myself?
If I pull away at the last moment, that stuff will inevitably be in my hair for the rest of the night. It'll be a nightmare to get it out tomorrow, and I don't want to shower again this evening.
If I stop to ask him with him being this close, I'll kill the moment and might ruin his finish. I'm not even sure if I'd be able to get the question out of my mouth.
If I keep going until the end and he doesn't want me to, I might gross him out.
But if I stop prematurely, I'll have disappointed him, and that's much, much worse than grossing him out.
Boys like it when a girl keeps going, don't they?
Anything but disappointment. I already have his taste in my mouth anyway. Judging from his voice, he's extremely close to the edge. My mind made up, I speed up the pace and go all out on him. My lips and tongue dart across his tip again and again, my left hand moves furiously up and down, and I stretch out my pinky finger for the finishing touch.
Just when my pinky lightly tickles the area underneath his base, several things happen at once. Hisao lets out a loud and prolonged groan, his member starts throbbing violently, his entire lower body starts jerking uncontrollably, his upper body rises slightly despite my head still resting on his belly and my eyes fly open in surprise when the mild taste that was in my mouth before is suddenly replaced by a much different, much stronger taste.
My initial plan had been to just swallow it, but I quickly decide against that now. What's overpowering is not so much the taste. It's a lot saltier than what I tasted earlier with just a touch of bitterness, but it's nothing I can't handle. What makes me a little queasy is the texture. It's surprisingly thick and a bit slimy, and I can't shake the feeling that if I swallow it, it'd either get stuck in my throat or crawl its way back up. As soon as the spasms in Hisao's lower region have died down, I get up and quickly spit the contents of my mouth onto his stomach. Hisao's still too engaged in his subsiding climax to even notice.
Staying true to tradition, I lie next to him and place my hand on his chest, feeling his frantic heartbeat slowly return to normal and keeping an eye out for palpitations. Eventually, Hisao's dazed eyes start regaining some focus, and after recognizing the look on my face he gives a careful deliberate nod. I give a reassured smile and a quick peck on the cheek back.
"I'll... go and get something to clean you, Hisao."
Without waiting for a response, I walk over to the bathroom area and get some tissues from a box on one of the shelves. We have some tissues in our nightstand drawer too, but I also wanted an excuse to clean myself a bit. I don't think Hisao's going to kiss me like this. I get myself a glass of water and drink it, slowly weakening the odd taste in my mouth until it's gone altogether. I return to the bed and kneel at Hisao's side, using the tissue to wipe his stomach clean. After having cleaned up the little puddle, which was barely large enough to fill a teaspoon, I turn to him and notice he's gotten his bearings back and is now looking at me.
"Hisao... Did you... like it?"
"Yeah. It's just..."
He looks lost for words for a few seconds.
"Why did you keep going?"
"I kind of assumed you were going to pull away at the last second when I was about to... I was kind of surprised that you kept going."
"I... t-thought that's what you w-wanted. D-Don't b-boys... like it that way?"
"Did you read that somewhere?"
My shoulders droop, and my smile instantly drops. So it turns out that I guessed wrong after all, and now he's weirded out or even grossed out by me.
"S-Sorry. I thought... I'm r-really sorry."
"Hey, don't get all apologetic on me. If anything, I should probably apologize to you for not having been clearer. I... uh... don't know if this is a consolation to you, but..."
He takes my hand and holds it tenderly.
"...as embarrassing as it is to say this, what you just did probably felt better than anything I've ever felt before. It was really, really good."
He does look a little awkward upon saying this, but my mood instantly jumps from gloomy to elated and, wearing a huge smile on my face, I lean forward and grab him into a tight, almost savage, hug. He merely chuckles a little at my reaction and then looks into my eyes.
"The least thing I can do is return the favor. If you're up for it."
I'm not completed sure if I'm ready to be on the receiving end or not, but I don't want to keep Hisao waiting any longer, and I'm admittedly a little curious after having witnessed how much he got into it, so I ignore the feeling of my heart beating in my throat and lie down in the place where Hisao was lying earlier. I feel a warm sensation all over when Hisao lies down on top of me and mouth a silent 'okay' in response to the expectant look in his eyes.
"Don't be afraid, Hanako. Just... lie back, relax and let it happen."
He kisses me and lets his forehead rest against mine for a moment. I giggle as he playfully rubs his nose against mine before letting his lips wander towards the right side of my face. I can't feel him kissing my cheek, my neck and my shoulder, but I can hear it. Even though my body no longer picks up those kinds of sensations there, him kissing or touching me there still makes me feel warm inside. It's the gesture that matters. The gesture that he's not repelled by my scarred skin.
I reflexively close my eyes when he brings up his hands, brushes my fringe away with his fingers and kisses the spots above my eyebrows. It tickles a bit, and I squeeze my mouth shut in order to suppress a laugh. Then he moves to the left side of my face, and I gasp as I feel his lips and tongue proceed to caress my earlobe. What starts out as a few cautious pecks soon becomes a barrage of kisses with a few playful nibbles thrown in. When he moves his head slightly down and starts relentlessly kissing and licking my favorite spots on my neck, I let out an excited cry and wrap both my arms and my legs around him. My body has started moving on its own, driven into a higher state of arousal with each flick of his tongue.
This is so good.
He whispers in my ear to let go of him for a moment, and as I do so, his tongue starts working its way down again, creating a wet trail from the back of my ear across my neck all the way to my chest. He places a wet smooch on my collarbone and then pulls his head back. His gaze wanders from my eyes to my bared breasts, and the look in his eyes is a mixture of excitement and something that almost resembles hunger. He lowers his head again, and I shiver as I feel his breath tickling my nipple. Unable to resist the anticipation any longer, I gently hold his head to my chest. I let out a sigh as his tongue comes into contact with my right breast and starts drawing ever-shrinking circles around its center. He licks my rapidly hardening nipple for a moment and then repeats the process with my other breast. Then he starts using his hand, kneading and groping one breast while licking and suckling the other with his mouth. The sensation feels so good that I arch my back and sway my upper body in ecstasy.
The experience is such a turn-on that I actually feel a pang of disappointment when he pulls away. I feel his tongue on my collarbone again before he draws a thin trail of saliva between that point and my tummy. He places several playful kisses on my belly button and then lowers himself more. He puts his hands on my upper legs and gives me a look as if asking for permission. I feel the sudden sting of self-consciousness, but manage to keep it at bay for long enough to stiffly nod my head.
I cringe visibly as he takes hold of my legs, lifts them slightly and spreads them wide before lying down on his stomach with his face merely centimeters away from my entrance. I squeeze my eyes shut in sheer embarrassment, but I can nevertheless feel his gaze sweeping across my secret place, getting a closer look at it than he's ever gotten before. I've never felt so extremely vulnerable in my entire life, and I struggle against the temptation to close my legs or cover that place up with my hands. I wonder how I smell or taste to him. Will he find it unpleasant? The moment seems to take forever with no sound except for our shallow breathing and no sensation except the maddening feel of his breath against that place. Then, finally, his arms wrap around my upper legs, and I feel something warm and wet press hard against my most sensitive spot.
I grit my teeth as an intense sensation shoots through my lower body. I thought this was going to feel like the attention he gave my chest earlier, but it's much, much stronger than that. Even to the point of being overpowering.
"Just relax, Hanako."
A reassuring whisper from Hisao and then his tongue proceeds to jab against the tiny button above my entrance. I try to relax my muscles, but the sensation is much too strong for that.
Is this how it's supposed to feel?
I hold still, doing my best to get used to it, but the sensation is so strong it's bordering on pain.
My hands edge downward until they reach his head, and I let out a sigh of relief when I softly, but firmly push his head away. Hisao looks at me with a worried expression.
"It didn't feel good?"
"I'm... n-not sure... It... s-started getting unpleasant."
"Maybe I was too forceful?"
"Could you... tell me... how you think you'd like it?"
I blush and merely shake my head. I'm already at my limit as far as awkwardness is concerned.
"Can I try something else?"
I give a silent nod. I didn't get it right from the start either, so it's fair that I give him a second chance too. My body jumps a little when I feel the wetness of his mouth again, but this time it's merely a kiss on the inside of my right thigh, followed by one on my left. He gently works his way to the center again, and I hold my breath when he reaches my lady parts once more, but this time, the intense pressure stays away and what comes in its place is a gentle lapping.
As his tongue gently keeps caressing the area around my entrance, my tension slowly starts ebbing away. The sensation feels a little like his hand, except softer, more fluid and... slightly better too. I close my eyes again and try to focus on the sensation once more. This act is still extremely embarrassing, but the feeling is really nice. I feel my pelvic muscles tense up and relax every time his tongue runs up the length of my entrance and a wonderful shudder each time it gently flicks the little place at the top.
My hands take hold of his head once again but without the intent of pushing him away this time. Instead, I start running my hands through his hair, gently pulling him close now and again in order to make it feel better. My breaths get heavier and heavier.
A moan escapes my lips as one of his hands wanders up my body and playfully strokes one of my breasts. My arousal is rising by the second and my breathing can barely keep up with the tempo of his lapping. An intense heat has started building up between my legs and is now spreading through my entire body. My thought process is getting fuzzier and fuzzier. The embarrassment of our act barely seems relevant anymore.
Encouraged by the way my body is reacting to the stimulation, he moves in closer and wraps his mouth around the upper part of my entrance, massaging it with his lips while his tongue is dancing around my pleasure center, creating a sensation that nearly drives me crazy. Almost my entire body is flushed red at this point.
I can feel my limit approaching as his tongue takes me past the point of no return. I grab the bed sheets tightly and arch my back in pleasure as I lose control.
I reach the edge, but instead of going over it immediately, I keep dangling for several seconds. His arms grab hold of my hips tighter and continue holding me in place as I start squirming uncontrollably and start letting out squeals of delight.
I instinctively grab his head and press it against me. Then all muscles in my lower body forcefully tense up at once, my legs involuntary squeeze themselves together and my upper body lunges forward. The intense pleasure causes me to squeeze my eyes shut and open my mouth to scream, but a quiet, prolonged whimper is all that leaves my throat.
And still he keeps going.
My body relaxes for a moment and then immediately tenses up again.
And once more.
Finally, the spasms are replaced by small aftershocks of ever diminishing intensity, and then my body relaxes completely.
Without warning, the sensation of his licking, which he kept up while I was experiencing my climax, becomes painful again and I reflexively push his head away. I faintly hear him apologize, but I'm beyond the capacity to reply. I close my legs completely, roll on my right side, draw my knees up to my chest and let out a long sigh as a profound feeling of bliss descends upon me. My mind wanders in random directions as I recover from the experience I just had.
I hear him getting off the bed and heading somewhere. I briefly hear the sound of running water, but it seems to come from very far away. I become vaguely aware of the lights being turned off and then I feel him get back in bed, cover me with the bed sheet and hug me from behind. I slowly start becoming more aware again as I feel his breath against my neck. Eventually, I manage to recollect myself enough to open my eyes and turn my head towards him.
"...how was it?"
It's pretty dark in the room now, but I think I can see him smile. He tenderly starts running his fingers through my hair.
"No bad taste in your mouth anymore?"
"Naw. It didn't taste bad to begin with. My tongue's kind of tired now, though. Kind of like that time last week when we were trying to find out how long we could keep a kiss going."
I giggle at the memory of that little game we played back then. The comparison is surprisingly accurate.
My jaw's a little tired as well. Still, for a first time, I don't think we did that badly. We're lacking experience right now, but I wouldn't mind doing this again in the future.
"So we should probably take it easy with the kisses?"
I don't say anything back. Instead, I slowly rub myself against him, use my feet to play footsie with his and reach back to lovingly stroke his hair. Hisao's all too eager to respond in kind, letting his hands run across my cheek and tummy.
Even though my experience left me tired, I still love cuddling like this. I'm feeling content, satisfied and very happy right now. As our caresses slow down and we start drifting into a peaceful slumber together, my thoughts return on the events of the day and the days that came before it. I'm having a great time right now, and we still have nearly two weeks to go before we have to go back. I don't think this vacation can get any better, but I'm nevertheless hoping that it will.
As I drift off to sleep in Hisao's arms, one last thought remains in my mind.
I'm really looking forward to tomorrow.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:55 am
I smile as I hear these two conflicting reactions from my friends. I haven't been following the game between them very closely, but Hanako's exclamation, voiced in a slightly sing-song tone, as well as Hisao's frustrated grunt leave little doubt as to who is currently winning.
"Is Hanako giving you trouble, Hisao?"
"It's okay, Lilly. Nothing I can't handle. Who needs a queen anyway?"
That last part is spoken in a soft mumble, but I can hear it anyway.
It's been one and a half weeks since we first arrived in Inverness, and so far I can say that the vacation has been very enjoyable. Hanako and Hisao have even taken a few trips together without Mother and me around. They're still a little bit reluctant to travel around the area together due to their English being less fluent than mine, but this does happen to be the ideal way for them to improve it. I also think they enjoy spending some time together now and then. It must be wonderfully romantic spending your vacation in a part of the world that's completely new together with someone you love. I think I even envy Hanako a bit.
Today has been a rather uneventful day. Hanako and Hisao slept in, or at least didn't come out of their room until it was nearly noon, and since we had some rain early in the afternoon, we decided to spend the day here at my parents' home, reading and talking. Right now it's just Hanako, Hisao and me here, hanging out in the living room. The cleaning staff have already left, Mother's currently visiting her older sister and won't be back until tomorrow and Father's still at work.
I feel a bit bad for Father. Apparently the final negotiations for the acquisition of another company by Father's company are only a few weeks away, and things are extremely hectic at work. I have a feeling my visit here has been rather ill-timed. Mother and Father have both promised to spend at least a few days with me while I'm here, and so far Mother has already come through. Father is set to spend three days with us the day after tomorrow. Akira mentioned a few days ago that she wouldn't be surprised if he ended up calling our time together off, since he can't really afford to take these days off at this point, but so far I haven't heard him confirm that. Apparently he's been trying to finish as much of his work that was originally planned for the upcoming week as possible, but as a result I've barely interacted at all with him. He tends to leave the house early and works until very late. Since he's apparently partially doing this for my sake, I don't really feel in a position to complain.
To be honest, Father has always worked very long hours for as long as I can remember. I suppose as the son of the company head he felt he had to set the good example. But Akira said that over the last few weeks he's been looking like a 'burnout sufferer in denial'. I'm not sure what to make of that, but even Hisao and Hanako said that he didn't look like he was sleeping very well. I hope that when he takes a few days off, he'll be able to relax a little bit. It's probably too much to hope for, but surely he realizes that having a breakdown at this point in time might sink his whole deal.
My thoughts are interrupted by the phone on one of the sidetables suddenly springing to life. After some hesitation, I pick it up.
"Good evening, Satou residence. Lilly Satou speaking."
"Oh, hello Mother. Have you already arrived at Aunt Stella's place?"
"Yeah, I arrived here half an hour ago."
"Aren't you tired? Driving all the way over there after work..."
"Only a little. It's been a long day, but I promised her I'd come see her before your father and I leave for the US, and I think the upcoming weeks are only going to get busier. And I won't have time the upcoming days either when your father takes a few days off and I get back to work. Speaking of which, is he already home?"
"No, not yet..."
I think those two work way too hard.
I'm a little worried about them, but I don't really think it's a daughter's place to admonish her parents about the way they live their lives.
"Ah... I don't mean to speak out of line, but..."
"Heh, don't worry about that. Just say what's on your mind."
"Are you and Father still... holding up? Things have been stressful for you, haven't they?"
"I'm still doing okay. It's been hectic, and will continue to be for a few weeks, but I still feel fine. I'll be glad when it's over, but I still feel able to handle things."
"How about Father? Akira, Hisao and Hanako said he looked... not well."
Mother lets out a weary sigh.
"Well, I won't deny he's been a little under the weather lately. He's been having trouble sleeping, he mentioned having bouts of indigestion, and earlier today he even mentioned repetitive strain injury in his shoulder and arm. It's just one thing after another."
"Shouldn't he take it easier then?"
"I suggested that too, but it's not that simple. To me, this whole thing is just crunch time for the company I work for. It'd be great if we could pull it off, and I'll be sure to do my part, but in the end it's still just work. To him, this is his legacy. His grandfather expanded the company, as did his father. Now it's his turn. It's what he's studied and worked for. Wouldn't you feel enormous pressure? Would you take it slowly just a few inches before the finish line?"
"Probably not, but it doesn't sound like a very healthy situation to be in."
"I know, but it's only a few more weeks, and he said he was still fine, so I'll take his word for that. After we travel to the US and finish the deal there, I intend to stay there for a bit and take him on a little trip. See some of the national parks, maybe the Niagara Falls too. Take it easy, see stuff, just relax. That'll fix him right up, you'll see."
"...I hope so."
"When he's taking time off to spend with you, just try to do whatever you can to take his mind off the business, okay? I'd appreciate that even though it may be a losing battle."
"I will try."
"Great. By the way, the reason I'm calling is to ask if either Hanako or Hisao happens to have an allergy to nuts or almonds."
"Not as far as I know. We had both as a snack during our flight."
"That's good to hear. Stella was thinking of baking you a dundee cake. That's a traditional Scottish fruitcake covered with almonds. I find it kind of filling, but really tasty too."
"That sounds delicious. I can't wait for us to get there so I can have a taste. How is she doing these days?"
"She doesn't really get out of the house much yet, and she has the occasional spells of sudden tiredness, which is probably partially due to her medication, but all in all she's doing a lot better than two months ago."
"Please give her my regards."
"Will do. I'm going to hang up now. Be sure to let your father know that I've arrived safely when he gets home, okay?"
"I will. Until tomorrow, Mother."
I put down the phone with some mixed feelings. I still feel a little awkward talking to Mother. What's more, what she said about Father didn't exactly reassure me. Even though Father's been a hard worker his entire life and wasn't home very often except on Sundays, this is the first time I've heard of his work taking a physical toll on him. I don't like the idea of him overworking himself even more merely because I wanted to spend a few days with him. If I had known things were this hectic for him already, I wouldn't have asked to begin with.
I put away the phone and refocus my attention on my friends' game of chess. I can't hear any direct reactions, but I notice from the pauses between the taps that one side is taking a lot less time to plan the next move than the other. Eventually, the verdict is called.
"Thanks. Ummm, do you want to go again, Hisao?"
"Well, okay. This time I might try to stick more to the tried and true stuff."
"Your opening was a bit unusual this time."
"Yeah, I tried to do one of those exotic openings I read about in a chess book before we went on vacation, but either I remembered it wrong or I bungled it up somewhere along the way. I don't usually lose this quickly."
"Unpredictability is usually a good thing in chess."
"Yeah, but only if you know what you're doing.
I hear the sound of chess pieces being placed in their starting position, and moments later, the first piece is moved.
"Where exactly was your mother staying again?"
"Edinburgh, Hisao. Her older sister lives there."
"Is this the same sister you and Akira visited in July?"
"It is. Mother promised her that she'd stop by before she and Father left on their business trip to the US. Since it's about a 3 hour drive from Inverness to Edinburgh, she decided to spend the night at her sister's place and drive back very early tomorrow morning."
"Are she and your mother close? Like you and Akira?"
"I don't think they've ever been extremely close. Mother had very little contact with her family while she was living in Japan. She was a bit of a late arrival in the family and didn't form an extremely close bond with her siblings. There are 10 years between her and Aunt Stella."
"There are also 7 years between you and Akira."
"That's true. I suppose it's different for everyone. I was lucky my sister paid so much attention to me when we were younger."
"Did you say that we were going to go there ourselves?"
"Yes. When Father takes a few days off, he'll be taking us to Edinburgh. We'll visit my aunt when we're there, but for the most part we'll be sightseeing - so to speak."
"Were you there last time as well? What's the city like?"
"I was there only briefly during my last stay, but the city feels different from Inverness. Bigger and more crowded. Mother said it's literally ten times as populated as Inverness. Of course, Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the most populated city in the country after Glasgow, so it's quite unlike Inverness. I'm rather curious about your impressions of it."
"You mentioned sightseeing. Any further information on where we'll be going or is it going to be a surprise?"
I open the drawer of one of the sidetables and pull out what I know is a tiny folder on Edinburgh's main tourist attractions, which I give to Hisao.
"You could take a little look in here and see if there's anything you like."
"Thanks... ugh, it's all in English."
"Of course. But if you don't understand the meaning of certain words, just read the corresponding sentence to me and I'll tell you what it means."
"If I do that, are you going to correct my mispronunciations again? The last time we did something like this, you turned it into a miniature English lesson."
I give a disappointed pout. Why is he so resistant towards improving his language skills?
"But... it's a pretty important skill to have in order to make yourself understood around here and surely an upcoming scientist must have some adequately honed skill in the language, especially since many scientific documents and websites are in English. Isn't it better for me to give you a few pointers now instead of having you picking up the wrong habits?"
The only immediate response I get is a muffled giggle from Hanako. Hisao must have rolled his eyes or made a face in response to my words. I'm probably fighting a losing battle here, so I decide to drop it.
"Anyway, Edinburgh has quite a few museums that make for an interesting experience. There are also other places of note that Father said would be worth our while, such as the Edinburgh Zoo and the National Library of Scotland."
Hisao and I both chuckle at Hanako's immediate reaction.
"Yes, Edinburgh has quite a few libraries, and the National Library of Scotland is the most prominent among them, because it's this country's legal deposit for books. They have quite a few old documents and maps there as well. I think a visit there would be most educational and given the fact that Father has quite a fondness for books himself, I'd be extremely surprised if a visit to the National Library wasn't on the program."
"It sounds like an interesting place to visit. I've never visited a national library before. Have you, Hanako?"
"No. I'd like to go there, even if it's not the national library of Japan. It sounds interesting."
"Well, then one destination is already set."
"Hmmm, those koalas in that picture look really cute."
I smile at Hanako's words.
"It sounds like we have another addition to our to-do list."
"But Lilly, aren't these things kind of boring for you? This doesn't look like the petting zoo you and Hanako went to before."
"I think I can still enjoy myself there, Hisao. You and Hanako can describe the animals to me and I can still hear and smell them."
"Smell? I've always felt that all zoos smell alike. Is there a big difference between the smell of elephant droppings and the smell of gorilla turds?"
While I'm still wondering whether that question deserved a serious answer, I hear Hanako trying desperately to hold her laughter, and I realize Hisao was having a little fun at my expense. I sigh and give Hisao an admonishing pout before turning to Hanako.
"Hanako, it's probably not necessary to go easy on Hisao this match. I don't think he deserves it."
Hanako lets out a conspiring giggle.
"Hey! That's not very nice."
I smile sweetly at Hisao.
"Any more suggestions, Hisao?"
"I don't know. There seem to be a lot of museums in Edinburgh, but I'm not sure which ones would be most interesting to visit. I'd rather not go to ones that require a lot of knowledge about the local history."
"How about the Museum of Childhood then?"
"The Museum of Childhood?"
"I've heard there's a museum in Edinburgh that's dedicated to children's toys throughout the last two centuries. Apparently it has an exhibition containing many dolls from several generations."
"She caught your interest, didn't she?"
"It sounds like a fun place to visit."
I can't help but smile at Hanako's elated tone. Yes, this place definitely sounds worth visiting, if for no other reason than to witness Hanako's reaction.
"I'll bring it up with Father. Are there any other museums worth visiting in the folder, Hisao?"
"Hmm, City Art Center, Museum of Edinburgh... I don't know if visiting art displays is really something you'd enjoy."
"Any musea about specific subjects?"
"This one may interest you. The Writers' Museum. It's dedicated to three well-known Scottish writers."
"Hmmm, which ones?"
"Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson."
"Burns is probably not very familiar to you, seeing as he was a poet, considered by many as the Scottish poet. You may not know about Scott either, unless Ivanhoe sounds familiar to you."
"I'm afraid it doesn't."
"Surely you must know Stevenson though. Have you read 'Treasure Island' or 'The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'?"
"I haven't, but I know the general plot of both."
"Then this will be my request for the day. It's not a location an aspiring English teacher can afford to pass up."
"They might not have much information printed in Braille."
"Then surely I'll be able to rely on the two of you to read it to me and..."
As I reply to Hisao, I suddenly pick up a sound coming from outside the house.
"Lilly, did you hear something?"
I think I hear a car outside. Is that Father coming home already? Seems that way.
"I think Father's home. What time is it right now?"
"Half past 8. I don't recall him coming back this early since we arrived here."
"That's true, he's unusually early, though I certainly won't complain about that."
A few minutes later, I hear footsteps slowly approaching followed by the voice of my father greeting us.
"Lilly, Miss Ikezawa, Mister Nakai... Good evening."
"Good evening, sir."
"Welcome back, Father. I'm happy to see you could make it back here sooner than usual."
"I... am afraid I still have a few things to do. I will be retiring to my study. Please do not disturb me while I am working..."
"Ah... Of course, Father."
"Good evening then."
I'm taken off guard by the abrupt tone of Father's voice. He usually takes the time to properly greet us when he comes home. Is he in that much of a hurry? As Father's footsteps head into the direction of the study and I hear a door being closed in the distance, I turn to Hanako and Hisao.
"I... apologize. He's usually not that curt with others."
"It's okay, Lilly. To be honest, he didn't really look like he was up for a chat anyway."
"I don't know, he looked a bit pale. Maybe he came home because he was getting sick."
"Mother already said he had trouble sleeping and had been complaining earlier about bouts of indigestion and repetitive strain injuries. I wonder if it's a good idea to force him to take a few days off while he obviously can't afford it. Would you be very disappointed if I suggested canceling the trip to Edinburgh, so Father would have a bit more breathing room?"
"Of course not, Lilly. Heck, this trip could end right here and now, and I'd still call it a grand success."
"That is good to hear. I'll go and talk to him about it."
Chapter 30 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:56 am
I take my cane and slowly make my way to the study. I open the door just a little bit and hear the sound of someone typing on a keyboard. I knock a few times to announce my presence.
I'm greeted by a tired sigh as I enter.
"Lilly, did you not hear what I said earlier?"
"I know, Father. This won't take long."
I walk further into the room until I'm standing near the table where Father is working.
"Father, is it... wise to keep working right now despite the fact that you were plagued by RSI earlier?"
"Hmmm? Ah, my shoulder? Did your mother tell you about that?"
"She did. Are you... feeling alright?"
"I am fine. Why are you suddenly so concerned about me?"
"Hanako and Hisao said that you looked a little pale when you came in."
Another weary sigh. He's obviously not pleased with my insistence.
"I felt a bit unwell at the office, so I decided to return home earlier than planned. The sensation disappeared when I left the building. It has not returned since. I am fine right now."
"I've been thinking, Father. Perhaps we should call off our trip to Edinburgh. Or at least postpone it until a more convenient time."
"A more convenient time?"
"When you're... no longer under so much pressure."
"I have already made you a promise, have I not?"
"There will be other times."
"I do not like to go back on my word. It is a matter of honor."
"Lilly, a proper lady... respects the will... of her elders."
"Father, is anything wrong?"
"Perhaps... you could get me a glass... of water."
"Right away, Father."
I make my way out of the study and back to the living room and let out a tired sigh.
"It seems you were right, Hisao. Father did feel unwell earlier and decided to go home earlier because of that. Whatever he felt disappeared before he could get behind the wheel. Fortunately. But I still think he's falling ill. There was just... something off about his breathing."
"Wow, you actually notice these things?"
"Only because I was paying close attention to it. But despite everything, he still won't take my offer of calling off our trip to Edinburgh. It is a little disheartening."
I navigate over to the kitchen and probe the shelves of the cupboard with my hand until I feel an empty glass against my fingers. I take it, feel my way over to the tap and fill it with fresh and cool water.
Just as I finish filling up the glass, I hear a soft voice coming from the doorway.
"Hanako. Are you already finished with your chess match?"
"Ummm... If your father is feeling ill, w-wouldn't it be good to... call a doctor?"
I'm about to brush aside Hanako's suggestion, seeing that Father would probably not go along with that, but then I realize that Hanako following me here and telling me this are kind of unusual for her. She's not exactly the most proactive person in the world. She probably wouldn't bother approaching me like this without good reason. But what reason is that?
"Do you really think so, Hanako?"
"It's... p-probably nothing, but... better safe than sorry, right?"
It's probably nothing, but better safe than sorry...
What's probably nothing?
Does Father really look that bad?
I really wish I'd be able to look at him with my own eyes.
"I'll talk to him about it, Hanako."
I carefully make my way back to the study, wondering how on earth I'd be able to convince Father to go see a doctor.
A proper lady respects the will of her elders...
The hint was clear. He wants me to stop worrying about him.
"Father, I brought you your drink."
He takes it from my hands and takes a few careful sips. This should be the moment where I take my leave, but I manage to stop myself from walking away.
"Lilly, is there something else?"
He must have spotted my fidgeting.
"Father... are you really feeling fine?"
"It's just... m-maybe it would be a good idea to call a doctor if you're feeling unwell."
"You say you're fine, but... I noticed... t-that your breathing is a bit more shallow than usual."
"Lillian, that is quite enough!"
I cringe at his stern tone. I overstepped my boundaries, that's obvious.
"I... apologize. I'll be on my way. But..."
"You told Mother you were fine, and she said she took your word for it. Would you... also give me your word that you'll be fine?"
"Yes, please promise me that you'll be okay. Since keeping your word is a matter of honor, I will trust it."
There's a long silence. I wonder if he's going to scold me, but to my surprise he eventually lets out a resigned sigh.
"If I talk to a doctor... on the phone... will that be enough to reassure you?"
"The phone in the living room should contain our general practitioner's phone number. His name is Thompson."
"Thank you, Father."
I walk back to the living room as quickly as I can and hand Hanako the phone.
"Yes, Father said the number should be in the phone's memory. I suppose it's listed as either doctor or Thompson."
I hear a long series of beeps as Hanako starts browsing through the phone's contact list.
"Here it is. Shall I call it?"
I hear one more beep and then the phone is handed back to me. Moments later, I hear someone on the other end of the line picking up.
"Doctor Thompson, good evening. This is Lilly Satou speaking. I hope I'm not intruding on you. I'm terribly sorry for calling you this late."
"Not a problem, Miss... Satou?"
"Yes, you are my father's general practitioner, are you not?"
"Why yes, I am. Is there something wrong?"
"Father's been extremely busy with work lately. There's a very important event in his business coming up, and he's under a large amount of pressure right now. It seems to be... taking a toll on him."
"Are there any specifics you can give me, Miss Satou?"
"Just... several things. He's been having trouble sleeping as of late. My mother said he complained about RSI in his shoulder earlier today. There's been talk of... hmmm... indigestion. He actually came home earlier today because he felt a little unwell and my friends said he looked rather pale. I noticed his breathing was a bit shallower than usual. I'm... probably worrying about nothing, but I was wondering if you would..."
"Just a moment, Miss Satou. Did you say he felt unwell earlier?"
"Yes, but the sensation disappeared eventually."
"What kind of sensation? Localized somewhere?"
"He didn't say."
A long silence.
"Miss Satou, is there someone present with a driver's license aside from your father?"
"Ah... there isn't. Mother is out of town this evening. I could perhaps call the housekeeper. She might be willing to take him to your place. But is there a reason why it'd be irresponsible for him to drive himself?"
"There is no need for him to come by my place, Miss Satou. But I think it would not be a bad idea to quickly stop by at Raigmore and have someone there take a look at him. It's not very far from where you live, is it?"
I let out a surprised gasp.
First Hanako and now the doctor...
"Yes. I'm going to make a quick phone call there and tell them to expect you. Have you been to Raigmore before? Do you know where the cardiology ward is located? Ah, then again, your father probably knows where it is, given his profession."
I feel my blood freeze in my veins and a heavy sensation in the pit of my stomach.
"Yes. The person on duty there will either be Doctor Morrison or Doctor McElroy."
"Doctor... What's going on?"
"...could I speak briefly with your father, Miss Satou?"
A bit unsteadily, I head back to the study again.
There's no response. That's strange. I thought I heard a sound coming from the study while I was on my way there.
"Father, are you there?"
Nothing. Not an acknowledgement, nor a typing sound. Not even a breath. Did he leave?
"Father, where are you?"
I walk further into the room and almost immediately my foot hits something. Something on the floor that wasn't here before. I kneel and reach out to examine it. As my hand makes contact with it, I feel a shiver running down my spine. It's a person, lying on the floor near the door.
Not an acknowledgement, nor a typing sound. Not even a breath.
NOT EVEN A BREATH!
The sound of the doctor's voice on the phone reminds me that I was on my way to hand over the phone.
"Miss Satou, I'm going to hang up and call an ambulance to pick up your father this instant. Do not leave his side until they arrive."
What's happening? What's going on? Is he...?
"Lilly? Is something wrong?"
I hear Hisao's and Hanako's footsteps hurriedly approaching, probably drawn here by my shout. As they come in, I hear two gasps.
"Mister Satou! Lilly, what's happened here?"
"I... I d-don't know. I c-can't hear him breathing."
Somebody do something! Please!
Hanako's breathing, on the other hand, is becoming more pronounced by the second. I'd probably start worrying about her if I wasn't on the verge of panic myself.
"Damn, should we give him artificial respiration? Does he even have a pulse?"
"I... I don't know. J-Just d-do something, please."
I'm not sure what's more unsettling; Hisao's panicked tone or Hanako's ragged breathing.
"I can't feel any pulse in his wrist. Is there a better way to do this?"
She's almost hyperventilating.
"I don't know!"
Hisao and I let out a surprised cry as we're suddenly violently being pushed aside, and I nearly hit my head on the table in the process. When I catch my bearings, I become once again aware of Hanako's breathing, but it's different this time. Instead of the hyperventilating gasps she was letting out earlier, she's now letting out a steady stream of short, sharp breaths.
Huff - huff - huff
Huff - huff - huff
"What are you doing?"
"She's pressing down on his chest. I think she's doing CPR, Lilly. Hanako, is there anything I can do?"
Huff - huff - huff
"Hanako, can you hear me?"
Huff - huff - huff
No answer. Hanako's breathing is so steady it's almost robotic. I wonder if she knows what she's doing. But what choice do we have? What's taking that accursed ambulance so long?
"Doctor Thompson said he'd call an ambulance. They... They should be on their way."
"Then I'll go and open the gates and the front door, so they'll be able to get here as quickly as possible when they arrive."
"Y-Yes, thank you Hisao."
Huff - huff - huff
I hear Hisao running off, leaving me alone in the room with Hanako - and Father. It doesn't happen often, but right now I'm cursing my blindness. My friends are both doing their part, and here I am, unable to do anything.
"Please d-do your best, Hanako. Let me know if you need anything..."
Seeing how close to the door he was, I think he was trying to get out of the room before he collapsed. Did he call out for help, and did I fail to hear it?
Huff - huff - huff
What's taking that ambulance so long?
Am I going to lose him, just like Hanako lost her parents?
Is that exasperated sigh he let out when I walked out of here going to be the last thing I'll ever hear from him?
That's too cruel.
Huff - huff - huff
Please hang in there, Father.
"Hanako, please hang in there."
Is that the best I can come up with? I used to have no trouble finding the right words to encourage Hanako. And now, now that it matters more than ever, I find myself lost for words.
Huff - huff - huff
Hanako's breathing is getting less steady. Is she getting worn out? What she's doing must be pretty tiring.
What if she gets too tired to continue and the ambulance hasn't arrived yet?
How will she feel?
What's keeping that ambulance?
Huff - huff - huff
A wave of nausea washes over me as I hear a soft crunch coming from the place where Father's lying. It's barely audible yet it chills me to the bone. Is this the sound of someone's ribs being fractured? That sounded really painful.
"Hanako, be careful!"
I manage to get a hold of myself just in time to refrain from making the terrible mistake of grabbing Hanako and yanking her away from Father. At this point, it seems stupid to worry about broken ribs.
Huff - huff - huff
Hanako didn't even seem to have heard my scream. She just keeps going as if there's nobody else in existence.
I squeeze my eyes shut in order to hold back the tears and let out a tortured whimper as I hear a second crunch. What if one of those ribs punctures his lung? What if they manage to revive him only for him to drown in his own blood moments later? No, don't think that way. Don't even start thinking that way.
Damnit, where's that ambulance?
Huff - huff - huff
I wonder if there isn't a defibrillator somewhere in the house. Father's company sells them after all. He might have taken one home at some point. But where would he keep it? And would any of us be in a condition to operate it?
Before I can ponder my thought further, my attention is drawn by a distinctive sound coming from outside. Is that a siren?
Chapter 30 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:56 am
"Hanako, I think I hear a siren!"
Huff - huff - huff
Trying to keep focus through the sound of my own rapidly beating heart, I try to concentrate on what I heard earlier. Somewhere from outside I can clearly hear the distinct wail of a siren.
"Hanako, the ambulance is arriving!"
Huff - huff - huff
"Hold on for just a little while longer, Hanako. Please. Hang in there..."
The sound of the siren is now joined by the sound of a car screeching to a halt.
Then footsteps. Many footsteps. And voices.
"Lead the way, lad."
"The doctor who called said it was probably a heart attack. Bruce, you do the compressions!"
Huff - huff - huff
I hear several people bursting into the room. I just sit there in a daze as everything plays out in front of me, unable to figure out how to act or what to say.
"Alright, lass, you can stop now. We'll take over from here."
Huff - huff - huff
"Hey, didn't you hear me? You need to give us room to work!"
Huff - huff - huff
"Damn, we don't have time for this. Ian, get her away from him so I can get started!"
"Whoa! Hey, no need to freak out. We're here to help!!"
"Hey! Get your hands off of her!"
"What's he saying?"
"Hanako! Come on, Hanako. I'll get you to our room. Just... there... just come along with me, okay?"
"I'm on it! Neil, get that adrenaline injection ready."
"Hey lass, maybe it's better if you go and check up on your... uh... friends."
"Lass, you with us?"
"Ah, I apologize. I'd... like to stay here if possible."
"Just don't get in our way, okay?"
"Okay, I'm giving him an adrenaline shot."
"Ian, get that defibrillator ready. Hopefully we get lucky and get a shockable rhythm."
"Man, what was with that girl? Why did she go nuts like that?"
"This is probably her dad. Can't blame her. I've seen worse reactions."
"Whadda you think that guy who let us in was saying?"
"Dunno, it sounded like Chinese or Japanese. Heck, look at this room. It's completely Asian style."
"Neil, one more injection."
"Keep going, people."
"Come on, come on!"
"Did you guys see that girl? That was one nasty burn on her face. Wonder how she got it."
"Hey, keep it down Neil!"
"I think I'm getting something."
"Keep going, Bruce."
"Give him another shot?"
"Might not be necessary. Get those electrodes in place!"
"That's a beat alright. Ian!"
"Okay, get back Bruce."
"He's all yours."
"One more time."
"I think we got a pulse. Get the respiratory device and ready the stretcher."
"Hey lass. We're about to move out."
"W-Will my father make it, sir?"
"We've done all we can here. It's up to the doctors at Raigmore to make it stick."
"Keith! Radio the Emergency Department that we'll be there in 8 minutes."
"Sir, would it be okay with you if I... came along?"
"...only if you come along with us right here and now. We can't wait for you."
I get up and feel out the shoulder of the ambulance worker who addressed me. We hurry outside and he quickly helps me into the front seat.
I didn't get the opportunity to explain this to Hanako and Hisao, but I'm sure they'll understand.
I hurriedly fasten my seat belt as both the engine and the siren spring to life, and the driver sends the ambulance down the driveway and onto the road with a speed that would make Akira's driving seem subdued.
During the short ride, I pick up a remark from the amulance driver mentioning we're lucky that our house is so close to the hospital and a little bit later I hear the voice of someone on the radio giving us the number of the operating room Father will be taken to, but I'm barely able to process all of these things as my brain is still trying to digest what's happening.
Just a little while ago I was still sitting in the living room, relaxing, talking with my friends and planning our trip to Edinburgh without a care in the world.
How could this suddenly turn into such a nightmare?
My thoughts are interrupted by the ambulance making a sharp turn and coming to a standstill. The ambulance workers quickly get out, and I hear the sound of many voices and many footsteps followed by the sound of a stretcher being pushed down a nearby corridor. The driver then gets out as well, I hear him walk off and then return with someone else in tow. He helps me get out of the car and then gives an awkward cough.
"I have to get back on the road, but... uh... right in front of you is a nurse who'll be happy to look after you for a bit. Her name's Sally."
"Hello, Miss. What's your name?"
"Ah, L-Lilly. About my father..."
"They're taking him to the operating room as we speak. We're going to do everything we can to help him, so try not to worry, alright?"
"I'm going to take you to the waiting area. We're going to inform you the moment we know more."
"Yes, t-thank you."
I place my hand on her arm and let her guide me through several hallways. We finally reach an area where I hear several other people around me.
"You can wait here. There's a seat right in front of you. Is there anything I can do? Perhaps get you something to drink?"
They probably don't have a white cane lying around here. There wasn't time to retrieve my own, and I feel really disorientated and vulnerable in the middle of an unknown environment without even my cane to navigate. No, there's probably no point in asking. But maybe...
"Would it be possible... to make a quick phone call? My sister and my mother don't even know what has happened yet, and I left my own cell phone behind when I came here."
"If it's just a very quick call, you can make one in our office. Let me take you there."
I'm taken to an office room nearby, and the nurse asks me for the number. I realize that I don't even know Mother's phone number by heart yet, but I fortunately have Akira's cell phone number memorized. The nurse dials the number and then hands me the receiver.
"Good evening, this is Akira Satou speaking."
I'm taken back by Akira's formal tone before realizing that she doesn't recognize the number I'm calling from.
"A-Akira, it's me."
"Hey Sis, I didn't recognize the number. This isn't the landline at our folks' place, is it?"
"I'm at Raigmore right now. The emergency ward. You... I need you to come over immediately!"
"The hospital? Sheesh, Lils, what's happened? It's not Hisao, is it? Are you...?"
"It's F-Father. I... I don't know what happened. He just... collapsed. The doctor called an ambulance. They're... operating on him right now. Please Akira..."
"I'm on my way. I'll be there in 15 minutes."
"Please hurry... and call Mother. Let her know to come back here too."
Akira hangs up, and I hand the phone back to the nurse.
"Thank you. Could you... take me back to the waiting area, please?"
The nurse takes me back to the seating area and then leaves me alone with my thoughts. The voices of other people in the room join the thoughts that whirl around my head.
How could this have happened?
"Daddy, it hurts! When can the doctor see us?"
"Just a little while longer, Mary. There are other people here who also need help. Let me get you a glass of water."
Just when I finally had an opportunity to spend time with him.
"I don't want a glass of water! Why can't we see the doctor now?!"
To get to know him.
"Hey mommy, that girl sitting over there is staring really strangely."
There were so many things I still wanted to tell him. And ask him.
"Shush Kevin, don't be rude!"
Will I ever get the opportunity now?
"Mister McAdams, the doctor will see you now."
I've never felt so alone and miserable as I'm feeling right now.
"Thank God. Come on, dear."
Please make it through this.
I lower my voice to a whisper.
"Our Father in heaven,"
"hallowed be your name. "
"Your kingdom come,your will be done,on earth, as it is in *sniff* heaven."
"Doctor, is there any news about my wife?"
"Give us this day our daily bread,"
"and forgive us our debts,"
"Please have a bit more patience, sir. My colleagues are doing the best they can."
"as we also have forgiven our debtors. "
"And *sniff* lead us not into temptation, "
"but deliver us from evil."
A familiar voice suddenly calls out to me and I quickly rise to my feet.
"Akira? Akira! Thank God you're here..."
My older sister walks up to me and tenderly wraps her arms around me and despite me feeling a bit embarrassed about being hugged in public, I feel a sense of relief. How long has it been since Akira last comforted me this way? It must have been quite some time ago, but it still feels as soothing as ever. My loving and reliable big sister who always knew what to do. It feels so good to know she's here now.
"Jeez, you look about ready to faint, Sis."
I nod weakly.
"I... I'll manage, I hope. I really don't do very well under pressure."
"Let's find ourselves a quiet place to sit down. I noticed a vending machine on my way in here that dispenses drinks. I'll go and get you some."
Akira takes my arm and guides me down one of the hallways and through a few automatic doors until I feel fresh air on my face. She helps me get to a nearby bench and walks off, only to return later with a paper cup she hands to me.
"I got you some tea. Take care not to burn your tongue."
I meekly nod and take a careful sip as Akira sits down next to me and puts an arm around me.
"Now... Just take a bit of time to get your bearings back, and then tell me what happened."
What happened... That's a good question. Things went so quickly all of a sudden. Two hours ago I was still planning our upcoming trip with my friends. And now I'm here, wondering if my life will ever be the same again.
"He left the office earlier than usual today because he wasn't feeling well..."
"By the time he made it home he was already feeling better, so he resumed his work in his study."
"I spoke to Mother earlier this evening, and she already said he wasn't feeling well, but apparently Father blamed indigestion and repetitive strain injury in his shoulder. When he came home, both Hisao and Hanako noted he looked pale, and Hanako even suggested calling a doctor."
"Father wouldn't hear of it at first, but then he gave in and allowed me to call his general practitioner. When I told the doctor about Father, he immediately suggested we take him to see a cardiologist at the hospital. But when I returned to the study..."
I sniffle as I recall what happened next.
"I found that Father had collapsed while I was away. Before..."
"Before he hung up, the doctor said he was going to call an ambulance. And eventually, one arrived."
"Heart attack, huh? You described some of the warning signs just now."
"...it seems like it. I suppose the writing has been on the wall all along, and we just didn't pay attention to it until it was too late."
"It won't be too late if he makes it through, Sis."
"I... completely froze up when I found Father lying there. If it hadn't been for Hanako..."
"I believe she performed CPR on him until the ambulance arrived."
"So that first aid training paid off, huh? Bet she didn't expect someone other than her boyfriend to be the beneficiary."
"...I wonder how she and Hisao are doing right now. When the ambulance staff took off with Father, I had no choice but to come along immediately."
"You can use my cell phone to get in touch with them after I've dropped Mom a little call. It might help to take your mind off things."
"Y-You haven't called her yet? W-Why not? I...I asked you..."
"Relax, Sis. If you're gonna ask someone to drive all the way back to Inverness from Edinburgh late in the evening, they're gonna demand a reason, and your phone call didn't exactly shed a lot of light on things. I figured it was better to come over here first, calm you down a bit and then find out exactly what happened."
"You're right. I'm sorry for reacting this way, Akira."
She gives me a pat on the shoulder.
"Don't worry about it, Sis. You've had an extremely frightening experience this evening, so it's understandable that you're still rattled. I don't blame you in the slightest."
"Thank you, Akira."
"I'll go and call Mom now. I'll be right back."
Akira walks off again, and I'm left to ponder the situation. Akira's explanation made logical sense and yet I still feel I would have acted differently in her place. I'm really thankful that my older sister's here for me right now, but something has felt a little off.
...that my older sister's here for me...
Ever since she arrived, Akira's been the kind, strong and reliable big sister that she's always been for me. The strong person who's lending me her shoulder to lean on. But... how does she feel? She's barely mentioned Father at all. It almost seems like...
...like she's more worried about me than about him...
No, I don't want to think of Akira that way. She's simply keeping a brave face for my benefit right now.
Still, our parents are a very touchy subject for her. I don't think she's completely adapted to the fact that they're suddenly a big part of her life again yet.
"Well, Mom's on her way. I told her not to drive like crazy and that I'd call her when we know more."
"How did she react?"
"It's probably still sinking in."
She sits down next to me, and we stay like this for a very long time, neither of us saying a word. Eventually, she pushes her cell phone into my hand.
"You know how to operate this thing, don't you?"
I think I do. I've used my sister's phone before, and I have Hanako's number memorized.
"Good. I'll go back inside to see if they already know more. I'll be back soon."
I listen to Akira walking off into the building and prepare to dial Hanako's number when I realize she might already be asleep. This must have been very stressful for her too. I don't want to intrude on her. What if I call my own number first? I left my cell phone in the living room, so they certainly won't be resting if they pick that one up. I quickly dial the number of my cell phone and cross my fingers that someone'll pick up. Eventually, I hear Hisao's voice on the other end of the line.
"Ah... Akira... This is Hisao. Lilly isn't here right now, and she left her phone behind. Umm..."
I quickly speak up in order to save Hisao from having to come up with a proper explanation.
"Hisao, it's me. I'm using Akira's phone."
"Lilly... How... is your father?"
I let out a depressed sigh.
"They're still operating on him as we speak. I'm praying that he's going to make it through."
"So are we, Lilly..."
Hisao's voice is barely audible, and he sounds extremely tired. I'm obviously not the only one rattled by what happened.
"Hisao, how are you and Hanako? Is she there as well?"
"No, she's resting right now. I only got downstairs a few minutes ago. I spent the rest of the time keeping her company and trying to comfort her. It took a long time before she was finally able to relax a little. I don't think any of us will be getting much sleep tonight."
"Are you doing okay?"
"I've been better. This... hit really close to home. I was kinda glad I got the opportunity to help Hanako get to our bedroom, because if I had stuck around and watched that emergency team get to work on your father, my own heart might have started acting up as well. I'm still shaking a little even now."
"I can imagine how you must feel. How about Hanako?"
"Hanako got hit even harder. I mean... Her own parents died in front of her 10 years ago. Heck, I nearly died in front of her as well. Whatever memories she's been forced to relive this evening were probably extremely traumatic ones. I haven't been able to get a single word out of her."
"And yet... Hanako came through. While I was unable to think of what to do, Hanako did what she could to keep my father alive. She acted where I couldn't, and I'm extremely proud of her, Hisao."
"Yeah, she acted. But... You didn't see her."
"What do you mean?"
"On the day that you and Hanako reconciled, I spoke to Hanako's therapist, and she proposed sending Hanako to that training to help her deal with the situation in case my heart gave out again with her nearby. I asked her if that was really going to prevent another panic attack, and Miss Takawa said that a panic attack was probably unavoidable."
"Then why the training?"
"To delay the anxiety. She believed that as long as Hanako could keep her mind occupied during an emergency and distract herself by performing first aid rather than sitting there and feeling helpless, she'd be able to delay her panic attack. I heard that during that training she repeated the CPR procedure until it was almost a reflex to her. That's... I think that’s what happened. She was holding off her own panic - in the only way she could. She just kept going, maybe even without being aware of what was happening around her. Even when those ambulance workers arrived and told her to let them take over, she just kept going and going."
"What happened then?"
"One of those people grabbed her and tried to drag her away from your dad. She reacted very badly to that. I was able to take her to our room... I'm still not sure how. There, I just held her in my arms - probably for nearly an hour - until she finally stopped trembling."
"Even if it was just a reflex on her part, I'm still really grateful for what she did, Hisao."
We let out a mutual sigh and remain silent for a long time. I've been so overwhelmed by what happened that I didn't even stop to think how personal this experience must have been for both Hanako and Hisao. My heart goes out to both of them.
Suddenly, I hear footsteps approaching, and I feel a hand on my shoulder.
"Akira, do you... have any news?"
"Are you still on the phone?"
"Hisao here. I'm still listening, Akira."
"I just got word from the doctor. They finished the operation. He said it was still too early for a damage report, but they've managed to stabilize him. He'll live, Lilly. And I'm sure he'll be okay eventually."
My last bit of restraint broken, I return the phone to Akira and hold my face in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably, both in order to get rid of the fear, tension and stress as well as to express my relief. Akira gives me a gentle squeeze in the shoulder, but doesn't respond. Finally, the silence is broken by Hisao's voice over the phone.
"Thanks Akira. I'm really relieved to hear that. I'll... be sure to tell Hanako. Maybe... just maybe... we'll be able to get some sleep tonight after all."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:56 am
I turn my head and look at the reception desk where a woman in her early 30's is beckoning me.
"Good morning, Miss Satou."
"Good morning... erm... Wendy?"
"Sorry, I'm still in the process of remembering everybody's name. Please humor me for a little while longer."
"Not a problem. How is your father doing? Is he still sick?"
Most of the employees still don't know why Dad hasn't shown up at the office in two days straight and assume that it's a common illness, but it's probably not my place to spill the beans. I can see how the truth could create a fair share of commotion around here.
"Yes, I'm afraid he's still a bit under the weather."
"Hopefully, he'll be better soon. It feels rather odd not to see him come in here each morning."
"Anyway, Mister Ferguson wanted to see you before you start this morning."
"Thank you for telling me. I'll go and pay him a visit then."
I leave the reception area and head over to the office of the person who's in charge of this branch after Dad. I haven't really spoken with him much since I arrived here. As I knock on the door of his office, I hear a soft 'come in' and enter. I think I already know what this is going to be about.
"Ah, good morning Miss Satou."
"Good morning, Mister Ferguson. How are you doing?"
"As well as I can, given the circumstances. Have you been managing to get settled in a bit already?"
I still feel a bit like a fish out of the water at times. Dress code is all over the place. Lots of people come to work in their casual attire, rather than a business suit. The higher ups still dress formal as usual, as do the people from sales and marketing, although even those show up every now and then in their casual clothes, presumably on days when they don't have any activities planned that involves contact with customers or business partners. Most people are also on first-name basis with one another, though there are some exceptions here and there too. It's still a bit confusing at times. The Japanese branch's corporate culture may have been overly traditional and formal, but at least it was consistent.
"I think I'm doing fairly well with that. My direct colleagues have been very helpful. I'm still trying to convince people to address me by my first name though."
"Are you comfortable with that?"
"I think I could easily get used to it. Everyone around me uses first names to address the others. I can't fall behind."
Mister Ferguson gives me a sheepish smile.
"One of the first things we teach employees here who get to deal with people from your former branch on a regular basis is to always address Japanese co-workers by their family name even after having built a working relationship with them."
"Hmmm, does that also apply to Japanese who gain Scottish citizenship?"
"That is up to you to decide. People will learn as long as you're not afraid to keep correcting them."
"If I may ask, how do you address my parents?"
"I always address your mother by her first name. She'd probably think something was wrong if I called her by her last name, especially since she also plays bridge with my wife and two others every two weeks, so I also know her socially a bit."
"Mother really seems to be living an extremely busy life. Not only has she been working a full-time job, but she's also on the neighborhood committee and goes on bike rides with friends. I sometimes wonder if she's ever at home at all."
Mister Ferguson chuckles.
"I sometimes wonder about that too. She once told me that she occasionally gets involved in various charity events and that she's also been working on rebuilding and expanding the old network of contacts she had when she was still a business reporter. I believe she regularly submits columns to various local magazines and newspapers. Personally, if I had that kind of life, I'd burn myself out in weeks. But she seems to handle it just fine."
Seems like it. And the only thing that had to go was her interaction with her children. Small sacrifice, really.
"How about my father?"
"To be honest, we tried first names for some time, but I could tell he wasn't very comfortable with it, so eventually we switched back. I have to admit interaction became stilted from time to time whenever he called me Norris and then gave me a look as if apologizing for insulting me."
"I've always been fascinated by how different your parents are as people."
"Your mother's an extraverted woman, always on the go, involved in a hundred things at once and with a knack for quickly spotting and immediately pouncing on opportunities that present themselves. Your father's more of an introvert, content to sit in his study and read through his book collection in the little free time he permits himself, and I've never seen him make decisions on a whim... He always tries to get to the bottom of whatever issue he faces before deciding on it and he usually pays a large amount of attention to the long-term consequences of whatever action he takes. More than anyone else I've ever met."
A gloomy expression appears on his face.
"Which is why this came as such a shock. I could see your father brushing off warning signs with explanations like 'rsi' or 'indigestion' in order to avoid worrying others, but I find it impossible to believe he failed to consider the possibility of a heart affliction himself. Especially since he, like many of us at the office, has taken the same first aid training we also offer our larger customers as part of our service. He must have known. And yet he kept going."
"He probably thought he would be able to hold on for a few more weeks. Mother had a vacation planned afterwards that he could use to get his bearings back. I don't think she'll have much opportunity to take it easy any time soon. We don't even know when he's going to be released from the hospital yet."
"How is he? Have you spoken to him already?"
"My mother, my sister and I dropped by the hospital yesterday, but he was asleep while we were there, and they wouldn't let us see him. We have an appointment with his cardiologist later today. Perhaps we'll get lucky afterwards."
"Give him my regards, and tell him not to worry too much about the company. We're going to do our best to succeed in the next few weeks, even if he's not there to participate."
"If I may ask, has there already been word from the board of directors in Japan on what they want to do with the delegation that is heading for the US in a few weeks?"
"Not yet. I think they will send a few people from the Japanese branch along. Just between you and me, I just hope those people aren't going to end up getting in the way. The Japanese branch has focussed completely on the local market during the last 6 years and has barely been involved in the expansion process at all. That's been head office's task. Part of me is hoping your mother will still come along. She's just as familiar with the involved parties as your father is and could partially compensate for his absence, but the board is not going to put a PR manager in charge of an operation this major. They'll want someone higher up the chain of command to act as the leader."
"Probably. Has your mother said anything about what she intends to do? I wouldn't blame her if she decided to stay by her husband's side. Of course, it would have been rather inappropriate to ask her about that when she called yesterday, but perhaps you've picked something up."
"I'm afraid I haven't really spoken to her much."
"I just wanted to let you know that nobody here would question your loyalty to the company if you followed your mother's example and decided you need some time off to deal with this. We'd be happy to accommodate you."
I don't think there'd be much of a point in me taking time off. If Mom needs comfort, she still has Lilly around. And Lilly has Hanako and Hisao... for the time being. Mom decided it was probably best for them to return to Japan ahead of schedule, since Dad's incident pretty much put a permanent damper on their vacation. They're set take a flight back in three days. If Lilly wants me to spend more time with her afterwards, I can always take a day off or so, but I think I know her well enough already to know she probably wouldn't want me to take a leave of absence purely for her sake.
"I think I'll be fine, sir. But I appreciate your concern. I'll be sure to let you know if I change my mind."
"Good. I won't claim any more of your time. I hope the cardiologist brings good news this afternoon. You and your family have my well-wishes."
"Thank you, sir. Good day."
I leave Mister Ferguson's office and hurry to my own place. If I skip my lunch break and work extra hard, I'll be able to leave earlier for that appointment without getting behind in my work.
I check my watch as I walk through the entry hall of the hospital for the third day in a row. I'm a little later than I should be due to me having to take a phone call a minute before I was supposed to be leaving. Spotting a pair of elevator doors slowly closing in the distance, I hurriedly sprint towards it and stick my hand in between them before they close completely, counting on the sensor to detect my arm and reopen the doors.
As the elevator door does indeed open, rather than amputating my hand on the spot, they reveal the elevator's sole occupant: a wrinkled old man dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe holding a pack of cigarettes in one hand while holding onto a movable IV pole with the other. He gives me an annoyed glare for briefly stalling the trip back to his room, and I mutter a quick apology in return. As I look at the elevator's control panel I notice that my fellow-passenger has already pressed the button leading to the floor where I need to be as well.
The elevator doors close again, and as the elevator starts rising, I sneak a quick look at the old man. I'm not sure what makes him a more pitiful sight: that IV pole he's dragging around or his slumped posture in general. I wonder if this is what Dad'll look like in a few weeks, assuming all goes well. Heck, the guy sharing the elevator with me might have been a strict patriarch himself before some illness did a number on him.
After arriving at my destination floor, I hurry over to the cardiology ward's waiting area and am relieved to see Lilly and Mom still sitting there.
"Oh, hello Akira."
"Akira! I'm glad that you could still make it. How was your work day?"
"Okayish. Aside from a few exceptions, people at the office haven't caught on yet, though I had to bite my tongue a few times. With both Dad and Mom suddenly absent, several people suddenly remembered that another Satou recently moved in, and I had to feign obliviousness several times. I can't say I like doing that."
Mom gives a nod.
"I'm planning to drop by the office tomorrow and let people in on the situation. I wanted to hold that off until after our appointment today. I want to at least know what to tell people."
"Are you coming back to work tomorrow?"
"I don't know about that yet. I kinda feel like I should be at your father's side throughout this ordeal."
I'm not sure what irks me more: Mom's hypocritical statement or Lilly's understanding nod that follows it, but before I can determine whether or not to react to it, a young nurse comes walking in and takes a look around the room.
Mom gets up and nods.
"Doctor McElroy is ready to see you. This way, please."
Lilly gets up as well, and I allow her to take hold of my sleeve. As we head for the doctor's office, I whisper to her.
"And how are you, Sis? You look a bit better than two days ago, with the emphasis on 'a bit'. Are you still holding up?"
Of course, when I met up with her in the hospital the day before yesterday, she looked about ready to break down. It makes sense that she's managed to compose herself a bit since then. She gives me a tired smile.
"I'm doing okay, given the circumstances. Still, I'd feel a lot better if the doctor were to reassure us that Father will make a full recovery."
"How are Hanako and Hisao doing?"
"The whole situation was as much a scare for them as it was for me. What happened hit a very raw nerve with both of them."
Yeah, that's not particularly surprising.
"Maybe we'll have some good news today, and they'll be able to return to Japan with a sense of optimism."
"I really hope so."
We follow the nurse and Mom into the doctor's office, and I quickly guide Lilly to one of the chairs. As the nurse leaves the room and Mom and I sit down, the doctor gives us a quick look-over and then addresses Mom.
"Good afternoon. I am doctor McElroy."
"Good afternoon. I am Karla Satou. These are my daughters Akira and Lilly."
An inquisitive glint appears in the doctor's eye.
"Satou isn't exactly a common name around here. Are you perhaps related to Satou Medical Technology? I don't deal with them directly, but I've heard that it's a family company."
"My husband actually runs that company. I'm an employee myself as well. Raigmore is a very valued customer of ours. Particularly this ward."
"Yes, our ambulance team probably even used one of your AED's to correct your husband's heart rhythm. Hmmm... Perhaps he can appreciate that."
Mom smiles sadly.
"He probably would. Or rather... He'd probably be very troubled if it had been the competition's equipment that saved his life..."
She sighs before continuing.
"The CEO of a company specializing in heart equipment suffering a heart attack... It sounds unreal, doesn't it?"
Doctor McElroy chuckles briefly.
"Not to me, to be honest. I've worked in a hospital in the past where I worked alongside another cardiologist who ended up suffering a minor heart attack himself. One of my old friends from university is a respiratory physician who's also an avid smoker whenever he's not on duty. And plenty of dentists have cavities from time to time. All of us are still only human, Mrs Satou. It's not uncommon to be knowledgable about illnesses or conditions and still fall prey to them yourself. In fact, sometimes merely being knowledgable about something helps us fool ourselves into believing it won't happen to us..."
His expression turns slightly more serious.
"...even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. But we can talk about that later. It's probably best if I give you an update on his condition first."
"Yes, that would be appreciated."
"The gist of it would be that your husband has been extremely lucky. Lucky that an ambulance was called immediately and that the ambulance crew was warned beforehand that it was probably a heart attack. Lucky to quickly receive CPR. And lucky that you live so close to the hospital."
Lilly immediately perks up at the doctor's words.
"Doctor, are you saying that my father will probably make a full recovery?"
"From what we've been able to see, he doesn't appear to have suffered any brain damage. He can truly thank his lucky stars for that. I'm not sure if I can call his upcoming recovery process a 'full recovery' though. His fractured ribs will hurt him for some time, but they will heal completely eventually. His heart is a more complex story. A heart simply cannot get away from an event such as this completely unscathed. Under the right circumstances, such as a healthy lifestyle, he will be able to avoid this sort of thing from ever repeating itself, but the fact remains that someone who suffers from a heart attack will run an increased risk of further heart attacks in the future. That is something he cannot afford to ever ignore."
"A healthy lifestyle - stress-free, I presume?"
"Yes. A heart attack caused by stress-related high blood pressure is a worst-case scenario, but as you have learned even worst-case scenarios take place from time to time. I understand that your husband has been under a lot of stress?"
"I'm afraid so. We're on the verge of taking over a company abroad, and there's been a second interested party who hasn't completely left the picture yet. All in all, it's been a very trying time. We were planning a vacation after this was all over, but until then things would be extremely busy. The knowledge that he couldn't afford to fall ill right now may even have been an additional factor of stress."
"Your health starts faltering, you start worrying about what happens if you were to be put out of commission, you become more stressed, your health starts dropping more, so you start worrying more, etcetera, etcetera. That sort of thing can indeed create a vicious circle that is quite hard to get out of. "
"And despite everything he also committed to a trip with my friends and me, despite the fact that it required him to squeeze his workload into an even smaller timespan. If only..."
The doctor scrapes his throat to cut off Lilly's remark.
"Please do not oversimplify the situation, Miss Satou. Maybe what you mentioned was the straw that broke the camel's back, and maybe it wasn't. Maybe he could have lasted until that vacation your mother spoke of or maybe something else would have caused things to fall apart. I think the right thing to contemplate on right now isn't that last straw, but all the others that were already there."
"I think the doctor has a point, Lilly. The responsibility for this ultimately lies with Dad and not with you. He must have had at least a minor suspicion of where he was headed. I mean, when you spoke to his general practitioner on the phone, the man immediately told you to have a cardiologist look at Dad. That's a pretty quick conclusion to jump to without any context, so my gut says he knew about Dad's situation. It may have been going on for some time."
Chapter 31 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:57 am
The doctor nods his head.
"We spoke to his general practitioner to get his account of things too. The last time he saw your father was quite some time ago, but your father was somewhat of a risk case even then. According to doctor Thompson, your father has had high blood pressure for years. The only thing that surprised doctor Thompson was how long your father still managed to last."
Son of a bitch! Years? I shake my head in disbelief. How stupid can a person get? How important was this company expansion for him to go this far?
Lilly barely manages to conceal a shocked gasp. Mom's face, on the other hand, is completely neutral. I wonder how much she knows. It feels inappropriate to ask with the doctor nearby, so I swallow the remark I was about to make. After a moment of silence, Mom speaks up.
"I suppose your comment about how tempting it is to believe these sorts of things only happen to others is particularly true here."
"...I suppose so."
"So... What will happen now? And when do you think he can go home?"
"He is going to need a lot of time to recover. If you like, it's okay for you to go and visit him after you leave here if he's awake. How long we decide to keep him here will depend on how well his recovery progresses. It's still too early to make an accurate prediction."
"He'd probably feel more comfortable recuperating at home than in a hospital room. We could hire a private duty nurse to keep an eye on him while he recovers. We live very close to Raigmore, so dropping by for a daily checkup would not be impractical."
"We can consider that once he has recovered a bit. At this point, we still like to keep a close eye on him ourselves. We will reevaluate his situation in a week or two."
"We can make an appointment next week to discuss the future. We will probably have a better idea of when he can leave the hospital. When you schedule a new appointment with the desk workers down the hall they will be able to provide you with some pamphlets about how to adjust one's lifestyle in order to prevent further heart attacks."
"I'll be sure to read them. But doctor..."
She pauses for a moment, almost as if not entirely sure if she's prepared for the answer.
"...will he be able to return to work eventually, or is this the definite end of his career?"
"Given how far he's gone, I can only imagine that his job is very important to him."
"It's a bit complicated. He runs a family company, and family companies don't stop being part of one's life after retirement, voluntary or otherwise. In fact, I think the company's always been part of his life, even when he was still attending school."
"We try to encourage people who are recovering from a heart attack to try and lead a life that's as normal as possible after their recuperation. Having a daily rhythm and interaction with colleagues is part of that. But the lifestyle your husband used to live cannot be described as normal or healthy. That lifestyle will have to change. He will have to pay more attention to his own needs from now on. It will be up to him to determine whether his current job and a healthy and stress-free lifestyle are two things that can be reconciled with one another or not."
"We will keep that in mind. Thank you for your time, doctor."
We leave the office, and Mom heads over to the information desk to schedule a new appointment. I look at Lilly and notice she has a troubled look on her face. I give her a subtle nudge.
"I bet I know what's bugging you, Sis. This whole meeting was pretty run-of-the-mill, except for that one revelation."
Lilly nods sullenly.
"He knew... for years..."
"He knew he was a risk case for years, but the question remains whether anybody else besides that general practitioner knew about this. Well, I'm curious about one person in particular. She put on one hell of a poker face just now."
"I... don't want to believe that she knew... and did nothing. When I spoke with her on the phone that evening, she even said..."
"Yeah, if she knew then that's a real problem. But would it really be a relief to you if she didn't know, Lils?"
"What do you mean?"
"If she didn't know, that has implications too. You might not like those either."
"How much do we really know about Mom and Dad? It's been six years, and back when we were living with them, we were living in a completely different environment. Things have changed. They've changed too, that much is obvious. Especially Mom. Maybe... that new start they talked about earlier wasn't just about patching things up between us and them. Maybe.."
"She's coming back. We might as well ask her now."
"I'm not sure if now is the appropriate time."
"Well, I'd sure as hell like to make sense of all this."
As Mom comes back from the desk, she has a weary expression on her face.
"I've made an appointment for next week. You can come along again if you like, but I won't force you to."
"So what now, Mom? We're gonna walk out of here and pretend the elephant in the room is just part of the furniture? The doctor played along just now, but that's not gonna work a second time. What the hell is going on here?"
"Mother, do you remember that phone call we had on the evening of...? You said things would probably be fine. That he'd be able to handle a few more weeks."
"If Lilly had taken your words at face value back then instead of calling a doctor, we'd probably be arranging a funeral right now. How much did you know about Dad's condition?"
"If I had known that your father's had high blood pressure for years, do you really think I would have told Lilly not to worry? What kind of person do you think I am?"
Lilly breathes a soft sigh of relief, but I'm not done with Mom yet.
"I'm not sure what kind of person you are. I believe you when you say that what doctor McElroy just said was new to you, too, but that does beg the question why you didn't know and how you couldn't have known about it. The two of you lived in the same house and worked at the same office. When he went to see doctor Thompson, didn't you bother to ask why he went or what the doctor said?"
"I would have, if I had known he went there in the first place. He must have gone there at a time I was away from the home."
"Well, he certainly wasn't hurting for opportunities in that case."
Mom folds her arms in a slightly defensive manner.
"Akira, what is this about?"
"I haven't been here for very long, but one thing everyone at the office who knows you agreed upon is that you always seem to be involved in a thousand things at once. Committees, social events, charity work, you name it. But I also got the impression that there's one thing you weren't very involved in at all and that was your interaction with Dad outside the office. You two have been living completely separate lives over the years. So it's not that surprising that he didn't tell you. Why would he? You've been just as neglectful of him as you've been of us."
Lilly's expression becomes pained upon hearing my harsh words.
"Akira... Please, not now."
Mom averts her eyes for a second.
"I'm not gonna try and justify the lack of contact between the three of us, but your father... was actually okay with the way we lived our lives. He knew that... if he ever needed me to be there for him... I'd drop everything else immediately. I swore a solemn oath to him, and I have reminded him of it... several times."
I shake my head in disbelief.
"You'd drop everything else and be a wife to him as long as he asked you? What kind of sorry marriage has agreements like that? Was that part of your wedding vows? Heck, why did you even marry Dad to begin with? Did you even like him, or did you just want to marry into a wealthy and prestigious family?"
"Oh, shut up Akira!"
I might have gotten carried away a bit. Mom's eyes narrow, and she clenches her right hand into a fist. From the shaking of her hand, I get the impression she's at least playing with the idea of punching me. She holds back, but she shoots me a death glare that is intense enough to send a shiver up my spine before spitting out a vicious retort.
"Stop ignorantly lecturing me on things you know nothing about!"
Even though Mom limited herself to merely hitting back with words, Lilly reels as if someone slapped her in the face.
"M-Mother, Akira... Please... just... stop this."
The distressed look on Lilly's face makes my anger fade a bit and replaces it with embarassment. Judging from the expression on Mom's face, she's probably feeling the same.
"Yes, sorry dear. *sigh* Let's not make a scene here, okay?"
She hesitates for a bit.
"If the two of you want to pay him a visit, now's probably a good time."
"Akira, you don't mind dropping off Lilly afterwards, do you?"
"Excuse me, but... You're not coming along, Mother?"
"I'll pay him a visit this evening. Right now, I need to think about a few things. I don't want to end up saying something to him in front of you two that I might regret later."
"...Fine. I'll give her a ride afterwards."
"Alright. I'll talk to you later then."
She gives us a nod and then walks off. As we start walking towards the hospital room where Dad's staying, I take a look at Lilly and notice she looks extremely troubled. I sigh.
"Do you believe her?"
"I... I do. She seemed sincerely offended at your words."
I notice a slightly accusing tone in her voice. It's only barely noticable, and I might have missed it if I wasn't so used to the subtleties of my sister's way of speaking.
"You think I went too far?"
"It... wasn't very respectful."
"Maybe not. But they're probably already used to this kind of thing from me."
"I don't think that's true or Mother wouldn't have sounded so angry."
"Listen, I get that I'm being confrontational, but someone has to call them out on their actions, Sis. And if I I'm doing this that means you don't have to. Anyway, this kinda confirms that you made the right decision earlier, doesn't it?"
"What do you mean?"
"You came this close to giving up your life and new little surrogate family at Yamaku under the assumption that at least you'd get your old family back in return. Now it turns out that instead of a family, there's just two people here who were doing whatever the hell they wanted without paying much attention to what the other was up to. That wasn't worth giving up your life at Yamaku for, Sis. Not by a long shot. In the end, it still would have been you and me here, just like back in Japan six years ago."
"I... I need to let all of this sink in. I need to think... about things."
"There'll be time for that later. We're here."
Just as we arrive at room 702, I see a nurse walking out of it.
"Excuse me, miss. Is Mister Satou awake right now?"
"He is. You can go and visit him if you like."
I look at Lilly.
"Well, here goes nothing."
As we enter the room and close the door behind us, the bustling of the hallways fades away and is replaced by an almost oppressive silence that's only disrupted by the steady high-pitched beep of a nearby EKG monitor. I get a strange feeling of déjà vu as we walk further into the room and towards the bed housing the room's only occupant. I remember visiting Hisao while he was hospitalized together with Lilly, Shizune and Misha and feeling a similar atmosphere when I entered his room. That feels so long ago, despite it only being like a month away. Hisao did look a lot less sordid than the person lying before us here. Unshaven, an IV needle sticking in his arm and the movement of his chest betraying a strained breathing, Dad looks at least a decade older than he really is. The expression in his eyes is less sharp and probing than it usually is, probably due to the painkillers he's on, but he's definitely conscious as I can see his gaze following us as we make our way over to the bed. He gives a short sigh as an indication that he's aware of our presence.
"Nice to see you're awake, Dad."
There's a soft sound, but if it was a mumble, it was too soft for even Lilly to comprehend. That familiar worrying expression appears on my sister's face in response.
"Father... Are you in a lot of pain?"
Those fractured ribs of his probably make even taking deep breaths painful, and his first reaction is to claim he's fine. I shrug.
"His definition of 'fine' is still the same as it was just before this whole mess started, Sis. I'll leave it up to you to decide whether you want me to describe what he looks like, but 'fine' is not a word I'd use right now."
Lilly merely smiles sheepishly and then goes back to her worrying tone.
"You don't have to talk, Father. If you really need to say something, just whisper. Please don't strain yourself."
"Your... mother... not here?"
Lilly smiles and shakes her head.
"Mother will be keeping you company this evening."
That's leaving out one heck of an important detail.
"Maybe in the meantime you could think about what you're gonna tell her. We just had a talk with your cardiologist who in turn had a talk with your general practitioner. Turns out he knew you were a risk case, and you knew that too. What on earth were you thinking?"
A long silence. I wonder if he expected us to find out about this. I can see Lilly fidgeting a bit. She obviously doesn't really like where this is going, but at the same time I bet she's curious herself.
Chapter 31 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:57 am
"I... could not... just stop... just before... the... end. My... honor... was at... st-stake... here."
"Honor? Give me a break! You think you're some sort of samurai who'll be fondly remembered by everyone who knew him if he bravely dies in the line of duty while serving his lord or something? I bet most people at the office here would have thought of you as a fool. Heh, maybe those guys on the board of directors would have put a memorial plaque in place in your honor at the Japanese branch, assuming the ambulance crew wouldn't have ended up thwarting things."
"What... do... you... mean?"
"You ever thought of what would have happened if Hanako hadn't been there to give you CPR on the spot, but the ambulance team would still have arrived just in time to save some of your basic brain functions? You would have spent the next decade or two mumbling random gibberish at your wife and daughters while they're busy changing your daily diapers. The board members would have denied your very existence out of embarrassment. If you think that's an exaggeration, then maybe we can take a look around here at the hospital. They may have heart attack victims here who weren't as lucky as you've been."
I can see that his medication hasn't left him fuzzy enough to miss the implication of my comment and he looks uncomfortable upon imagining that scenario. Looks like that wasn't part of his risk calculation after all.
"Besides, this isn't about the last couple of weeks or the last couple of months. You were told you had high blood pressure years ago. Why on earth didn't you take it easier back then?"
"Could... not... afford to... yet..."
"Could not afford to? Even a couple of years ago, you could have retired and lived out the rest of your days in comfort. This was simply about your ego."
"...no way... to... speak to... a parent... Akira. You... show... respect... for once... This was... about... your... education... and... financial future... too. And es... especially... Lilly's."
That excuse again. Lilly looks a bit distressed upon hearing Father's words.
"My financial future, Father?"
"We... have been... setting... trust fund... for your... cial future... during our... time here."
"A trust fund?"
"Yes... so even... in... the long run... you will... always be... well... provided for. Even... if you... would not... find a... husband... at some point, you... would still... be able... to live... without worry, L-Lilly."
Well-provided for? I wonder if he realizes how extremely patronizing he's sounding. Lilly certainly realizes it, too, and I can see an angry expression on her face. She's making an active effort to keep her composure. The sight of her hurt expression suddenly pisses me off to no end, and I sling an angry retort back at the old man.
"She doesn't want your damn trust fund."
"But... she... will... probably... need... it."
Lilly doesn't answer, but I can see the corner of her mouth twitching slightly, and just when I start expecting her to either give Dad a piece of her mind or send him a fake smile, she turns around and walks out of the room without saying a single word. I recover from the surprise sooner than Dad and give him a dirty look.
"When Mom comes here this evening, it'd be smart to treat her with more respect, or you'll burn what might be the last bridge you have left."
And with that, I leave the room and go after my sister who's already half-way down the corridor before I catch up with her.
Lilly doesn't immediately respond and merely sighs. For a moment I think she's going to turn around and walk back to Dad to apologize to him, but that doesn't happen.
"I'll take you to the car, okay?"
I allow her to take my sleeve, and we walk back to the parking lot. I notice she seems to move with a little bit more hesitation than before, but she doesn't stop walking for a single moment. We make our way to the car, but before I start the engine I give an exasperated sigh.
"Well, this was certainly illuminating. I wonder if what happened just now is courtesy of those painkillers he's on."
"Do you mean to say he may have... not been himself."
"He wasn't completely out of it or anything, but he was probably a little too fuzzy to be able to carefully choose and weigh his words like he usually does."
"The mindset behind it is still the same though, isn't it? Whether it's sugarcoated or not doesn't really matter."
"Yeah. Crap with cream on top is still crap."
I start the car, and after a short ride we reach our parents' home. Lilly hasn't said a single word the entire time, which is a bit worrying.
"Okay, we're back. The front door is at twelve o' clock when you get out."
"Hey Sis, you've been kind of quiet. You... uh... want to talk about this?"
"...Thank you, Akira. But I'd like to think some more first."
We get out and we say our goodbyes, but as Lilly turns around and heads for the front door, I suddenly think of something and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Hey Sis, I've been thinking... Have you considered the option of accompanying Hanako and Hisao back to Japan? I could drop by the airport and see if I can secure an additional ticket for that particular flight. It might be better than having to put up with stuff like what just happened for an extended amount of time. A premature departure might just send a hint with enough impact to last."
Curiously enough, Lilly doesn't immediately react. Just when I'm about to repeat my question, she unexpectedly shrugs off my hand in an almost mechanical way, and her parting words, uttered just before she opens the front door and walks in, sound cold enough to send a tingle down my spine.
"...have a nice evening, Akira."
The fact that my younger sister gave me the cold shoulder, probably for the first time in her life, takes a moment to sink in, and when I get back in the car I feel exhausted and just a bit unsettled as well. As I start the engine, I let out a weary sigh.
"This situation is getting messier with every passing moment..."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:58 am
My gaze wanders back and forth between the book in front of me and my boyfriend sitting next to me on the couch in the Satou family's living room. Every now and then, I also glance at the doorway leading to the stairway though said doorway is empty every time I look at it.
Earlier this week the incident with Mister Satou cast a permanent shadow over our vacation.
Part of that evening is a bit hazy in my mind. I remember exchanging a scared look with Hisao when Lilly spoke to a doctor on the phone and dropped the word 'cardiologist'. When Lilly went back to the study and we heard a scream, that sensation became ominous, and when Hisao and I followed her and saw her father lying motionless on the floor, somewhere between the table and the doorway, the feeling became something much, much worse.
For just a second it wasn't Lilly's father I saw lying on the ground, but Hisao. And suddenly my mind was filled with the same intense panic and helplessness I felt when Hisao was lying there on the street after accidentally colliding with someone. The flashback only lasted a second or so, but the sense of maddening fear remained even afterwards. The sight of a rapidly panicking Lilly kneeling down at his side managed to reach deep into my own mind, grab a firm hold of my own traumatizing memories and drag them out kicking and screaming. As a result, I became unable to move as my mind started clouding slowly but steadily, even as Hisao rushed to Mister Satou's side.
Things could have taken a turn for the worst there. Lilly's father could have died in front of us with me just standing by, despite my first aid training. If that would have happened, I don't think I'd ever be able to face Lilly again. The fact that that didn't happen was a coincidence I still have trouble wrapping my mind around. As I was trying to fight off a rapidly impending panic attack, I saw Hisao taking Mister Satou's arm and pressing his thumb against the inside and suddenly I heard the voice of my first aid teacher again as he lectured me on that first training day.
Don't use your thumb to take someone's pulse. Your thumb has its own pulse, so you won't get a clear reading. And be sure to press down harder when you're doing compressions. If you have to focus on doing one thing right, focus on the chest compressions.
Hisao was doing it wrong.
That little disconnect from the current situation turned out to be just enough to shake me out of my anxiety-induced paralysis for a moment, and I did the only thing my mind was able to come up with. Shove Lilly and Hisao aside (I later realized I easily could have given Hisao an episode of his own this way) and focus on the motions I painstakingly practiced at the training before my anxiety could take over again. Push 15 times, breathe once, push 15 times, breathe once, push 15 times, breathe once, push 15 times, breathe once, push 15 times, breathe once. I was on the edge of a breakdown the entire time, but as long as could keep these motions going, I wouldn't feel that crushing sense of helplessness, and I could keep teetering on that edge instead of going over it entirely. So I tuned out everything around me in a desperate effort to keep myself together. I vaguely remember hearing Lilly yell something at me and someone, not Hisao, forcefully grabbing me and his face suddenly being close to mine and his shocked stare, and... I think I screamed in fright and flailed my arms at the time as I tried to get away from him.
The next thing I remember that wasn't some fevered blur was me sitting on the bed in our room with Hisao holding me in his arms. Despite the fact that his presence helped, it still took me a long time to stop shaking and calm my nerves to the point where my mind was capable of understanding what Hisao was saying and respond to his words with quick nods and shakes of my head. After convincing himself that another breakdown probably wasn't around the corner, Hisao left the room after telling me to get some sleep. Sleeping was the last thing I felt like doing despite being extremely tired. Nobody has ever gotten nightmares while staring at the ceiling.
Eventually, Hisao returned to tell me he had been on the phone with Lilly who had told him that the doctors at the hospital managed to stabilize her father's condition. Of course, we both knew from experience that 'stabilized' meant nothing more than the fact he wasn't going to die immediately. Still, it was a relief.
The following days were completely spent around the house. Neither Hisao nor I felt it was appropriate to go on any more trips, but we also started feeling that our presence was becoming a burden here. So we spent most of our time in our bedroom reading our remaining books unless Lilly and her mother were out in which case we'd move to the living room. We've been slowly running out of books over the last two days and neither of us felt really comfortable entering the study again. It turned out that Hisao was almost as rattled by what happened to Lilly's father as I was. Given his own heart condition, I can't blame him.
One evening during dinner, Lilly's mother told us that while she wouldn't force us to leave, she saw little point in us sticking around if all we were going to do was sit in our room all day long and read our books. If we had no objections, she'd be able to arrange an earlier flight for Hisao and myself so we'd be able to enjoy what was left of our summer break back in Japan. It was a painful decision since we both really wanted to support Lilly during her moments of need, but on the other hand we were still aware of the fact that Lilly came to Scotland in order to reconcile with her family, and times like these might cause a family to rally together. Our presence might hinder that process.
On the other hand...
I can't shake the feeling that what happened hasn't really done much to bring the family closer together. If anything, the opposite has happened.
Lilly's mother went back to work yesterday. She's spent most of yesterday at the office or at the hospital, and today will probably be similar. Akira told us Karla hadn't known about her husband having high blood pressure either, and she seems very upset with him. I can't say I blame her.
When Lilly went to the hospital together with her mother and Akira to speak to the doctor there and visit her father, something happened that severely upset Lilly. (she didn't give us the details though Akira later summarized it as 'Dad acting stupid') Ever since, Lilly's been very withdrawn, spending most of the day in her room and only coming out to eat dinner with us. I can tell that she's troubled, but whenever Hisao and I went to see her she'd wave off our concerns and tell us that all she needed was a bit more time to think about things.
I'm really worried about her.
I glance at the doorway once more, but as expected Lilly's not there.
I'm starting to get second thoughts about the idea of flying back to Japan tomorrow.
I wish she'd tell us what exactly it is that's troubling her so much.
Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg
My thoughts are interrupted by the sudden ringing of my cell phone. As I look at the display, I see Akira's name. I share a puzzled look with Hisao.
"I wonder why she's calling."
Somewhat curious, I pick up the phone and put it to my ear.
"Ummm... How are you?"
"I'm okay. I have a little question. Are you busy right now?"
We haven't been really busy since this whole mess started.
"N-No. I'm not. Why?"
"Mom called me and asked if I could come and pick you up. This may come a bit as a surprise, but the old man said he wanted to see you before you leave. And since you and Hisao will be heading back to Japan tomorrow, she said now may be the best moment for that."
"Y-Your father w-wants to see ME?"
"Apparently. If it's not too inconvenient for you guys, I'll be here in ten minutes."
"Ten minutes? Ah... O-okay."
"See ya then."
I give my boyfriend an uneasy look as I put down the phone.
"He wants to see me..."
"Well, since we're heading home tomorrow that's not too surprising. Let's go tell Lilly, okay?"
We put away our books and up the stairs to Lilly's room. Hisao knocks three times and, upon getting no immediate response, gently opens the door to reveal Lilly sitting on her bed, her head slowly turning in our direction as we peek in.
Upon hearing our voices, Lilly offers us a gentle smile.
"Hello Hanako, Hisao. I already thought it was you from the way you knocked."
"Hey, Lilly. Aren't you... uh... getting bored from sitting here all day long?"
Lilly gives us a slightly playful smile.
"I could ask you two the same. If things had turned out differently, we'd probably be in Edinburgh right now. I feel really bad about this vacation having taken a turn like this."
"It's okay. We had a lot of fun regardless."
"I'm happy to hear that. I hope the return trip will not be too troublesome for you, Hanako."
"I'm... t-trying not to think about it too much."
"Has any of you been... homesick while you were here?"
"Not me. We haven't had a great deal of opportunity for that."
"I... surprised myself a bit, but I haven't really felt homesick either."
"That's good to hear."
Hisao, realizing the conversation really has gotten derailed, softly scrapes his throat.
"Ahem, the reason we came here was to tell you that we'll be heading for the hospital as soon as Akira gets here. She just called Hanako."
Lilly frowns slightly.
"Akira... called Hanako?"
"Akira said... t-that your father wanted to see me."
Lilly is silent for a moment, but then smiles and nods her head.
"I see. It makes sense that he wants to express his gratitude to you before you leave tomorrow."
"Yeah. Akira said she'd be here in ten minutes, so we'd better hurry up and get ready."
"Hanako, Hisao... May I ask you a favor?"
"Could you... tell me how he's doing when you get back?"
I exchange a flabbergasted look with Hisao. Neither of us expected this.
"Y-You're not coming with us?"
"He asked for you specifically, didn't he?"
"Akira s-said she'd be here soon if it wasn't too inconvenient for us, so she probably wasn't just talking about m-me."
It's possible she meant Hisao and me, rather than the three of us, but I find that hard to believe.
"I believe that Mother has also visited him today. Having too many people there at the same time would probably be tiring for him."
I shoot Hisao a helpless glance, but he makes an 'I don't know what to do about this either'-gesture. We remain silent for a while, but since Lilly doesn't say anything else, there's probably no point in pressing her. Eventually Hisao sighs softly.
"I guess that's a good point. We'll be going then. We probably won't be gone for very long. We'll be sure to tell you afterwards how he's holding up."
"Thank you, Hisao."
Still a bit disturbed by what just happened, the two of us exit Lilly's room and make our way to the front door. After a minute or two, a car comes up the driveway, and Akira beckons us to get in from behind the windshield. Akira gives us a friendly nod as we get in and then turns the car around before driving back onto the road. After a moment of silence, Hisao speaks up.
"Hey, Akira, was the idea for Lilly to come along, or was it really supposed to be just Hanako and me."
"I wouldn't have left her standing on the driveway if she had been waiting there along with you guys, but I'm not going to push her into coming along either."
I notice a sad look in Akira's eyes for a moment.
"So, Akira... Where is this headed?"
"I could be a smart-ass and say Raigmore Hospital, but... I really don't know either how this is gonna play out."
"By the way, why did your mother ask you to pick us up?"
"Apparently there's someone with her, and she has to accompany him to the office immediately afterwards."
"Probably from the Japanese branch. That upcoming deal in the States is getting lots of people really nervous around here, especially with Dad completely out of the running and Mom barely showing up at the office."
After a short while we arrive at the hospital's parking lot, and we get out of the car and follow Akira inside. As we make our way through the hallways and ride the elevator to the proper floor, I can feel the atmosphere slowly becoming more oppressive. When we get out of the elevator, we see several people in pajamas walking down the corridor, two of them dragging IV poles along with them. I briefly look at Hisao and notice his face has gotten a bit pale.
Despite the hospital atmosphere making me really jittery as well, I take his hand in mine, give it a reassuring squeeze and make an attempt to give him my most encouraging smile. He gives my hand a little squeeze in return, and we share a brief look of mutual understanding. I think it's a good thing Hisao is here. As long as we don't get anywhere near the burn ward (assuming this hospital has one), I'll probably be okay as long as Hisao stays close by.
Akira continues to lead us down the corridor until she suddenly stops and softly whistles between her teeth. Ahead of us is an older Japanese man in a neat business suit who comes walking up to us upon noticing Akira. As he reaches us, he makes a quick bow to which Akira responds with a deep bow of her own.
"Miss Satou. It is a pleasure to see you again. I am terribly sorry for your family situation."
"Mister Kojima. It is good to see you again. Welcome to Scotland. I apologize profusely on my father's behalf for this inconvenience."
"It is not a problem. I apologize for not being able to have made it here sooner."
"We are greatly honored by your presence here in Inverness. I assume that your presence here means that you have been placed in charge of the delegation heading to the US."
He nods gravely, and I see the corner of his mouth twitch ever so slightly.
"That is indeed the task that has been entrusted to me by your grandfather and the rest of the board. I could never hope to match up to your father's capabilities, but things are the way they are. It cannot be helped."
"You will do fine."
"Ah... Akira. And Ikezawa and Nakai too. Good afternoon."
We look past the businessman to see Lilly's mother walking up to us. She bows to us, and Akira responds with another graceful bow. Hisao and I look at each other and then bow as well. We're both taken off guard a bit by the sudden formality of the Lilly's mother.
"Good afternoon, Mother. I picked up Ikezawa and Nakai as you asked."
"I appreciate it, Akira. Mister Kojima, these are Ikezawa and Nakai: two friends of my youngest daughter. They've been staying with us for a few weeks along with Lilly. They were with my husband when... it happened. Miss Ikezawa was the person who performed CPR on my husband until the ambulance arrived."
Upon hearing that the man bows again, this time a lot deeper.
"Then you have our everlasting gratitude."
Lilly's mother picks up my nervous fidgeting and steps forward.
"Mister Kojima, I'm terribly sorry, but we should probably go. Mister Ferguson is waiting for us."
"Yes, let us be on our way."
Karla and the man in the business suit say their goodbyes and then walk past us in the direction of the elevator hall. As they walk off, Akira watches them go with a sympathetic look in her eyes.
"I wouldn't wanna trade places with that guy right now."
Hisao scratches his head.
"Who was he? One of the company's bigwigs?"
"My former boss. His name's Koji Kojima. He's in charge of running the Japanese branch. His father's a friend of our grandfather. He and Dad have known each other for a looong time. He occupies the highest position in the company that's not filled by a Satou and ranks directly below Dad. I guess now that Dad's out of the running they told him to finish the job. But this expansion is apparently a process that's been a long time in the making, and the Japanese branch hasn't been heavily involved in it. Yet now he's expected to suddenly pick it up at the last stage. I bet he's facing some tremendous pressure right now. Japanese business culture is all about taking your time to get to know your business parters before you go out and make deals with them. He's pretty much out of his element here."
"You think he can handle it?"
"Let's hope so. I never worked directly under him, so I don't know him very well. He looked kinda nervous when the takeover came up. Oh well, guess we'll find out soon."
"That was kind of jarring, by the way."
"Huh? What was?"
"You... suddenly talking like that. And then switching right back as soon as he's out of earshot. Your mother too."
Akira gives a non-committed shrug.
"I don't know about Mom, but... even though I'm a Satou, I still have to mind my manners at work, just like everyone else. Heck, as the boss' daughter I may even be facing additional scrutiny. If I went around being my usual self around coworkers and superiors, my family name wouldn't save me from being tossed onto the street. So I play my part, just like everyone else."
"It's still a pretty big difference."
"It's called professionalism, kid. You'll find out when you enter the workplace yourself."
Chapter 32 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:58 am
We leave it at that and follow Akira down the hallway until she strolls into one of the rooms. As we peer through the doorway, we can see that the curtains around the bed are closed, and we can hear a female voice from behind the curtain.
"There, I think we're done for today. It might itch a little bit, but please try not to touch it."
Akira gestures us to stay put, walks into the room and opens the curtain a bit.
Akira's greeting is met by a tortured cough.
"Ah, it seems you have a visitor, Mister Satou."
"Is this an inconvenient time to drop by?"
"I don't think it is. I just finished changing the dressing of his incision and checking the incision for possible infections. Everything seems to be in order, so I'll be on my way."
A middle-aged nurse appears from behind the curtain and leaves the room. I make sure to partially hide behind Hisao as she walks by. Akira now steps behind the curtain so we can't see her anymore, though we can still hear her.
"You look a little sharper than before, but also a bit more uncomfortable. Have you cut back on the painkillers?"
"I... will... take some... more this... evening."
"Mom and Kojima were just here, weren't they? Will you even be able to handle more visitors right now?"
"Never... mind... that... Lilly... not... here?"
"Nope. Why? Have you already thought up an apology then?"
"For insulting her. Lilly came to Inverness to repair the family bond that you two shattered and you reward her by insulting her independence. How do you think she feels about that?"
"I... did... not... insult her..."
"If you really believe that then you're even more out of touch with her than I thought. Heck, how many years has it been since you gave some serious thought about how she feels about things?"
"What... do... you... m-mean?"
"Why on earth did you summon her here, asking her to give up everything important she had in Japan, after keeping her at a comfortable distance for six years? Maybe because you thought you could use her to act as a glue for your fledgling marriage?"
"Our... marriage... is... fine..."
"Nonsense. You two were hardly part of each other's life outside of working hours. I've learned that much already."
"And yet... we... were... fine. And what... mean... by... comfortable... d-distance?"
"You and Mom were bothered with Lilly's blindness. Her disability was a source of shame for you. When you and Mom came here, you had to keep up appearances and play the perfect high-class couple. A blind child would have tarnished that image, so you callously left her behind. Your reputation was more important to you than your own daughter's well-being."
Akira's harsh words have barely left her mouth when the heartbeat monitor in the room suddenly starts beeping faster and louder, and for a moment I consider running off to get a nurse.
"AKIRA... SATOU! *cough* TAKE BACK... THOSE WORDS *cough* OR LEAVE... MY... SIGHT!"
I cringe as I hear Lilly's father react to Akira's accusation. Lilly told me that he suffered several rib fractures. Breathing must be painful for him, let alone speaking. Raising his voice like that must be excruciating. And yet, despite the tortured tone, his voice carries an air of authority that manages to even silence Akira for a moment.
"So you deny it?"
"If there... is... a s-source... of shame... for... me... right... now... it is... you for m-making... these a-accusations... against... a parent."
"Then why did you have Mom join you here while you left Lilly behind, huh?"
"Your... mother... needed to... be here... and Lilly's... education... was... important... like I... told you... a hundred... times."
"That's just an excuse."
"If I... truly... valued my... reputation... over her... well-being... I would have... taken her along."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"You will... understand... in time."
"I don't believe you."
"I... stake my... personal honor... on it. Now... t-take back... what you... said."
"Fine. Then... cling to your... conspiracy... theories. No doubt... you have... been poisoning... Lilly's mind... with them... for years... as... well."
"Believe it or not, but she's always been unreasonably loyal to you."
"No doubt... you have... shared... your impressions... with her... many times."
"That doesn't mean..."
"I think... I know... enough."
It's kind of striking how quickly Akira's father turned the conversation around and put his daughter on the defensive.
"You don't know anything about her or me. That's your problem."
"This is going... in circles."
"Fine, I didn't come here to argue anyway."
"Then why... did you... come?"
"Huh? You don't know? You asked Mom about Hanako."
"So I... did."
"Mom called me and asked me to take her to you."
I'm startled by a sudden spike in the sound of the heart monitor, but before I can determine what to do, a hand suddenly covers my mouth and Hisao quickly pulls me back and around the nearby corner. A few seconds later, I hear the sound of a curtain being forcefully yanked back. Hisao takes his hand off of me, puts his finger to his lips and lets out a soft 'ssshh' in order to reinforce the point. I quickly nod to indicate I understand that we're supposed to be quiet. After a short while, we can hear the beeps of the heart monitor slowing down. We're still close enough to the doorway to pick up Akira's voice.
"Uh, she and Hisao are in the waiting area."
I hear a sigh of relief coming from the room.
Hisao nods and we quietly sneak off towards the place Akira mentioned. We both sit down and wait for our hearts to stop racing. That was really close. A little while later, Akira comes walking into the area with an uneasy expression on her face.
"Hey! How long have you guys been here?"
Hisao gives her an annoyed look.
"We decided to go and wait here a second or two before your father pulled back that curtain. You're very lucky I realized in time what your father was going to do. I hope you're able to appreciate that."
Akira looks a bit ashamed and nods.
"Yeah, thanks a lot. You really saved my ass back there. Anyway, he's ready to see you."
I get up to follow Akira back to her father's room, but Hisao remains seated while giving Akira a large frown.
"Uh... Akira. It's probably not my place to lecture you on this, but..."
"I have a pretty thick skin, Hisao. If you want to speak your mind then go ahead and tell me what you want to say."
"Well uh... I don't think that discussion between you and your father was really something Hanako and I were supposed to be part of. I don't really understand what you were trying to achieve by starting that argument with him with us nearby. I mean... if your father would have found out that we were listening in all the time, he probably would have been extremely upset. Without wanting to take sides or point out who's right or wrong, one thing the doctors probably told your father was that he had to avoid stress for the time being. Ah... Speaking as a heart patient, your actions were probably kind of rash."
"Uh... Please don't take this as me accusing you of trying to kill him or anything."
Akira grins her familiar grin at Hisao's last remark.
"Hehehe, that's probably a little bit dramatic, don't you think?"
She runs a hand through her hair and shrugs.
"To be honest, I wasn't trying to achieve anything. I just screwed up. That's the best explanation I can offer. I promise I'll keep my mouth shut while you're talking with the old man. Is that enough of a reassurance?"
"Yeah, it'll do."
I nod to indicate my agreement.
"Then it's a deal. Let's go see him then. He's probably wondering what's keeping me."
We head back to Mister Satou's room and this time follow Akira inside. With the curtains opened, I get my first look at him since that dreadful evening.
It's a day and night difference.
I've only ever seen him wearing a neat business suit and glasses, and he carried an air of formality wherever he went. Wearing old-fashioned pajamas, not having his glasses on and with a bandaged chest barely visible underneath his night attire, he looks anything but formal and dignified. Making it even worse are the drops of sweat on his forehead, perhaps the result of his verbal stand-off with Akira. The one thing that remained the same about him is the sharp look in his eyes.
Is this what Hisao looked like when he was hospitalized? I shudder a bit at the thought.
Hisao and I stand in front of the bed and make a polite bow. Lilly's father gives an appreciative nod to acknowledge our presence.
"Miss... Ikezawa... Mister... Nakai."
"Hello sir. How are you feeling?"
"I... apologize... cutting... vacation short. This is... not... my... best... moment... as a... host."
"It's okay. This vacation has b-been very special to me."
"To me as well. We'll both treasure the times we had here, even without Edinburgh."
"That is... good t-to hear. Before... you... leave... tomor... row, I wanted... to wish you... safe journey... back."
It's hard to see him make such an obviously painful effort to speak.
"You d-don't have to talk if it hurts to speak."
"I will... get to... the point then. I... have heard... what... happened... from the... doctors... and from... my wife. The doctors... called me... lucky, but..."
This time his eyes look directly at me, causing me to flinch.
"...It...would be... an insult... to you... to... credit... just... luck, Miss... Ikezawa."
"I... didn't really do much. The people you should be thanking are the d-doctors and ambulance people."
"Your... humility... does you... credit... Yet... it was... you who... asked Lilly... to call... a doctor. And... it was... you who... kept my... heart going... until the... ambulance... arrived."
"They arrived p-pretty quickly, b-but..."
"But... probably... not soon... enough to... prevent... b-brain damage. The... idea...o f being... in a... vegetative... state... and a... permanent... b-burden on my... family... is more... terrifying... than death. If you... did not... save my life... you saved... something... more... important. You saved... my... dignity."
I'm not really sure what to say in response to that. I've never handled praise very well, so I merely fidget in place while staring at the floor.
"It seems... I now... owe you... a great... debt. I believe... repaying you... in some... way... is the... right thing... to do."
"How on earth do you repay someone for a life?"
Mister Satou gives Akira a short stare.
"You... should... already... know... after all... these years."
Then he turns his head back to me.
"It is... true. Something... like... this is... difficult to pay back. But... certainly... there is... something I... can do... back."
"I... c-can't really think of anything."
"There is... no need... to... answer... here... and now. Take... your time... and do... not... be humble. I am... not lacking... in... means."
I'm not really sure how to answer. I get the impression he's expecting me to ask for something big. Am I really supposed to come up with something? And will I insult him if what I'd ask for isn't expensive enough? Like if I asked for a flashy laptop, would he feel like I insinuated that his life's not worth more than a mere laptop? How complicated.
Besides, there are important things that money can't buy. Things like happiness and a family. He of all people should be more than aware of that right now.
If Lilly's upset with him, I doubt any amount of money would cause her to change her mind.
I wonder if I could simply ask him to apologize to Lilly as a way to thank me. If he insulted Lilly's independence like Akira claimed then she's probably angry with him, but since she came here to bond with her parents, I doubt she'd reject an apology. I suppose he really is out of touch with his daughters, but perhaps out of touch is all he is, and he still cares about Lilly and Akira in his own way. He did reschedule an already busy week just to take us to Edinburgh.
But then again, wouldn't he be insulted if I told him to apologize for a family matter I'm not even supposed to be involved in? I suppose an apology for a life is a bargain, but then again he did say he valued his dignity more than his life. Ugh.
Maybe I could be more subtle about it. Open the door for him, but leave it up to him to walk through.
Would that even be enough?
"I... uh... d-don't really n-need anything in r-return. Because... y-you being alive is... already enough of a r-reward."
"Even... though we... barely know... each other?"
"I k-know... ah... I k-know... I... I... k-know..."
Suddenly a big lump in jumps into my throat, and I breathe in and out several times before I can continue. This is something that really hurts to say out loud.
"I k-know... what it's l-like t-to... l-lose p-parents..."
He looks at me with an expression that either contains sympathy or pity.
"My... condo... lences... for... your... loss."
"That's why... T-that's why I'm... really happy that Lilly doesn't h-have to go t-through that herself."
"You... are... quite close... to my... daughter, are... you... not?"
"She's a very special person to me. I... l-love her very much."
"Ummm... C-can I p-please ask y-you a f-favor?"
"Have you... already... though of... something?"
I meekly shake my head.
"N-No, but… I would... like to t-talk to you about Lilly a bit. Will you... listen t-to me?"
I rack my brain in an attempt to figure out what I should tell him about my best friend.
"Lilly is... the k-kindest person I know. I didn't know her during my f-first year, because I don't interact with m-many people. But then she c-came to live in the dorm room next to m-mine, and one evening I heard her comforting a friend who was f-feeling down. I was... feeling a little d-down and lonely myself back t-then, so I visited her, hoping to have a bit of c-company who wasn't going to s-stare at me. I was too n-nervous to speak the first few t-times, but even though I c-couldn't answer anything she asked about or react t-to anything she said, she was f-friendly and hospitable to me and made me f-feel welcome. When I went back to my r-room that first evening, she told m-me that she was hoping that I'd visit her again s-soon even though she didn't even k-know my name."
"I later l-learned that her c-comforting a friend wasn't unusual for her. She has always b-been a bit of a mother figure for her class who would offer emotional s-support whenever someone n-needed it. Most of her class r-really looks up to her."
"In a m-manner of speaking, as Lilly herself would s-say."
"That's probably why she's been c-class representative for nearly 3 years. But I think that's also b-because Lilly is very independent even c-compared to her classmates that have p-partial eyesight."
I fidget a bit before continuing.
"L-Last w-week you t-thanked me for looking after L-Lilly, b-but... that's not how things are at all. I h-hope that I can someday look out f-for her too, but the t-truth is that ever since I've m-met her, it's been Lilly who's b-been looking after me."
"I can c-cook a bit myself, but ever since w-we met, Lilly often c-cooks for both of us. I hope to b-be as good at it as she is s-some day. She also t-taught me m-many other things, like how to d-dance or f-fold c-cranes out of p-paper."
Hisao takes this moment to interrupt.
"You shouldn't sell yourself short, Hanako. I don't believe Lilly knew how to play chess before she met you."
"I... s-suppose not. It's fun to p-play against her, so I'm happy she p-picked it up so quickly."
She's not an extremely challenging opponent, but I wouldn't even be able to finish a game if I kept my eyes closed, so it's still impressive.
I take out my phone and show it to him.
"This is a g-gift from my best friends. The pretty phone s-strap is a present from Hisao, but the phone itself is f-from Lilly. She wanted it to be a s-surprise, so she went into the city on her own to p-pick it out for me."
I could still bring up Lilly's activities in the student council, but I'd rather avoid the subject of her relationship with Shizune. Not really knowing how to proceed, I fall silent and blush. Hisao, sensing that I've hit a dead end, speaks up again.
"I can confirm, sir, that everything Hanako just said is true. I think she's trying to ask you to..."
Mister Satou, who until now has been listening with his eyes closed as if trying to concentrate and weigh every word I just stammered, opens his eyes and makes a gesture to indicate there's no need for Hisao to continue.
"I think... I... understand... what... she... wishes to... tell me..."
He turns his gaze back to me.
"Miss... Ikezawa... thank you... for... telling... me... all this..."
"I... presume... you... would... like me... to... think... about... what... you... said?"
I manage a barely visible nod.
"Then... I will... if you... also... think... about... what I... said."
"Then... I will... not... take more... of your... time and... I... wish you... two a... safe... journey... home."
"Thank you sir. May you have a swift recovery."
"Y-Yes... ah... g-get better soon."
We both make a polite bow and prepare to leave the room, but just as we're about to walk through the doorway, I hear Mister Satou's voice one more time.
"Did you... not... just say... that you... were... hoping to... one day... look out... for... Lilly?"
For a split-second there's an amused smile on his face.
"I think... you... did... exactly... that... just... now."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:59 am
"Will you be the one seeing us off, or should we say our goodbyes right now?"
For a moment it appears as if Akira didn't hear Hisao's question.
"What? Oh, if possible I'll try to be at the airport when you guys leave. It was eight o' clock in the morning, right?"
"That's right. We'll hope to see you tomorrow then."
We get out of Akira's car and wait for her response. She's been awfully quiet since we left the hospital after paying a visit to her father.
"Is everything alright?"
Seems like Hisao also noticed Akira's voice trailing off.
"Yeah, I'm alright. I was thinking it's probably not worth it to return to the office. Maybe I'll just go and get some fresh air. Take a little walk along the bay shore."
"That sounds good."
"I think I wouldn't mind a bit of company."
"Do you want us to come with you?"
"If it's okay, I'd like to borrow Hanako for a bit."
She turns to me.
"You don't mind, do ya?"
Hisao makes a face.
"Yup. Girl talk."
"I didn't know you liked that."
Akira glares at Hisao and then rolls her eyes.
"From time to time."
I wonder if that's all there is to it. Akira obviously wants to talk about something with me in private. I'm just not sure what it could be. I have to admit it piques my curiosity a bit.
"Ummm... Okay, I'll come with you."
"Guess I'll just go and continue packing our stuff in preparation for tomorrow."
As Hisao turns around and disappears into the house, Akira and I walk down the driveway, cross the road and walk up to the shore. This area has slowly started becoming familiar terrain to me as well. The sound of the shore tends to put my mind at ease. Maybe the same is true for Akira.
"You... like this place?"
"When Lilly and I first visited here, I'd often take a little walks along the shore whenever I didn't feel like hanging around the house. Most of the time alone, but sometimes Lilly would come with me, and we'd talk about... stuff. This place makes you relax, doesn't it?"
"It does. I... used to come here daily to write in my journal."
"Right, Lilly mentioned that. But I'm picking up a past tense here. Did you stop writing?"
The last few days have been a bit... uneventful, and the one major thing that has happened is s-something I'd rather forget as soon as possible."
Akira gives me a playful grin.
"That major thing you're trying to forget about involves you saving an old man from what was probably either death or existence as a vegetable. And from what I learned today, he seems awfully determined to not let ya forget about that, no matter how hard you're gonna try."
"Do you... think he was serious?"
"Oh yeah, definitely. In fact, I was secretly hoping you'd ask for something like half of the family fortune or something equally outragous. You know, just to see how far you could stretch that gratitude of his."
"I don't want that sort of thing."
"I read a book once, about a man who won the lottery. And suddenly... everyone wanted to be his friend. He didn't even know who his real friends were anymore, because everyone just seemed to want to take advantage of his new-found wealth. I... would hate for something like that to happen to me. It w-would... drive me crazy."
"Well, it's true that as convenient as it is, money can't buy you happiness. I speak from experience. Still, maybe you can think of something. Heh, if you don't want the old man to keep stalking you for the rest of your life, that is."
"Relax, I was only joking. Still, I doubt this is the last you'll hear about this. Dad's got this old-fashioned 'you saved my life, so now it belongs to you forevermore'-type of samurai mindset going."
Akira's exaggerated eyerolling makes me giggle a bit.
"It's actually a rather... romantic mindset, don't you think?"
"Only if you ignore the secondary implications of that kinda mindset."
"Since a child owes her life to her parents, she's obliged to show livelong respect and reverence to them no matter how badly they deserve the opposite. No doubt Dad sincerely believes that. Heck, he couldn't resist rubbing it in my face during your visit."
I think I remember what she's talking about.
"So... that's what he meant."
Akira bends down and picks up a few smooth stones. She flicks one away, and I see it bounce along the water surface several times before it sinks.
Splash - splash - splash
"I must be coming across as very petty, complaining so much about my parents to a person who no longer has her own."
I cringe a bit. Even after all this time, Akira's statement of the obvious still hurts inside.
"Ya know... Hisao probably had a point when we were at the hospital. I wouldn't blame you if you agreed with him."
It comes across as weird for the usually up-beat and assertive Akira to suddenly sound this way.
"I'm not s-sure. M-Maybe, but you... probably have your reasons."
Akira nods absentmindedly and flings another stone along the surface before sitting down on a large rock near the shore.
Splash - splash - splash
"You know, this has been a very weird time for me. Over the last six years, I can't say my life's been very easy, but it was fairly stable at least. After Mom and Dad left and our grandparents moved to a place more suitable for Granddad's dwindling health, I ended up concentrating completely on both my job and looking after Lilly. Nothing else mattered. Eventually, I ended up cutting both Mom and Dad out of my thoughts for the most part. Aside from the money that was wired to our account on a monthly basis and the increasingly rare phone calls, I started feeling like they didn't really exist anymore. I considered the matter dead and buried. It was easier this way."
She absentmindedly tosses one of the stones in her hand in the air and then catches it again.
"What I've learned over the last couple of weeks was that the matter may have been buried, but it was far from dead. After six long years, Mom and Dad were suddenly part of my daily life again and acting like nothing friggin happened. As you can see, I haven't been dealing with that very well... at all."
She gives me a guilty look as I sit down next to her.
"When I told you guys in the hospital that I simply screwed up, that was the truth. I didn't really mean to start a fight with the old man when he was in such a sorry state, but... well... it simply happened anyway. I guess that... there are a lot of buried grievances suddenly clawing their way back to the surface."
"Like... them l-leaving."
"To be completely honest, it's not just bad memories I have of them. There's been a few good ones too. Like the annual New Year, when our parents, our grandparents, Lilly and I would visit a shrine to pray for good luck the upcoming year and play games afterwards. Also our trips to the summer house..."
"The one we visited?"
"It was a different one back then, but in the same area. The three, and later the four, of us would go there from time to time and that was also the place where Lilly and I'd get in touch with the British part of our heritage. Our own home was kind of traditional, but the summer house was more like... Well, the residences here in the UK. We'd speak English all the time, eat with cutlery instead of chopsticks, and Mom would read us Scottish folk tales or parables as bedtime stories. It was also like... that intangible pressure I often felt didn't exist there. The atmosphere was simply different. Dad and especially Mom seemed different. Of course, things'd revert to normal the moment we got in the car, but I still have good memories of those times, even though they became more and more rare as Dad advanced up the corporate ladder."
"Before our parents allowed me to make my own barber appointments, I used to have slightly longer hair. Other than that though, I've always been the way I am now. In other words, a long shot away from the kind of person the daughter of an upstanding family is supposed to be."
"Your p-parents d-disapproved of who y-you were?"
"It's always been kind of subtle. It's not like they weren't nice to me, but there was often that subtle undertone of sadness like they were expecting me to be more... I dunno... elegant... lady-like... the whole shebang. For a long time I felt like they expected something of me, but I didn't know exactly what that something was. I found out eventually what that was as Lilly grew up. I think in the end Mom and Dad always rued the fact that I couldn't be more like Lilly."
I get an uneasy feeling in my stomach as I attempt to determine if there's any bitterness in Akira's words. If she felt like she lived in Lilly's shadow, how does she feel about her sister?
"Uhhh... H-how d-do you feel about Lilly?"
Akira sees the distressed look on my face and lets out a reassuring chuckle.
"I guess lots of people would grow to secretly resent their sibling in that case, wouldn't they? Interestingly enough that never happened with me. Besides, it's not like Lilly was the perfect daughter to Mom and Dad or they wouldn't have left her behind six years ago."
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"I think the reason we've always been so close is due to the fact I often spent time looking after Lilly, even when our parents still lived in Japan. Mom often asked me to keep an eye on my sister. And there was the fact that while I've often felt a bit like an outsider even in my own family, Lilly was nevertheless always unconditionally accepting of me."
Splash - splash - splash
"Probably one of the very few I can say that about."
Splash - splash
"She was also a really cute kid when she was younger. If I'd show you a picture of her when she was like three, you'd probably develop a girl-crush on her in an instant."
Splash - splash - splash
Akira's light-hearted remark about toddler-Lilly's cuteness was probably meant to lighten the mood, but it doesn't draw my attention away from the rest of her words, especially since this is a sensitive issue for me myself. Didn't Akira make school friends or something? She's pretty sociable, if a bit rough. I always imagined her to have lots of friends, like Lilly.
"Uh... Akira... H-how about y-your school days?"
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"Elementary school was... I think mixed is the right word. Heh, get it?"
"Sorry, didn't have time to make up a better punchline. Anyway, in the same way I've always been a bit of an outsider in the family, I've also been a bit of an outsider at school."
"When I started attending elementary school, I quickly discovered that I was the only kid in the school with a biracial background. I found that there were few convenient things about standing out in a crowd like that, but several downsides. Some of the reactions I'd get were amusing in a stupid way. Like others asking me how on earth I was able to speak Japanese or being amazed that my blood was red like theirs instead of yellow. Other times less funny things happened.."
"You were... b-b-bullied?"
"Picked on, from time to time. I mean, I looked pretty different from the rest, so I naturally attracted attention from all sorts of kids. Now, before you start worrying about me, let me say that I've always been pretty strong for my size, and back in elementary school, I could even take on many of the boys. Bullies don't like running the risk of a black eye when they pull their crap. So all in all things hardly ever truly escalated since I wasn't an easy target."
I'm happy for Akira she that was able to stand up for herself like that, though it also makes me feel inadequate myself. I was never able to stand up for myself. Akira takes a brief look at me and seems to guess my thoughts. A sympathetic expression appears on her face.
"No such luck for you, huh?"
I meekly shake my head. When I was finally released from the hospital, I was still learning how to use my right arm for even basic stuff like lifting and opening a lunchbox. In addition, my scars and the pressure garments I was forced to wear day and night for the first few years made my movements stiff and awkward. Any physical confrontation, even with kids younger than me, would have been over within seconds.
"Figures. I think from the moment I first met you there was something in your eyes and body language that told me you were given a hard time at school."
How do you respond to that? I merely nod my head. Suddenly, my depressing train of thought is interrupted by a hand on my shoulder.
"Ya know... uh... Even though Lilly's usually the one to do this kind of thing, I just wanted to tell you that if you ever wanna talk to someone about this sort of thing, I'm there as well. Don't be a stranger."
Akira puts on a slightly awkward but sincere smile on, and I can't resist smiling back for a moment. I'm not sure if I'd ever accept Akira's offer, but her gesture of emotional support nevertheless feels extremely good to me.
After confirming that my mood has cleared a bit, Akira continues.
"Anyway, I can't say my elementary school time was smooth surfin', but aside from the occasional incident every now and then, I was okay. I was still able to hang out with other kids from time to time, though I didn't really make any deep friendships. Then again, a lot of friendships in that time are kinda shallow anyway. I mean, kids in that phase of their lives often become friends simply because they sit next to each other in class or wear the same color ribbon in their hair, not because their personalities are extremely compatible."
"Uh... D-did Lilly ever... get... picked on?"
"I was really worried about that myself when she started attending school, but I don't think that ever happened, and thank heavens for that. Due to her blindness, teachers were always keeping a close eye on her, and two random students from her class were picked every day to help her out with... whatever she couldn't do herself. Sometimes I felt weird about that arrangement, almost as if Lilly was the class pet instead of a classmate, but in practice it probably meant she wasn't an easy target for bullies since she was hardly ever unsupervised. I also think... well... most students eventually forgot about it."
"You know what the funny thing is about the labels we human beings tend to stick on others? We usually pick one label and run with it, ignoring everything else about a person. In this case, I think people were so focussed on the very obvious fact that Lilly was blind, they quickly forgot that she was half-foreign. It's weird, but I think it played a role."
I wonder what label ended up sticking in people's minds for me. The one about my burn scars or my disfunctional behavior.
"Anyway, by the time I was about to leave elementary school, I wasn't having that many conflicts anymore, and I was keeping my fingers crossed that things wouldn't get difficult once I'd get into middle school. Turns out I was right to worry."
"You... went to the same school as Lilly, d-didn't you?"
"Yeah. It was expensive, prestigious, all-girls and hella strict. The worst place to be for someone like me in other words. I spent a large part of elementary school playing mostly with boys. Lots of stuff people thought of as typical girl-stuff didn't really interest me. When I was suddenly thrown into Princess U, it wasn't just my mixed blood that made me stand out, but everything else about me as well. I was suddenly having run-ins with obnoxious fellow-students and teachers alike left and right. Less than three weeks into the first year, I was already firmly stuck into the pariah role. Those were some very lonely and miserable three years, let me tell ya."
Looks like I wasn't the only one whose middle school time was hard.
"Didn't you t-tell your parents how you f-felt?"
"Surely you don't think they tossed me into a friggin Japanese wife factory by accident? They were probably simply tired of relying on subtle correction attempts all the time, so they tried a more drastic method of molding me into a better daughter. Of course I told them that I hated it there, but all they said was to please hang in there and keep going. Dad even had the audacity to suggest that this was in my best interests and that I'd be grateful one day. It's been about ten years since I was released from that hellhole, and so far I haven't had any sudden epiphanies of gratitude."
It's a little frightening how bitter Akira sounds, but there's one thing that scares me more than her tone.
"Ummm... J-Japanese wife factory? D-Does that m-mean that Lilly...?"
Akira's expression turns genuinely remorseful.
"Sorry, I kind of went overboard with my venting. I didn't mean to imply anything about Lilly. To reassure you; middle school gave Lilly an additional layer of classy manners, but underneath she's still the same person she's always been. I still wouldn't have sent her there myself, but I'm relieved that she doesn't have the same horrid memories I have of that place."
Chapter 33 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:59 am
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"Well, as you can see things between me and the folks weren't exactly peachy even before they left Japan, but things might have worked out if they hadn't upped and left just like that."
"You were... 19 when they left, right?"
"Yeah. It was after I graduated from high school, which was fortunately not the same kind of place middle school was. I didn't really know what I wanted to do afterwards. Dad pulled a string or two at the company, and I was allowed to work at the legal department of SMT as a secretary. Back then there were apparently already office rumors about a big change being in the wings."
"Your parents moving?"
"It was a little more complicated than that. Back then, Granddad was still in charge of the company, though he was ill during the last months before the big change. Eventually Granddad revealed his plans for the company's future at the dinner table. He and his brothers on the board of directors wanted to expand our clientèle, but we weren't having a lot of success getting a foot in the door in China. Business was booming in Inverness though, and the people there were doing a good job getting the European mainland to warm up to our brand. So the board made the decision to make Inverness the new headquarters and have the Japanese branch concentrate completely on the domestic market from that point on. Of course, a Satou had to be in charge of headquarters, and that's how Dad finally got his promotion to number 1 executive of the company. A promotion and a plane ticket. He immediately accepted the offer, too. He said he was honored by the responsibility placed on him. I wonder if he even considered how Lilly must have felt. I remember everybody applauding. I wondered even back then how many of those ovations were actually real."
Splash - splash - splash
"The actual shocker came during his visit to Japan a few weeks after moving to Inverness. It turned out that he was going to live there permanently, and he mentioned Mom's help being needed in Scotland and that she'd need to come along with him for some time. The board apparently already approved. Heh, 'for some time' being a euphemism for forever. The true bombshell was when we were told that Lilly had to stay behind. For her education, so to speak. She was gonna lose her parents for a friggin education. At least that was the story."
I'm startled by an unusually loud splash. That must have been quite a rock she just threw.
"You still don't believe it?"
"I'm not sure what to make of Dad's reaction, but one thing I know for sure is that there are also prestigious private schools in the UK. I don't think the quality of her education was a good argument to leave her in Japan. Heck, and judging from what the old man said the other day, he wasn't even expecting Lilly to get a job anyway, even with that education."
She shrugs and gives me a sad look.
"Ya know, I always thought there was something creepy about Yamaku, or rather the idea behind it. It's like this place in the middle of nowhere so 'proper society' doesn't have to see or hear those attending there. I still wonder if Mom and Dad didn't rue the fact that Lilly couldn't be shoved there until she finished middle school."
"I... actually like that about Yamaku. M-Middle school was h-hard for me. I'm n-not sure w-what would have happened at an ordinary high school. M-Maybe something terrible. I... didn't function all that well at Yamaku, but at least I wasn't b-bullied anymore. I'm... r-really thankful for that."
Akira thinks for a moment.
"I never really thought much about that. I guess it's a good point, though it didn't apply to Lilly."
I don't really have an answer to that, so I decide to shift the conversation to the earlier subject.
"A-Anyway, after your parents left... you... decided to look after her?"
"Either I stayed with her or she'd be left with an ailing grandmother and grandfather. Shizune's family wasn't an option. Dad and Shizune's Dad hate each other. He wouldn't have permitted it."
"W-What are y-your grandparents like?"
"To be honest, I never really knew Granddad. He was at work even more often than Dad was. Of course, he ranked higher than Dad. On Sundays he'd be out golfing with business pals or reading in his study. The rest of the days he was at work or hanging out with co-workers. The company was his life as well since he stayed at its helm for a very long time, even though he could have retired years earlier. He even considered it a few years earlier, before ultimately reconsidering. He was a pretty heavy smoker, and it came back to bite him six years ago when he developed lung cancer. He was lucky they discovered it before it spread, but they still ended up removing a part of his right lung and with it an equally large part of his stamina. Grandpa and Grandma used to live in the same neighborhood as ours in a house on a rather large incline with stone steps leading up to the front door. After his surgery, it'd take him half an hour just to reach his own porch. Even Lilly could run circles around him at that point. So he and Grandma moved to another town, and we haven't had much contact with them ever since."
Splash - splash - splash
"As for Grandma, when I was a child she'd drop by our home on a daily basis. She was nice enough. She was formal, polite, proper and friendly, but also a bit distant and stoic. She was more responsible than Mom though. She'd always be the one to take me to the park to play when I was a kid. She was also the one who went to PTA meetings during Lilly's elementary school years instead of Mom. Heh, somehow Mom always managed to come up with a reason to be busy with something else. Thinking back on it, it's possible she was already going her own way even then, just on a smaller scale although ironically she didn't really get out of the house much back then. I remember Grandma scolding her about it a few times. Heh, of course when I asked Grandma about that, I got a major scolding myself about how impolite it is to listen in. She was pretty strict, all in all."
Akira toys with one of her locks of hair for a moment.
"Save for a few bad periods once in a while, Grandma's always been in pretty good health, but after Granddad's surgery, her physical condition took a nosedive as well. High blood pressure, ulcers, shortness of breath. I guess his condition hit her harder than any of us expected. Between her declining health and the fallout of grandpa's surgery, I didn't feel it was responsible to leave Lilly in their care. Of course, it's not like I was really all that more fit as a caretaker..."
"I think Lilly would disagree. You did a r-really good job l-looking after her while..."
I pause for a moment. If Akira left for a job right after high school, when did she earn her law degree? Akira seems to read my mind as I trail off and smirks.
"You're wondering how I became a lawyer without visiting a university, right?"
"Before 2004, becoming a lawyer in Japan didn't require a university degree. All you had to do was pass the official bar exam, which... heh... had a 3% passage rate at the time. While at work I heard a couple of guys at our department going on about taking a shot at it. It gave me the idea to give it a try myself, which was naturally met with ridicule. But I figured that if I could pass it, I'd be able to get a career without having to attend some university located somewhere far away from my home and my sister."
"You p-passed such a difficult exam without having attended a university?"
Just how much of a genius is Akira if she pulled that off?
"Without a university, but not without preparation. There are cram schools that specialize in preparing people for that particular exam. I attended one before taking the exam."
A sad and slightly guilty look appears on Akira's face.
"I didn't think Dad was going to sponsor an attempt like that, so Lilly suggested letting go of our housekeeping staff and using the money Mom and Dad wired us every month to employ them to get me into one of those cram schools. She was already a lot more independent at the time, but I still had a bad feeling about it. Eventually she managed to convince me to give it a try, and I gave in after swearing a solemn oath to her that if things became too much for her, I'd drop everything immediately and we'd go right back to the way things were. I ended up passing the bar exam on the first try, apparently being one of the few ones who pulled that off."
"In order to officially practice as a lawyer, I would have had to spent over a year training at the Supreme Court's training center in Tokyo, but since that involved leaving Lilly behind, I passed on that. Practically speaking, it wasn't a big loss since they focus almost completely on litigation training there anyway and hardly spend any time on contract drafting and other corporate practices. I could do my job as a corporate lawyer even without it. Officially, it did mean I probably wouldn't be able to do my job at any place other than the family company. Still, I promised myself to spend all the free time I had with Lilly if I passed the bar exam, and I did my best to keep it. She was the one who was rooting for me and making sacrifices for me that entire time. It was the least thing I could do back."
"I've... always been a b-bit envious of how c-close you and Lilly are."
"I suppose that with our parents out of the picture we were the only true constants in each other's lives for a long time. That creates a bond. But bonds have to be maintained too. And right now I can't shake the feeling that our bond used to be in a better condition than it is now..."
Splash - splash - splash - splash - splash - splash
I'm distracted for a moment by a particularly skillful throw on Akira's part, and it takes me several seconds to digest what she just said.
Akira doesn't immediately respond and merely puts a few flat stones in my hand.
"Go ahead and have a try yourself. It's not that difficult when you get a feeling for it."
'Not that difficult' is probably still pretty subjective.
"You gotta throw sideways a bit. Make them spin like a discus. As long as they keep spinning, they keep bouncing."
"Maybe you ought to try using your left hand instead of your right."
That might work. My left wrist is a lot more supple than my right.
Splash - splash
I sigh in frustration. This is still harder than Akira made it out to be.
Splash - splash
"Ummm... W-why do you think that your bond with Lilly is... in worse condition?"
Akira merely looks at some point in the distance before turning to me with a sad look in her eyes.
"It's not just Dad Lilly's been keeping at arms' length over the last two days."
"H-How can you be so sure?"
"The way we parted after our last visit to the hospital gave me that idea already, and the fact that she's neither answered nor returned any of my phone calls merely reinforces my hunch. I probably screwed up one too many times. I've been screwing up ever since Lilly and I first came here."
I start denying Akira's suggestion, but she stops me with a gesture that indicates she has more to say.
"Ya know, I've been thinking a little bit. Back when I learned that Lilly didn't want to migrate to Scotland after all and that she came this close to going there against her will, I was upset with her for not letting me in on how she really felt. Lilly's rather reserved by nature, but she and I have had very few secrets between us since we started living together without our parents. I was shocked that she kept me out of something this major. When I confronted her with this, she merely apologized, so I dropped it without pressing her for the reason. I think I know the reason now."
"Back when it was just the two of us, I'd occasionally vent my frustration with our parents in front of Lilly. She'd never argue with me or defend them. She'd just sit there nodding her head. No nods of agreement, but simply of acknowledgement. This was the one area we never shared a wavelength on. Most of the time, it didn't matter. Until our folks entered our life again. Then it suddenly became a huge deal. I hate to admit it, but I think the truth is that Lilly simply kept me out of the loop because she didn't think my input could be trusted."
Even though Akira's words are harsh, I can't bring myself to deny them either. I've witnessed Akira's bitterness towards her parents, and based on what she just told me, she's probably justified to feel that way. Still, her bitterness has made me very uncomfortable recently. Perhaps it's because I've had quite a few bouts of cynicism myself, and Akira has felt like a reflection of myself at times. It didn't make me feel very good.
"I'm not particularly worried about my long-term relationship with my sister. This situation will end in one way or the other, and when it's over, I don’t doubt that she'll let me back in. In the meantime, the best thing I can probably do is keep my mouth shut in her presence whenever the subject of our parents comes up, so I don't end up making things worse anymore."
I meekly nod.
"Still, the rut Lilly's currently in is about our parents, and I hate the fact that I can't do anything to offer her emotional support like I'm supposed to. She won't talk to me about this, but she might confide in someone else. Someone who isn't blood-related to her, yet with whom she feels a strong bond."
Akira gives me an expectant look to remove any doubt about what person she's talking about.
"Hisao and I... already visited Lilly in her room a few times, but all s-she does is make small talk."
"Your boyfriend's a good friend to Lilly, but you're the one she probably trusts most. Maybe if you spend some time with her alone..."
Akira smiles awkwardly.
"I... don't really understand what you want me to do."
"If I knew what had to be done to sort out this whole mess and make Lilly happy again, I'd tell you. But I'm not so sure myself. Maybe you could spend a little bit of time with her before you leave tomorrow. Just you and her. Maybe cheer her up a little. Get her to stop moping in that room of hers. Would you be willing to do that for me?"
"I... uh... Okay. I was... already hoping to t-talk to her a little before we go tomorrow."
Akira smiles broadly.
"Thanks. That means a lot."
I shyly shake my head.
"It... might not m-make much of a difference."
Akira grins in response.
"You shouldn't sell yourself short like that. The last time you had a candid talk with Lilly, she reversed a life-changing decision just like that. That's no small feat. And just today, you got some impressive results with the old man too."
"You told him how wrong he was about Lilly and also suggested for him to apologize to her, all of that without being so direct as to cause him to get butthurt. Hey, don't give me that look. It was pretty easy to pick up if you read between the lines a bit. I don't think Dad missed it either. He said he'd think about it. That's much more of result than anything I've been able to get done."
"I... just w-wanted to make Lilly happy."
"And I guess you think that reconnecting with Mom and Dad in some way will make Lilly happy or you wouldn't have asked our old man to apologize. Do you still feel this way, even knowing everything I just told you?"
"I'm... n-not sure. I... think... so. When I... met them, they seemed... not so bad. They still seem to care about Lilly. Maybe... it's possible for... someone to be a bad parent... but not a bad person."
"You think so?"
"Besides... n-not having p-parents at all... is still worse, I think."
Akira gives me a sympathetic look.
"I'd feel like a real bitch arguing against that with you."
She gets up to indicate she's ready to start walking back. We walk side by side along the beach until we get back to the Satou home's driveway. Ever since we started walking, Akira's had a pensive look on her face, and she hasn't said a single word the entire time. It isn't until we reach her car and I get ready to go back inside that she turns to me.
"Maybe... well... You should try and convince Lilly to do one more patching up attempt. Who knows? It might just work out."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:59 am
Upon receiving no response to my knocking, I hesitantly open the door of my friend's room and look inside. Surprisingly enough, there's nobody there. That's a bit unexpected. Lilly's hardly been out of her room for days, except to eat dinner. Where could she be?
Just as I close the door, I hear the sudden sound of something clattering on a tile floor. Unless Hisao just had a moment of clumsiness in the shower area of our bedroom, the sound I just heard probably came from the bathroom. I walk up to the door of the bathroom, gently push down the door handle and discover that it's not locked. I peek inside and notice that Lilly's sandals are on one of the shelves and I hear some movements from behind the changing area's inner wall. Lilly's definitely in here.
I take off my shoes and socks and put them next to Lilly's sandals on the shelf. I walk into the bathing area, and sure enough, Lilly's kneeling near the small shelves underneath the mirrors. There are several bottles and flasks around her, and Lilly's sweeping the ground with her hands in an attempt to locate them all. She suddenly stops and tilts her head as I approach, probably having picked up the pattering sound from my bare feet on the tiles.
A tiny smile appears on her face as she recognizes my voice.
"Oh, welcome back, Hanako."
"Uh... Did you drop a few things, Lilly?"
Lilly sheepishly nods.
"I wanted to put some bathing supplies on the little shelf in front of me, and I discovered too late that someone still left his or her own supplies in that exact spot. The result is this little mess."
I think I have a good idea of who created this little inconvenience for Lilly.
"S-Sorry, Lilly. That m-may have been me."
Hisao and I took a bath together the day before Lilly's father had his incident. I meant to clean up after ourselves afterwards, but we got... distracted by other things while we were here.
"It's not a problem, Hanako."
"Let me help you."
I walk up to Lilly and quickly pick up the bottles and flasks around her. I take one of each and neatly arrange them on the shelf near her.
"Lilly? I arranged the bottles on the shelf in front of you in the... uh... usual order."
Lilly gives me a grateful smile.
"Thank you, Hanako. Your thoughtfulness is greatly appreciated."
"So, Lilly, were you planning to take a bath just now?"
"That was the idea, Hanako. I've only taken a bath once during this trip, and the circumstances were less than ideal back then. Maybe a pleasant soak will help to ease my mind. There should still be plenty of time before dinner."
"I suppose I... came at a bad time then. But... do you have some time to spare... after dinner?"
"I do. Do you have any plans, Hanako?"
"Not really. I just thought... after tomorrow... we won't see each other again for some time. Maybe we could... spend some time together until Hisao and I leave?"
"That sounds like a good idea, Hanako. I apologize for having neglected you and Hisao over the last few days."
"That's okay, Lilly. There's no need to explain anything. We understand completely."
"I'll be sure to keep you and Hisao company after dinner this evening. Let's make the most out of your remaining time here."
"M-Maybe... the t-two could spend some time... together? We could... talk for a bit, if you like. I'm sure that Hisao... wouldn't mind."
"Are you sure about that Hanako?"
"I... haven't really done a very good j-job s-supporting you, but... maybe I can still do that for the little bit of time I'm here."
Lilly looks in deep thought for a moment. Then she gives a small nod.
"I... would probably welcome that, Hanako."
Lilly gets up, and I allow her to take hold of my sleeve before helping her return to the changing area. She then feels her way over to one of the baskets on the shelves and starts taking off her sweater. I figure that this would probably be a good time to take my leave.
"Lilly, if you don't need my help for anything else, I'll b-be going, okay?"
"You... said that you wanted to spend some time alone with me, didn't you?"
"Perhaps we should take the opportunity to do that now. It's not like we have that much time left."
"If you were to stay here right now, you could keep me company."
I give Lilly a baffled look as she takes off her top and starts removing her skirt. Keep her company?
"Uhhhhhhh.... Is t-that okay?"
Lilly, who is now wearing nothing but her bra and panties, gives me a playful look.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
"You'd b-be... n-naked... in f-front of me."
"We're both girls, aren't we? I don't think it'd be that big a problem."
"If it's... not a big p-problem with you then... I'll stay here."
"I appreciate that, Hanako."
I quickly walk to the door and lock it. When I turn around, Lilly has already taken off the last of her clothes and is brushing the shelf with her hand in search of a towel.
"I just l-locked the door, Lilly."
"Could you help me to my stool, Hanako?"
Averting my eyes, I place Lilly's outstretched hand on my arm and lead her out of the changing area. But before we reach the corner with the mirrors and the stools, Lilly suddenly stops.
"Hanako, what will you do?"
"I'll just sit on the edge of the bath."
Lilly nods but doesn't move or say anything. I wonder what she's thinking right now.
"Hanako... I apologize if this seems a bit forward, but... I wouldn't mind if you joined me. Would you like to?"
Lilly seems to have expected my shocked reaction and shows me an amused smile.
"If you wouldn't mind, that is. You and Hisao took a bath several days ago, didn't you? Didn't you like it?"
"I... uh... d-did."
"To be honest, I had been hoping for a chance to take a soak together with you since we came here. I don't see us visiting a hot spring resort or anything like it anytime soon in Japan. Maybe this would be a good opportunity."
"It's also easier to talk to each other when you're sitting next to me instead of half-way across the room. And as you may have noticed yourself, the bath is a bit on the large side for just one person. It seems to have been built with group activity in mind. Or family activity."
"Yes, bathing was very much a family activity back in the days. I used to take baths with Mother and Akira all the time when I was young. Occupying such a large bath on one's own feels... off somehow."
"If it's a f-family activity to you, then..."
Lilly quickly shakes her head before I can finish my sentence.
"Then sharing a soak with you would definitely not feel inappropriate to me. You... feel very much like family to me right now, Hanako."
I can't help but smile at Lilly's kind words. Lilly's expression quickly saddens though.
"In fact... You may feel more like family to me right now than... anyone else I know."
The impact of that statement isn't lost on me, and I reel back in shock for a moment. This isn't something I ever expected Lilly to say.
Are things really this bad?
This would probably be a good moment to try and put my shyness aside and focus on more important things.
If Lilly really feels this way, then is it okay for me to be flying back tomorrow? Shouldn't I stay and be there for Lilly instead?
I'd best take this one step at a time though.
"Ummm... I'll... j-join you then. O-Okay? I'll b-be r-right with you."
Lilly gives me a relieved smile.
"Thank you, Hanako."
Still a bit uneasy, I walk back into the changing area and nervously start undressing. While I'm busy doing so, Lilly doesn't say a single word and the only sound audible in the room is the rustling of my clothes. I eventually take off my underwear, pick up a towel and, my legs shaking a bit, walk out of the changing area to face Lilly.
I blush a bit at the sight of her as we come face to face. Lilly isn't even bothering to try and cover herself up. She just casually stands there as if she was fully clothed. As my eyes briefly wander over Lilly's body, I feel the painful sting of envy for a moment. Lilly is gorgeous. Her vibrantly blonde hair is hanging loosely over her shoulders, her figure is slim, and yet her curves are ample. And her skin is both smooth and spotless. It makes the condition of my own blighted skin all the more jarring.
I'd better move on with things before I get depressed.
"Lilly... could you h-hold out your right h-hand?"
She calmly extends her hand towards me, which I place on my left arm. I guide her to the stools while at the same time keeping a bit of additional distance between us so she can't accidentally touch any of my scarred areas, and when we sit down I also make sure that my stool isn't too close to hers.
I get a bit of a weird feeling when I pick up one of the shower heads, but then shake the sensation out of my mind and dutifully fill both Lilly's bucket and my own. We quietly proceed to drench ourselves, soap ourselves up and then wash ourselves. I feel a bit bad about not offering to wash Lilly's back, but I'm a bit afraid of doing so since I know she'd offer to return the favor, and me declining it would just lead to another awkward moment.
It takes me quite a while to get my hair over and done with, and when I finally rinse the remaining shampoo out of my hair and look at Lilly, I notice she's been absentmindedly toying with her bangs. I wonder how long she's been waiting without saying a word.
"Hanako, are you finished as well?"
"Y-Yes. Sorry to keep you waiting. My hair usually takes a little while."
"Almost everyone I know says you have very beautiful hair, Hanako, so it goes without saying that it's important to take good care of it."
"Ah... oh.... R-really?"
Lilly merely grins.
"Really. Are you ready? I must admit I'm getting a bit chilly."
"Okay. C-Could you give me your right hand again?"
I take Lilly's hand again and guide her to the large bath. I help her step in, then get in myself and start considering where to sit. Lilly doesn't seem to have much trouble picking a spot as she walks up to one of the corners, turns around and beckons me to sit next to her.
I hesitate. If Lilly sits down in that corner, I'll have to sit on her left side and my scarred side will be facing her. Maybe it'll be okay if I simply don't sit too close to her. I can't offer support to Lilly and then appear to be distant. I'll simply sit just far enough away to avoid accidental physical contact. I make my way over to Lilly, and we allow ourselves to sink slowly into the water.
We both let out a long sigh as we make ourselves comfortable, and the water fills our bodies with a pleasant warmth. Then we both giggle.
"The water feels good, doesn't it?"
"Yes, it's just the right temperature."
It feels like the water is still set at the temperature Hisao and I picked when we took a bath here. I'm happy that Lilly likes this temperature too because a bath is quickly too hot or too cold for me.
For a long time neither of us says anything, and we are content to just hang back and relax. Eventually though, Lilly breaks the silence.
"So, Hanako... How was the visit to the hospital?"
"When we arrived, we briefly saw your mother and a person who just arrived here from Japan. Akira said he was the manager of the Japanese branch. Then we went to s-see your father and umm..."
I hesitate for a moment. I don't think Lilly needs to hear about Akira's verbal scuffle with her father.
"...he... uh... still seemed to have a lot of difficulty speaking, but he talked to us even though it hurt. He... thanked us for helping him and said to l-let him know if there was ever something he could do back. Then he wished us a safe journey."
"I see. Did... Akira say anything in particular? When Hisao came back upstairs he said that she invited you for a stroll along the shore."
"She... wanted to spend some time with me before I leave tomorrow. She wasn't sure when we'll meet each other again, after all."
She's also worried about you, but I don't think I should let that one slip. I don't like being so secretive, but if Lilly mistakenly believes that I'm only here because Akira sent me, she might clam up.
"That makes sense."
Maybe I should ask her straight out.
"W-What d-did you mean when you said that... I f-felt more like f-family than anyone else? D-Did you... mean that?"
Lilly doesn't immediately answer. I briefly wonder if she's just going to smile and dismiss the whole thing. But then she sighs softly.
"After Mother and Father left Japan, I've been telling myself for a long time that this was only temporary and that when they'd return, everything would be as it was before. But when Akira and I visited here in July, I think everyone could feel the distance. When I offered Mother to visit here, I thought all that we needed to do was spend a bit more time in each other’s company. But... I've recently started feeling that things are nowhere that simple. If anything, I feel that this trip has merely widened the distance between myself and the rest of my family. It's like all my efforts have the opposite effect. It's... very disheartening to say the least."
"Widened the distance?"
"You've known Akira for some time now. Surely you must have noticed as well."
I think I have, even before Akira herself pointed it out to me.
"Akira... really doesn't get along with your p-parents, does she?"
"Akira and I have always been very close and only grew closer after our parents left Japan. We used to be able to share everything with the other. Only the subject of our parents has always been a troublesome issue. Akira would usually get angry or bitter whenever this subject came up, so I'd usually let her blow off steam and then change the subject. It didn't really become a problem until recently."
"Until... the summoning?"
"Even slightly before that. When we visited Scotland in July, I didn't really know how to act around our parents, but I tried to just make the best of an awkward situation. Akira, however, would often be either distant or hostile whenever we interacted with them. It made the situation with the summoning a lot more difficult for me than it already was."
"In the past, whenever I ran into a situation I had trouble dealing with by myself, such as... hmmm... turning down a confession or dealing with conflicts in the student council, I would take comfort in the fact that I could always approach Akira as a last resort and she'd listen to me and give me sisterly advice. But when we visited Scotland, I started feeling alienated by Akira's attitude towards our family. I used to trust her opinions unconditionally because I knew she always had my best interests at heart, but in this case, I can't deny that I felt a sense of distrust towards her. So I ended up trying to deal with our parents' summoning on my own. I felt... very alone... in that."
Lilly gives me a guilty smile.
"Of course, that's a little bit my own fault as well. I should have realized sooner that I also had you to confide in. I just hope you understand that usually what happens in the family is meant to stay in the family."
"I had been hoping that Father's hospitalization would have resulted in a truce or even a new start, but it seems that even an event as major as this wasn't enough. I'm not really sure how to deal with Akira now."
For a moment Lilly looks mildly frustrated.
"I... really want to be understanding of Akira. She's endured a lot of hardships of her own. But...*sigh* what kind of person starts a fight with someone who only just got off life support?"
And today was pretty much a rematch of the confrontation Lilly referred to.
"It... is indeed a bit harsh."
"Of course, Father is hardly blameless himself. He took an unacceptable risk. And... When he mentioned that he did it for Akira and me, it almost made me feel partially responsible for what happened. As if having him in my life is somehow less important than a large sum of money in the bank."
She sighs again.
"I keep thinking back on what he said. About wanting to make sure I'd always be 'well-provided for'. I wonder if I'm a bad person for believing that that's a really condescending thing to say."
"I don't think you are. "
"Now I just keep wondering if that's how he's always seen me. I keep wondering if the biggest achievement he expects out of me is to be noticed by some potential husband so I don't end up living off his money by myself. I wonder if he'd laugh off my dreams of becoming a teacher. If he's not willing to pay any university tuition, there's probably not much hope of me getting into a university after I graduate."
Wow, she's really in a downer mood.
"It's p-probably a little early to w-worry about that already."
"Hanako... Do you think I'm an ungrateful daughter for feeling this way?"
"N-No. I'd probably f-feel a little bit offended too."
"That's somewhat of a relief to know."
Lilly thinks for a moment.
"I'm also not sure what to think of what Akira said about the way Mother and Father live their lives. Especially Mother. To be honest... I'm not really sure what to think of her to begin with."
"I... noticed that things sometimes seemed a little awkward between your m-mother and you, but I didn't really understand why because your mother has been very friendly from the start."
Lilly nods and smiles sadly.
"It's probably just me. But even so..."
"I... don't really understand the problem."
Lilly turns to me.
"Hanako, if you don't mind me asking... What do you think about my mother?"
"Please just give me your honest impression. Surely you must have come here with certain expectations."
"Hmmm. She was... different from what I was expecting, but she was nevertheless very nice. I think I like her."
"May I ask what exactly you were expecting?"
"I think I was expecting to meet an older version of you. Like... a formal and graceful upper-class woman with impeccable m-manners. Maybe, unlike you, even a bit haughty or s-snobbish. I know it's a bit silly. But your mother actually reminds me quite a bit of Akira. I think I simply made the wrong guess."
"You were expecting a so-called proper lady?"
I think I’ve heard Lilly's father utter that phrase a few times.
"Yes. But it doesn't really matter that much to me. Why do you want to k-know all this?"
Lilly pauses for a second and then sighs.
"Because the way you imagined her is also the way I remember her."
"The way you remember her?"
"I know it must be difficult for you to believe this, but Mother was a completely different person when she was still living with us in Japan. She was... graceful, gentle, friendly though also just a little bit distant and always very proper and appropriate. And she was completely devoted to Father and the family. While growing up, Mother was the person I always tried to emulate and resemble."
"Being around her has been a very strange experience. I... have no idea how to act around her. Living abroad can change a person, I suppose, but..."
It's still very odd. And something doesn't make sense.
"But Lilly, what about y-your first trip?"
"During our first trip to Scotland, Mother took up her days off from work to spend time with her bedridden sister and us. Back then, she was still acting like her old self whenever she was with us. Well, for the largest part anyway. She didn't start acting this casual until I returned here."
Lilly lets out an unhappy sigh.
"I could put up with the more casual way of interacting with me, but what really bothers me is the fact she seems to have been neglecting Father. That's... just so not her. I... really don't know what to think or what to do. This isn't the family I expected to find here."
"I... I'm sorry, Lilly."
"It's okay, Hanako. Thank you for listening to me complaining like this."
"Oh, d-don't worry about that."
"What would you do in my situation?"
I'm not sure. Knowing myself, I'd probably run away, take the first plane back to Japan and hide away in my dorm room for the rest of the year. But that's not what Lilly needs to hear.
Okay Hanako. Think...
"I'm... n-not really sure, but..."
I try to recall the things Akira told me earlier today.
She said something along the lines of not wanting to trouble Lilly with her issues any further.
"Akira... umm... talked to me earlier and... she's not happy with the situation either. She said... she was going to try and b-back off a little. I don't think there's a lot you can do for her. This is probably something she'll have to... sort out herself."
"Did Akira appear angry with me over our lack of interaction the last few days?"
"Not to me. Maybe you can call her. Or spend some time with her after work without bringing up your f-family. I think she'll like that, and you might enjoy it too. You've always enjoyed each other's company so much."
"It may feel odd to ignore the elephant in the room just like that, but if she meant what she told you then there may be no harm in trying."
Akira isn't the tricky issue though. Lilly's bond with her sister is strong enough for it to withstand a few hurdles. The issues with her parents are more difficult. I can imagine how Lilly must have felt. I think I've been there myself.
Chapter 34 - cont.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:00 am
"I... I think I know how you must have felt."
"When I was... still getting to know Hisao, I used to worry a lot about what he thought of me. I was often afraid that he looked d-down on me. That I was j-just someone for him to worry over."
Lilly suddenly looks very uncomfortable. This used to be a sensitive point between the two of us as well.
"I don't think that was all he saw you as, Hanako."
"I don't know. I still remember that night when Akira took us to that jazz club. Hisao and I played a game of pool in the back and it was really fun... until he said something to me that r-really hurt."
"While I was trying to ease my nerves, he said: 'Don't worry. Even with Lilly away, I'll be there to protect you.' It was then that I realized that... to him... I was just a pitiful and helpless person who couldn't do anything on her own. Someone who would always have to b-be looked after."
"I don't think he really meant it like that, Hanako. He may have acted in a bit of a misguided manner, but in the end I believe he meant well. He simply didn't know you well enough yet."
"I... think he meant well t-too, but it still hurt back then. I wanted him t-to respect me, b-but he didn't."
"I think he respects you now. And I think he also loves you very much. So he obviously came around, wouldn't you agree?"
"Y-Yes, it... took a lot, but... he came around eventually. And he apologized and c-confessed to me. I'm r-really happy that he did."
"Was there anything specific that triggered this?"
I blush briefly upon hearing Lilly's question. I think if I told Lilly that I let Hisao sleep with me in order to make him come around, she'd probably faint in shock. Actually, in the end it wasn't really Hisao and me taking each other's virginity that broke down the walls between us, but the painfully awkward talk we were forced to have the day after.
"A... um... painfully awkward talk at some point. It's n-not really important."
"I think you're right, Hanako. The important thing is the result."
"I was thinking... maybe... maybe the same is true with you and your father. Maybe your father... didn't really mean to d-disrespect you, but... he s-simply didn't know you well enough yet either. Maybe he's simply... ignorant."
There's a long silence as Lilly ponders my words.
"Do you really think the two cases are similar, Hanako?"
"I... think so. I think your father cares about you in his own way or he w-would not have offered to take us to Edinburgh while things were still so busy at work. M-Maybe if you show him how strong and reliable you can be, he'll see past his current view of you."
In fact, you'll probably pull it off without jumping into the kind of irrational actions I took part in.
"I think this is a good opportunity. Maybe... the best chance you're going to g-get. Your f-father is probably going through a very d-difficult time right now. He could... really use someone like you by his side."
"Someone like me?"
"You're... very good at... comforting people and making them f-feel better. Giving emotional support to people who need it, whether they're classmates or newly arrived transfer students or even p-panicky neighbors with whom you never even spoke before, is simply what you do. It's like a s-second nature to you. It was... the first thing I learned about you."
"That's a very nice thing of you to say."
"If you... look after your f-father like you've looked after Hisao and me, he'll have no choice but to respect you."
"You make it sound more simple than it probably is."
I probably do. Lilly's pride was hurt in this whole mess, and I know that that's not something she can easily let go or overlook.
"If anyone can bring your f-family together, it's probably you. Also... I think if you give things your all while you're here, you can say that you've t-tried your best no matter what happens during the rest of your stay. If you... don't do that then you might feel regrets when you're back at Yamaku."
I wonder if I myself would be able to practice what I'm preaching right now. I feel a bit hypocritical talking to Lilly about swallowing her pride and reaching out to her parents in good faith while I myself am frequently prone to bouts of cynicism. But there's no doubt in my mind that if Lilly just allowed things to stay the way they are, she'd feel awful about her inactivity later.
"You... d-don't really have much to lose. If you... m-manage to still get closer to your f-family, you'll have achieved what you c-came here for. And if... despite your best efforts, you s-still feel distant f-from them b-by the time you get back, then... uh... ummm..."
"Then... uh... I'll b-be your f-family... instead. Either way, you w-won't be alone."
Lilly lets out a happy laugh at my remark.
"Hmmm, hmmm... Promising someone such a reward for failing is not a good way to motivate them, Hanako. But nevertheless I really appreciate your kindness."
"Also... uh... This is just m-me, but I t-think that...!"
While I'm still in the middle of my sentence I suddenly become aware that Lilly has softly put her hand on my shoulder. My right shoulder! I gasp and in a sudden fit of panic, I lunge forward in an attempt to get away. However due to the resistence of the water reaching to just above my knees, I promptly fall over, producing a loud splash in the process. In other circumstances it'd probably be comical. The splash gets some water in my nose, and I snort and cough a few times before I can regain my composure. I finally calm down enough to realize that I just made an utter fool of myself in front of Lilly and anxiously look over my shoulder at my friend.
Lilly's smile has vanished and in its place is a worried, almost frightened, expression.
"H-Hanako! Are you alright?"
"I... I'm... okay... S-sorry... I'm... alright..."
My panting and stammering attempts at reassurance don't do much to put Lilly's mind at ease.
"Hanako, did I hurt you just now?"
"D-Don't worry. You didn't."
"I... I d-didn't even f-feel it at f-first. S-Several of m-my... m-my s-scarred places are n-numb."
"It's o-okay, really. You j-just startled me a little."
Lilly seems to consider it and then slowly nods.
"I apologize. What was it that you wanted to say before I interrupted you?"
"What I w-wanted to say was... that s-supporting your father is also simply the r-right thing to do. B-Being stuck in the hospital after s-surgery is hard on everyone. Your f-father probably f-feels he can't show it, b-but I think that d-deep down he's feeling a little bit l-like Hisao m-must have felt. Or..."
An uneasy feeling starts welling up in my stomach before I can finish my sentence, but Lilly seems to have guessed what I was about to say.
"Or how you must have felt... Does this situation remind you of your own hospitalization, Hanako?"
"B-Being stuck in the hospital after s-something like this is a very miserable experience. In addition to the p-pain, there's the loneliness. And there's all the t-time you have. S-So much time - too much time - and nothing to s-spend it on except w-wondering. W-Wondering why t-this happened to y-you and what you d-did to deserve t-this. Wondering what y-your life will b-be like afterwards and r-realizing it will probably never b-be the same again."
"Was that what it was like for you, Hanako?"
"I... d-don't really remember m-my own first week very well. I... w-was on very heavy medication at first. The strongest they had. M-My room was one of those s-sealed pods that w-was completely s-sterile. I b-barely survived the f-fire. They s-said a s-simple infection could kill me until I m-my injuries healed up a bit more. They usually c-couldn't b-bring in toys or b-books because there could be g-germs on them. D-Doctors or nurses wouldn't c-come in unless really necessary and I w-wasn't allowed out of the r-room. But then again, I c-could barely move b-back then, so I wouldn't h-have been able to leave anyway."
"That must have been terribly lonely..."
"I preferred to b-be alone eventually. Whenever the n-nurses came into my room, it was usually to change the b-bandages or to move and s-stretch my injured arm and b-back. Burned skin becomes really t-tight and it has to be s-stretched several times a day or I wouldn't be able to use those p-parts of my body at all anymore eventually. That's what they s-said. But... I didn't s-see it that way at first. All I knew was that several t-times a day p-people would come into my room to cause me terrible pain."
For a moment my thoughts fly back to my time in the hospital. The constant pain that became unbearable when my limbs were moved or the wound dressing was changed. The fear and panic I felt when I saw the nursing staff enter my room again. Their continuing reassurances how important it was to start these exercises as soon as possible. I suddenly find myself shivering.
"S-Sometimes, after the nurses w-were finally done f-for the day, I w-wondered why my m-mother did what she d-did. Why she didn't j-just let me..."
"The fire happened when I was eight years old. It was night, and I was s-sleeping when it started. I... curled up into a ball... when the f-fire swept over me. My mother... tried to shield me. Th-that's the reason... I lived... and she... d-didn't."
"I was... still on intensive care... f-fighting for my own l-life when the... c-c-cremation took place. M-Maybe it w-was for the best. If... If I h-had been there when they... when they... I d-don't think I w-would have... "
I sniffle and it takes all the willpower I have to swallow the sudden lump in my throat, and when Lilly speaks up, her voice is rather tiny as well.
"H-Hanako... your parents' ashes... are they... kept at a grave somewhere? Because if so... perhaps I could go there with you some time and pay my respects."
That comment makes me smile despite the mood of the moment. It's just so much like Lilly to say something kind like that.
"T-They're not. The funeral w-was already very costly, and it w-was decided not to s-spend additional money on a grave with just m-me to maintain it. After I... recovered enough to be able to walk and d-dress myself again, the m-matron came to visit m-me in the hospital. She told me she worked at an orphanage in t-town and that I'd be living with them from then on. They... kept my p-parents' ashes while I w-was recovering in the hospital, and after I was allowed to l-leave, we took a long ride to a place n-near the ocean with a really b-beautiful coastline. The matron s-said I could pick the prettiest spot I could f-find and that's where we would... s-s-see them off."
"She sounds kind."
"She w-was. All the staff members at the orphanage w-were nice, and it felt a bit like Yamaku does. But the staff was also always b-busy. Since they w-were already h-helping me with my... exercises and other m-medical needs, I t-tried not to burden them further. The place had a small library, so I started reading to p-pass the time. S-Sometimes I'd play a game with one of the other c-children if the staff suggested it."
"Did you ever consider getting in touch again with some of the children you got to know there?"
"I didn't r-really get to know anyone. The other c-children didn't really t-talk much to me, and I didn't r-really talk much to them. I... d-didn't really mind."
"But you were all in the same boat, weren't you?"
"I'm n-not sure. As th-the years went on, I realized... I was different. M-Most of the children there were up for adoption, just like I was. But unlike me... they gradually left, o-one by one. By the time I went to Yamaku, I was... among the oldest ch-children there. For a while, I h-helped with some of the y-younger children, but... I n-never really got to know them either."
"That must have been very lonely."
"I d-don't like interacting w-with p-people very much, so I didn't m-mind."
"But everybody needs friends, don't you think so?"
"Friendship... was something I thought I'd g-given up on. I s-stopped believing in others... after what happened after the accident... B-Before my accident happened, I got on well with p-people and other children. I d-didn't have many friends, but... I didn't m-mind. I t-treasured the ones that I had. Afterwards, though..."
I swallow with some difficulty. For some reason just the mere mentioning of this brings back fragments of the desperation I felt back then.
"...I was c-called names by the others and t-teased a lot. It hurt... really deeply. The teachers t-tried to help s-sometimes, but they c-couldn't do much, and even many of them r-recoiled just at the sight of me. Among t-those c-calling me names and t-teasing me... were the ones that I t-thought were m-my closest friends. *sniff* Up to that point, I had been hoping I c-could still maintain... just a little bit of m-my former life, but... it was then that I r-realized that my former life was truly gone for good."
I feel a few tears flow down my cheek, and I see them create small ripples as they hit the surface of the water.
"Middle school... was even worse. I g-got bullied... a lot. I was c-called names and got excluded f-from work groups. There were... worse things, too. Especially when tests came up and p-people started f-feeling pressure. I s-started skipping class. I knew I wasn't s-supposed to... M-my grades were already r-rather low, but... I became more and more f-frightened to go there each day. After m-middle school, Yamaku was one of the options the s-staff brought up. It was... isolated and m-most students there were d-disabled. I d-didn't expect to m-make any friends there, but... at least p-people would leave me be. That was... g-good enough for me. That was… even m-more than I c-could hope for."
I rub my eyes a few times, trying to wipe away the tears. When I take a brief look at Lilly, I see that she's softly crying as well. For a long time, neither of us says a word. When Lilly finally opens her mouth, there's a sad but tender tone in her voice.
"Hanako, you said you gave up on friendship, and yet I think that deep down you never stopped desiring other people in your life. The fact that our friendship came to be is proof of that because it was you who approached me. You chose me as a friend - your first real friend judging by what I just learned - and I feel very honored by that, even if I haven't always been able to live up to your expectations."
"I'm... n-not sure. I think... I really d-didn't believe in real friendship... back then. But... I think I still wanted to believe, even though I couldn't. I thought... since you couldn't s-see what I looked like... t-things would be... different... somehow."
"And were they?"
"I'm... not really sure. Even though... you couldn't see my appearance, there... were still plenty of things wrong w-with me that you c-could notice. And sometimes... I wondered if it w-was just a m-matter of time before... you found out m-more about me and then d-decided you could... do better."
Lilly considers this for a moment.
"Hanako, would you do something for me?"
"Can you... take my hands? Both of them?"
Lilly sits up a little and holds out both her hands in front of her. A little hesitant, I move over her corner, sit down in front of her and carefully take her hands in mine, trying to avoid contact with the scar tissue on my wrist. Lilly gives a pleased nod.
"Thank you. Don't be afraid."
Lilly gently pulls her hands away and then puts them on top of my own. She gives me a reassuring smile. Then, without waiting for my reaction, she moves her hands upwards along my arms until they're resting on my shoulders. A moment later she leans forward, wraps her arms around me, and before I realize what's happening, Lilly has locked me in an embrace.
I let out a cry of surprise, and my body completely freezes up in panic, and time seems to stop for a long time as I wait for Lilly's horrified gasp.
But as more and more seconds pass, a realization starts slowly sinking in.
Lilly hasn't flinched.
Not even once.
I finally manage to hold back my anxiety long enough to stammer out a reaction.
"Hanako. Try to relax..."
She lowers her voice to a whisper.
As my anxiety slowly - very slowly - starts ebbing away, I become aware of Lilly's hands gently feeling my back and running through my hair. As I slowly start to relax, Lilly pulls me even closer, letting her chin rest on my right shoulder and gently pressing the side of her face against my scarred cheek. Her hug is firm yet oddly tender.
"A blind girl and a burn victim being best friends... Several of my sighted friends at Yamaku have pointed out to me how strangely fitting it seems. And yet, it also feels a bit off-putting, to hear our friendship being defined by this single thing. Don't you agree?"
"I... d-don't know..."
"Would you abandon our friendship if some miracle caused your scars to disappear, Hanako? Would you feel you could do better if that were to happen?"
"No, I... I would never do that."
"Likewise, if some miracle gave me eyesight, it still wouldn't change anything between us, Hanako. You are a wonderful person. The scars on your body don't change that. In fact..."
"She gently runs her fingers across the side of my face."
"You will probably disagree with my assessment, but I think you look fine."
"I... I... don't..."
I stammer a half-hearted denial, but leave it at that. There was such sincerity in Lilly's words that it feels disrespectful to loudly decry her words. As a strangely comfortable silence falls, I try to sort out what I'm currently feeling.
It feels strangely pleasant, but it's not passion or desire, like I felt when Hisao and I were in here and he hugged me. The gentle sensation of the warm water and Lilly's close presence feel vaguely familiar, a little bit like whenever Hisao is holding me after we make love. It's the same comfortable sense of safety and security, yet also different somehow.
I slowly feel the tense feeling leaving me as my past demons who were awakened briefly by my story are lulled back to sleep, and I eventually gain enough courage to wrap my arms around Lilly and return her hug. Again, she doesn't cringe like part of me expected her to.
Inexplicably, something Lilly said to her mother on that fateful day she decided to stay in Japan comes back to mind.
I have a very good friend here who is like a sister to me in all but blood. If I need help with something, I can always count on her to be there.
I wonder if my presence is also soothing Lilly's anxieties right now.
Eventually, Lilly lets go of me, and we break off our embrace. I sit down next to her, although this time I no longer bother to stay an arm's length away from Lilly. After another long silence, Lilly finally speaks up.
"Hanako, how are you feeling right now?"
"B-Better. How about you?"
"Better as well. Thank you for entrusting me with all of this, Hanako."
"It's... okay. I felt it was... only fair... to do so."
"This week I've seen you... during some v-very vulnerable moments. I've also... learned a lot about your f-family. A lot that... you probably didn't want me to learn. It was only fair that... I also allowed you to l-learn a bit more about me even though it isn't pleasant."
"To be honest, I feel a little embarrassed. You've been through so much, and yet here I am, feeling sorry for myself and complaining about parents to someone who no longer has her own. I must really look spoiled to you."
"I think you were right to feel upset."
"Still, my problems must look so trivial in your eyes."
"I... don't think they are and even if they were, it's still okay to feel bad about them. I... uh... g-get upset about what are p-probably trivial things to you... all the time."
"Thank you for cheering me up, Hanako. You're a true friend."
"Lilly... What will you do now?"
Lilly doesn't immediately answer. She merely closes her eyes and seems deep in thought for what feels like several minutes. Eventually a mysterious smile appears on her face for a second as if she's enjoying some private joke. Then she opens her eyes and turns her head in my direction.
"The right thing, Hanako. I'll do my best to support my parents to the best of my ability and hopefully get them to see me in a new light as well. I will do what I can to change this family for the better and do my part to turn it into what I feel it should be."
There's a determination on Lilly's face and in her voice that's unlike anything I've ever seen. It's a stronger determination than she's ever shown before. I can't help being a little awed.
"I hope... No, I know... t-that you'll succeed."
Lilly smiles and nods.
"Shall we go?"
We stand up, and Lilly once again holds out her hand. This time I don't feel frightened to let Lilly take hold of my arm as I guide her out of the bath and back to the changing area. As we dry ourselves off and start putting our clothes back on, Lilly flashes me a playful grin.
"Hanako, what happened here will stay between us, won't it? For the sake of Hisao's heart, it might be better if he doesn't know all the details."
We let out a mutual giggle to confirm our mutual oath of confidentiality, and, once dressed, we make our way out of the bathroom and down the stairs. As we enter the living room, I see Lilly's mother and Hisao sitting there. Karla gives her daughter an unsure look.
"Hello Lilly. How are you doing?"
Lilly answers her mother's question with a polite bow.
"Much better now, Mother. How about you?"
"Okay... I guess. I hope you're not too hungry yet. I didn't know when you would be finished, and I've yet to tell Allison to start preparing dinner."
"Actually, Mother, would it be okay to give Allison the rest of the day off?"
"This is Hanako's and Hisao's last day here in Scotland. If it's okay with you, I would like to cook for them myself, just this once."
"Uh... Well, I don't mind. But..."
"Perhaps you could help me get the ingredients ready. I'm still not too familiar with the location of everything."
"Well, alright then."
And with that Lilly and her mother disappear into the kitchen. An hour later the four of us share a simple, but delicious meal, and afterwards Lilly accompanies Hisao and me on one last long walk through the neighborhood before the two of us retire for the evening.
The next morning, after a filling breakfast, Lilly and her mother take us to Inverness Airport where we're pleasantly surprised by a chipper Akira who's been waiting for us there. After checking in our luggage, the five of us have a cup of tea at one of the coffee shops near the security gate. The atmosphere is surprisingly relaxed with Lilly interacting in her usual way with Akira and Akira not displaying any outward signs of hostility towards her mother. Eventually Lilly's mother checks her watch and gives us a sad smile.
"Well, I think it's time for you two to head to your gate. You probably want to be among the first to board."
"Well, I guess we'll be off then. Best of luck to all three of you. And maybe until some other time, Akira."
"Hey, I'll still be in Japan from time to time. I'll try to accompany whatever business delegation is heading east. And whenever I'm in the country, I'll be sure to stop by at Yamaku. So we'll definitely meet again. "
"So will we. I'll probably be the one accompanying Lilly to Japan on her way back, so we'll probably meet again soon. Take care of yourself in the meantime, okay? And uh... Since you're in her class, be sure to tell Shizune that I said hello."
Hisao gets up from his seat and looks at me.
"Shall we then?"
I nod uneasily. Saying goodbye to Lilly and Akira suddenly feels very hard.
We all get up, and Lilly's mother gives us a respectful bow.
"We’ve put you through quite a bit of trouble. Sorry for that. I hope you enjoyed your time here regardless."
"Oh, we definitely have. Right, Hanako?"
"Yes. It was great fun."
Karla smiles and then reaches into her wallet. She takes some banknotes and puts two of them in each of our hands. I look at them and there's a large 50 on each of them. That's 200 pounds in total. I'm not completely sure how much that is in yen, but I bet it's quite a bit.
"When you get back to Japan, please change this and use it to go on a couple of fun dates together. It's on us."
Akira cuts off Hisao by giving him a playful shove.
"Just take it, you two."
"You can tell me all about it when I get back."
Hisao and I exchange a resigned look. I don't think there's time for us to argue over this. We both put the banknotes away.
Akira steps forward and gives Hisao a friendly pat on the shoulder.
"Have fun, you two. See ya later."
Then she walks up to me and gives me a warm hug while giving me a knowing look.
"See ya, Hanako. Don't be afraid to call sometime."
She leans in and whispers.
"And thanks for yesterday."
Lilly briefly puts her hand on Hisao's shoulder.
"Hisao, please take good care of Hanako today, okay?"
"Will do, Lilly. Be sure to hang in there yourself."
"Hanako, will you be alright?"
"D-Don't worry about me, Lilly. I'll... make it."
Lilly steps forward and gives me a loving hug, followed by a light kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks for everything, Hanako. We'll keep in touch, okay?"
We walk out of the coffee shop, and Hisao and I join the queue near the security gate. We turn around and wave goodbye one last time to the Satous. The crowds and security checks will no doubt ruin my day today, but until it's our turn to pass through I want to hold on to that image of Lilly and her family.
The sight of Lilly, Akira and their mother all wearing a smile.
Maybe things will turn out alright after all.