Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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Chapter 36

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:01 am

Chapter 36
01
"♪ Fill my heart with song ♫"

"♫ And let me sing forever more ♪"

"♪ You are all I long for ♪"

"♫ All I worship and adore ♫"

"♫ In other words, please be true ♪"

"♪ In other words, I love you ♫"

"♫ In other words, I love you ♪"

As I finish singing the latest song we picked for our karaoke session and make a humble bow, my one-man audience breaks into spontanous applause. I blush a bit, but am nevertheless very pleased by how appreciative Hisao seems to be about my singing, although his opinion is probably far from unbiased.

"That sounded really good, Hanako."

"T-Thanks."

I walk over to the table and take a few sips from the soft drinks we bought in order to prevent my throat from getting sore. In the meantime, Hisao is already eagerly browsing through the karaoke machine's music catalog.

"Would you be up for another one, Hanako?"

"Don't you want to try another song?"

"If you take this one too, I'll give you a kiss."

I playfully roll my eyes. While the initial idea was to take turns in singing songs, I ended up doing most of the singing while Hisao took the role of a doting audience that keeps asking for an encore. Still, I'm having a good time. The karaoke booth we got was among the smaller ones, but the atmosphere in here is relaxed and cozy.

"Hmmm... Okay. But I need a little break first."

"Sure."

I take a seat at the table, and Hisao sits down next to me and wraps an arm around me.

"I think we can safely declare this date a success."

"Hisao... Do you... like my singing voice that much?"

I admit I'm not exactly bad at singing, but I'm surprised how taken Hisao is by it.

"Yeah, I do. I guess it's because I've never seen this side of you before. Or rather 'heard this side of you' is a better way to word it. Your singing voice is kind of different from your speaking voice."

"It's not... that different, is it?"

"It's still recognizable as yours, but it's... less restrained. Since you usually speak rather softly, it's a pretty noticable contrast when you raise your voice like you do when you sing."

I suppose he has a point. In everyday life, I make an attempt to attract as little attention as possible, and never raising my voice is very much part of that.

"Out of curiosity; how are Akira's and Lilly's singing voices? I understood that Lilly's not overly fond of karaoke."

I smile.

"Akira's singing is okay - as long as she doesn't drink too much beer. But she's always really enjoying herself while singing karaoke, whether she sounds good or not. She's not too self-concious about how she sounds when she's with us."

"And Lilly?"

"I think she sounds fine. Maybe she's a bit perfectionistic about how she wants herself to sound. Part of the reason she doesn't enjoy karaoke more is because she can't read the lyrics off the screen and there aren't many songs that she has completely memorized."

"That kind of makes sense."

"She does enjoy hanging out with Akira and me and listening to us though."

"Maybe the four of us could go give it a shot the next time Akira is in Japan, assuming she doesn't visit in the middle of examination hell."

"That would be nice."

Hisao takes a chug of his own drink and then checks his watch.

"Man, time sure flies. Our hour is nearly up already. What do you say about extending our stay for another hour?"

"Sure."

Hisao takes out his wallet and gets some bills out. It's part of the sum we got from Lilly's mother before we boarded our plane back to Japan. He prepares to get up, but I stop him.

"Ummm... I c-could go and do that. I have to take a restroom break anyway."

"If you insist."

"Thanks."

"Take your time."
02
I put the money in my pocket and leave the booth, making my way over to the reception. From what I can tell, most of the booths are occupied right now. Summer break is obviously an excuse for many local students to take some time off from school work and relax for a spell. Fortunately, it's not particularly crowded at the reception desk. The only people aside from the employee behind the desk are two people about my age who seem to be a couple and who still appear to be involved in a discussion on how long to rent a booth. I carefully approach them, wondering if I should wait for them to make a decision or if I should ask them if I can quickly let the clerk extend my stay. Then I wonder if I'd even have the nerve to follow through on the second option.

As the two other customers notice me, the male looks at me and opens his mouth to say something, but then notices my scarring and stares for a moment without saying anything. The female, who until now was cheerfully chattering to her partner, gives me an awkward look. I shudder a bit and instinctively turn away from his gaze, my formerly good mood quickly dropping. After three excruciating seconds he remembers he was on the verge of saying something.

"Ah... If you want to go first, go ahead."

I nervously nod and then approach the desk. I notice that the clerk behind the desk isn't the same person as when Hisao and I arrived here and as a result I'm treated to three stares rather than two in less than half a minute. I'm beginning to feel that not letting Hisao handle this was a really big mistake.

"Ah... ummm..."

"Can I help you, miss?"

"I... uh... W-we w-would like to s-stay for one m-more hour."

"Ah... Of course. What's your booth number?"

"Uh?"
03
Damnit! There was probably a number next to the door when we entered the booth, but I didn't pay attention to it when I entered or left. I desperately dig through my memories of the last hour, but my nervousness makes it impossible to recall what number Hisao and I were in. If I get the number wrong and then have to return here to sort things out later that'll be even worse.

"Ummm... D-down the hall on the r-right..."

"Number 15? 16? 17? 18?"

I'm straining to resist the urge to just run off. Just when I'm about to blurt out a random number, I have a moment of clarity that manages to calm me down just a bit.

"Ummm... W-we called ahead earlier to ask if t-there was still r-room. Y-You'd keep a b-booth r-reserved f-for us."

It's a longshot since this employee may not have even been on duty when Hisao called this morning, but maybe whoever took the call wrote it down. Sure enough, the clerk nods, checks a notepad next to his computer and then looks at me.

"Nakai. Booth number 16."

"Y-Yes. T-That's us. Ummm... One m-more hour, please."

I hand him the yen I brought along, and he makes a semi-bow to me in return.

"Please enjoy your stay, and I am terribly sorry for the inconvenience."

I realize he's expected to apologize for any and all issues that arise, whether they're his fault or not, but it feels odd to say sorry for something that's entirely caused by my anxieties. When I take the change he hands me and turn around, I suddenly realize that the couple behind me hasn't said a single word since I first started interacting with the desk clerk and has been following my tortured conversation word-for-word. This time it's the girl staring at me. My anxiety flaring up, I make my way past them and towards the restroom as fast as I can without actually running. As I get away from there, I can feel their gaze on my back like a pair of knives.

--------------------------------------
04
My restroom break takes longer than I planned, simply because I remain in the stall until my nerves have eased a bit. I don't want to return to Hisao looking all stressed out, or he'll just get worried about me. After taking a few minutes to calm down, I exit the stall, wash my hands and then prepare to return to our booth.

"Oh!"

That's when the door suddenly opens and a familiar face walks in. It's the same person who witnessed my bungled conversation with the receptionist a few minutes earlier. Upon seeing me, she lets out a subdued cry of surprise. I can feel my anxiety rearing its head again as she looks at me, but before I can decide on whether to flee back into the stall or make a quick exit from the restroom, she makes a quick bow and opens her mouth to speak.

"Ummm... Excuse me."

She seems a bit uneasy herself, probably due to my appearance. Is she going to try and have some random conversation about nothing with me? I really should get going.

"I'm... ah... sorry for earlier. I really didn't mean to stare."

That's a bit of a surprise. I don't receive apologies very often. Most of the time I have the impression that others feel the fault for making them uncomfortable lies with me, and the best thing I can do to get rid of the awkwardness is to quickly get away from their presence.

"It's... o-okay."

"Can I ask you a question, please?"

A question? What would she want to ask? I hope she's not going to ask how I got these scars. 'What happened to you?' is a question that was posed to me on several occasions when I first came to Yamaku, and I've never been able to deal with it very well. It's not like the answer's all that difficult to guess, so why even both with the question?

"This may seem a bit forward and I... ah... apologize in advance, but erm..."

If she asks about my burn scars, I'm out of here. I'll just cross my fingers and hope there's nobody in the hallway to see me sprint back to our booth.

"...I was just wondering if you..."

What could she possibly want to know about me if not for my scarring?

"...you wouldn't happen to be a student at Yamaku Academy, would you?"

"W-What?"

That question comes so completely out of nowhere that I visibly reel in shock. For the first time since she started speaking to me, I move my gaze away from the floor and towards the person standing in front of me. She's a girl with a slim figure and a slightly delicate posture. Her hair, which is even darker than my own, reaches just past her shoulders, and her long bangs are not completely unlike mine. I can't say she looks familiar to me. Does this person know me or something?

I struggle to determine how to react, but the girl in front of me patiently waits for me to get my bearings back. I finally manage to stammer out a response, my curiosity slowly reining in my anxiety.

"I... ah... I am. B-But how...?"

She gives me a rather weak smile that seems more than a little forced.

"There was... a boy at my school who was hospitalized last school year. He... ended up transferring there."

"H-Hospitalized last school year and t-transferred?"

I certainly know one person at Yamaku who fits that particular description.

"I... ah... overheard your conversation at the reception desk earlier. His... ah... last name matched the one that the receptionist mentioned. I apologize if I got this wrong, but I wondered..."

There's no doubt in my mind that this girl is talking about Hisao. What are the odds of us running into someone from his old school? Well, according to Hisao this place is rather close to his old high school, so I suppose the odds of us running into students from there aren't impossibly low, especially since it's summer break.

"Ah... "

This girl is pretty quick to latch onto a surname that is probably shared by several more families in a city as large as this one.

"I... t-think we're t-talking about the same p-person, but..."

I can't help but grimace as the girl's logic suddenly hits me. I already know that she's aware of Yamaku being a school. Chances are that she also knows what kind of school it is. In that case, she probably decided to take her chances because it was a girl with severe facial scarring who was bringing up Hisao's name. The idea that I can be this easily identified as a Yamaku student in this way, even when I'm out of my school uniform, feels like a painful blow to the gut. The girl, who is eyeing me pretty closely, looks slightly worried.

"Is something wrong?"

I quickly brush off her concerns. I don't think there's a need for me to bring up my insecurity about my scars.

"It's n-nothing. Ummm... so... y-you were f-friends with Hisao?"

Her forced smile seems to relax for a moment when I mention Hisao's first name, but then resurfaces just as quickly.

"We were... in the same class."

Hisao, during one of our get-togethers in the city, confided in me that there were only three people he used to hang out with on a regular basis before he moved to Yamaku, and it doesn't seem like this girl was one of them. Simply a former classmate then?

"Oh."

But there's something that doesn't make sense to me. Why is she having this tortured discussion with me? If she overheard his name, she must have heard our booth number as well. Why didn't she just take a peek inside and simply apologize if the person inside wasn't who she was expecting?

"Ummm... Are y-you g-going to say hello to him?"

The girl in front of me doesn't immediately answer. For a moment she seems lost in thought. Then she smiles awkwardly.

"I am... uh... not sure if I should impose on him."

She sighs. For some reason she's fidgeting a bit as if trying to make a decision yet not quite succeeding.

"It's a bit complicated."

Complicated? That's rather vague. Were they more than classmates? Did she have a crush on him? Or...?

I suddenly remember something Hisao once told me. It was on the day that I first told Hisao about why I look the way I do. In return he told me that his first heart attack took place when a girl confessed to him. Could the person in front of me be that girl? That would explain her seeming awkwardness.

Hisao has told me before that he lost contact with all the people from his old school, including his old friends, during his hospitalisation. While telling me about that, he did his best to put on a 'life goes on, so what can you do'-attitude, although since I went through a similar thing myself when I was younger, I never truly bought his act. If what Hisao's parents said this morning was true and if this girl is the person who confessed to him, then she's also the girl who visited him in the hospital for a while. The girl I was being compared to.

"S-Sorry if it's too f-forward to ask, but d-did you... ummm... l-like him?"

She doesn't immediately respond, obviously not completely sure if it's appropriate to answer that question.

"I was there when... it happened. I visited him in the hospital for a while, but I haven't really heard from him since his hospitalisation. We... didn't really part on the best of terms."

Looks like my hunch was correct. This girl confessed to him last year, his heart acted up and he spent nearly half a year in the hospital. She visited him at first, but they drifted apart while Hisao was busy digesting how much his life had changed. I can't really judge her for not sticking with him all that time since I did an even worse job supporting him during his last stay in the hospital. I don't think anything like a relationship ever came out of it. Hisao already mentioned before that they lost contact after she stopped dropping by. Yet at some point he did get a letter which I suspect came from her, and he was visibly upset when he saw who sent it. He mentioned wanting to write a letter back at some point, but it sounds like he never actually got around to doing it.

I guess even when you think you've moved on, people from your old life resurfacing unexpectedly can quickly cause the past to come back and haunt you. That seems to be the case for this girl too. I sincerely wonder how Hisao would react if he suddenly came face to face with this girl. He's been doing pretty well lately, so maybe he would be in the mood for briefly catching up. But judging from the way they went their separate ways and the fact that he never ended up sending a reply to that letter, it's equally likely that a confrontation would be excruciatingly awkward. I'm fairly certain that this girl is currently contemplating the same thing.

"On the one hand it feels a bit rude to know he's here and not say hello and ask him how he's doing. But it could get a bit awkward, too, and I... don't really want to ruin the afternoon for him or for myself."

"T-The person you came in with... Is he y-your b-boyfriend?"

The girl gives me a tiny smile.

"Maybe. This is only our first date."

She rolls her eyes a bit.

"It almost makes you wonder if this is an omen of some sort, does it not?"

I personally think that instead of an omen this karaoke club is simply popular with the students from Hisao's old high school, and Hisao simply took me here because he was familiar with the place without really thinking of the possibility of running into someone he knows.

"Ummm..."

I'm not really sure what to tell this girl. I think Hisao has moved on from that old 'relationship'or he wouldn't be dating me. This girl has moved on too or she wouldn't be going out with that person I saw at the reception desk. But I can imagine that when she thinks about Hisao, she's still thinking about that boy lying in his hospital bed and trying to fight off a depression. That's probably her most recent impression of him after all. Maybe I can help with that.
05
"...if you're c-curious about h-how he's d-doing, I c-could tell you a f-few things. He's b-been in my class since early June. He... ummm... has been eating lunch with m-my best friend and me since h-his first week there. It t-took him a bit of t-time to get used to the n-new school, but n-now he gets along well w-with most of the class."

She doesn't immediately react, and I wonder if I'm even doing the right thing here, but I still continue on.

"He still l-likes to read a lot, l-like he did in the hospital. He also set up a science club together with our homeroom t-teacher who also teaches science. The club is still s-small, but Hisao is looking to recruit more m-members. Our homeroom teacher has t-taken a liking to him because he's doing so well in the subject. He also plans to study science after he g-graduates."

I hesitate for a moment before continuing on a more serious subject.

"He... w-was hospitalized again a little while back because a small accident triggered his c-condition, but fortunately that w-was only for a week. After he got out he told me that he w-wasn't going to let a hospital s-stay get him down again and that he wanted to continue where he left off. He goes jogging almost daily to stay in shape, and he does his best to mind his medication, so his condition doesn't h-hinder him in everyday life these days. My best f-friend let us come with her to Scotland for a while, and I think Hisao also really enjoyed that. I t-think he's... happy with his l-life right now."

I kept my eyes pointed at the floor during most of my story to limit my stammering, but when I finish my story and cautiously look back at the girl, I immediately notice that her awkward posture has diminished, and a genuine smile has appeared on her face. She lets out a soft giggle.

"You brightened up a little while talking about him. Are you... dating him?"

I nod meekly, a bit embarassed by her observation but also feeling a bit proud.

"S-Since early July. We're c-currently on a date too."

She smiles gratefully at me.

"Thank you for telling me all this. It's a real relief to know he bounced back so well."

"It's o-okay."

"If it's just you and him here then he's probably starting to wonder what's keeping you. I was thinking; it'll probably feel odd if I seek out his company instead of my date's."

"M-Maybe we s-should both j-just go and have a good time without c-complicating things."

She gives a determined nod.

"Perhaps that would be best."

"O-Okay then. Ummm... G-goodbye then?"

"There's one more thing if you don't mind."

"Yes?"

She gives me a curious smile.

"May I know your name?"

I blush. We've been talking for some time now without even knowing the other's name. I make a polite bow to her.
06
"H-Hanako."

She returns my bow and lets out a girlish giggle.

"That sounds a little bit like mine. I am Iwanako."

"So... ah... I'll be g-going then."

She nods

"Thank you again."

I make my way over to the exit, but before I open it I look behind me one more time. Iwanako smiles at me and gives me a small wave.

"Hanako... enjoy your date today."

I smile bashfully.

"Y-You too, Iwanako."

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

"I was beginning to worry whether the door of your stall got jammed."

I give my boyfriend, who I find waiting outside the ladies' room, a guilty smile.

"S-Sorry for making you wait."

"Well, at least I have the feeling that I'm not the only one who's waiting for his lady friend."

He shoots a brief look at another person who's standing in the hallway and who appears to be keeping an eye on the door I just exited.

"Let's get back to our booth."

I take hold of his sleeve and give it a gentle tug to indicate I'm eager to get back.

"Okay, okay, no need to rush. If we exceed the time we have we can always extend our stay a second time."

We move back into our booth, but before I take the microphone I turn to Hisao.

"Hisao? If it's okay with you, I'd like to go somewhere else after our time here is up."

"Sure, Hanako. Any suggestions?"

"I would... like to see your old high s-school, or maybe the game center you used t-to visit."

"Hmmm."

He seems deep in thought for a moment.

"Can we move that to tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow?"

"Yeah, we might actually end up running into someone I know there and I'm not completely sure how to act around them yet. I'd like to sleep a night on it if that's okay with you."

"Sure."

"I know a cozy movie theater I've been to a few times in the past that's about a 15 minute bus ride away from here. We could go there and see if there are any nice movies playing."

"That sounds like fun."

"It's a deal then. But let's go through a few more songs first."

"Okay."

He takes one of the soft drinks standing on the table and raises it.

"To a wonderful date."

I take my own soft drink and touch the bottle against his.

"T-To a wonderful date."
07
My anxiety from the incident at the reception desk vanished, I pick a song from the karaoke machine, grab the microphone and then walk up to Hisao and gently sit on his lap. As I start singing and he lovingly wraps his arms around my waist, I think back on the last words of the conversation in the restroom and smile.

I think I will enjoy my date today.
08
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 37

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:02 am

Chapter 37
01
The sounds of footsteps approaching the kitchen draws my attention away from the cupboard containing what I believe to be various cooking implements. I've been trying to memorize the layout of the kitchen and the contents of the cupboards and drawers since the start of this week. Due to the size of the kitchen this is not exactly a small task.

As the footsteps get closer, I softly tilt my head to try and determine the identity of the person approaching me. From the sound of the heels it must be a woman, so that rules out Father. The footsteps' pace is also too quick and steady to be his. It could be Allison. Or perhaps Fiona, the cleaning lady. From what I've noticed, Fiona's pace is more energetic than this, so that must mean Allison has returned from her shopping trip. I turn around and try to face the doorway so I can greet the person walking into the room.

"Good afternoon, Allison. You're back sooner than I expected."

"Good afternoon, Miss Lilly. I was lucky it wasn't very busy at Raigmore's apothecary, so it only took a few minutes to get your father's latest batch of medication."

"I greatly appreciate it. May I ask you a question?"

"Of course."

"When we have visitors here, do we usually serve green or black tea?"

"It depends on the visitors. We offer both out of courtesy, but people from around here usually stick with black and the few times your father has Japanese visitors over they usually prefer green."

"Do you often have visitors here?"

"Your mother has visitors almost weekly. There are friends with whom she goes on bike rides around the countryside, and they usually have tea before and after the ride. She's also chairwoman of the neighborhood association, and meetings often take place in this house."

"Mother certainly lives an active life. Doesn't she ever take it easy?"

Allison chuckles as if I just told her a very funny joke.

"I do not think your mother is the type for that."

I smile wistfully. Mother has changed so much from the way I remember her. Back in Japan she hardly ever left the house and wouldn't even go to my school's PTA meetings or take us to the park. Would I change this much if I had decided to move here? It's a bit of a creepy thought. I like the way I am.

"How about visitors for Father?"

"People from the Japanese branch occasionally stop by in Inverness, and your father lets them spend the night here instead of at a hotel. He always looks forwards to their visits, and when they stay here we are asked to treat them like royalty. But such a thing only happens once every four months or so."

"We will be getting a visitor from Father's office later this day. He called earlier today, and he asked if it was okay if he stopped by after work to drop off some equipment for us."

"I see. That means he will probably be here within 40 minutes or so. But I don't think your father would appreciate it if we let that colleague come up into the master bedroom."

"No, he would not. I think it would be best if we receive him in Father's study. Isn't that where he usually has his guests?"

"It is. So what would you like me to do, Miss Lilly?"

"Ahem..."

This is a bit awkward. Two days ago, Mother took a flight to the United States together with a business delegation consisting of Akira, Kojima and a few more colleagues, leaving Father and me as the sole residents in this house. Allison was supposed to be responsible for running the day-to-day things here, but only minutes after we left Inverness airport, she started getting slightly more formal than usual with me and explained that as far as she was concerned I was the lady of the house right now and officially in charge of the household. I was taken back by that at first, but over the last two days I've slowly started growing into the role that had been handed to me, and although I'm not about to admit it out loud, I am somewhat enjoying it.

"Perhaps it would be good if Fiona could make certain that the room is cleaned and vacuumed. Because of its distinct appearance, our visitor is certain to pay close attention to the state of its interior."

"As you wish. If I give Miss Wilson a hand, I am certain we'll be able to have it looking prim and proper in 10 minutes."

"Wonderful. After Father's colleague called, I made a phone call to the nurse we hired to do Father's daily checkup, and she thinks he should be able to handle a short meeting as long as he rests up afterwards. When our visitor arrives, I could perhaps do the serving while you wake up Father, make certain he looks presentable and help him down the stairs. I might have trouble with some of those tasks myself."

"Not a problem. Do you wish me to help you make the tea, Miss Lilly?"

"I think I can manage. Assuming everything is still in the same place as it was yesterday."

"It should be. I brought some tasty biscuits along to go with the tea. I put the box containing them on the second shelf of the cupboard next to the fridge."

"Shall we get started then?"

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

"Good afternoon. May I help you?"

After the doorbell rang, I made my way over to the front door, while Allison went to help Father get out of bed. I do hope he will be okay. It's only been about two weeks since his heart attack and he's only been home for a few days.

"Good afternoon. Geoffry McLaughlin. We spoke on the phone two hours ago."

I make a gracious bow towards him.

"Welcome, Mister McLaughlin. I am Lilly Satou. This way please. My father will be with you shortly."

"Thanks."

I make my way back to the study with McLaughlin following close behind.

"Wow, nice place you've got here."

"You're flattering us."

He chuckles briefly at my response, but doesn't say anything back. When we reach the study and I open the door for him, he lets out a soft 'Holy Shit' under his breath.

"Please take a seat while I get you some tea. Would you prefer black or green tea?"

He pauses for a bit, probably wondering whether it's okay to let a blind person serve him hot tea, but then responds.

"Black with just a dash of milk, please."

"Certainly. I will be right back."

"One question if you don't mind."

"Of course."

"Do you have Wifi in this place?"

"Ah... Wifi?"

"Wireless network. I'd like to start setting things up, and it'd be good to know if I have to use the ethernet cable I brought along or if I can set up a wireless connection. Either way's fine."

My smile becomes a little more forced. I have no idea what he's talking about. He's probably assuming that every teenager, even a blind one, knows what a Wifi is.

"Ah... I'm afraid I... can't help you."

"That's fine. I'll just power up the laptop and see if it can detect any wireless routers around here. If I can find any and authorization is needed, I can ask your father for the password. Okay?"

Translation!

I force the brightest smile I can muster.

"That would be... good. I will be right back."

I quickly make my way out of the room and head over to the kitchen. I take the kettle from the stove, fill the tea pot and think back on what just happened. That was painfully embarrassing. I thank God that Father's not here right now, because he would certainly feel that I brought shame on him by my blatant display of computer illiteracy.

I can't let this throw me off though. After preparing the tea (and some fruit juice for Father) I carefully head back to the study, making sure not to accidentally drop the tray while reaching for the door handle.

"I apologize for taking so long."

"That's fine. I doubt I'd be able to prepare tea if I wasn't able to see what I was doing."

I pour a bit of milk into his cup and carefully fill it. Then I fill my own. I hold his cup out to him until he takes it from my hands.

"Please enjoy."

"Thanks."

"It might take Father a few minutes to get ready. Sorry for the inconvenience."

"No need to apologize. Suffering from a heart attack isn't something anyone would do on purpose, now is it?"

"That is certainly true. May I inquire what exactly do you do at the company, Mister McLaughlin?"

"You know, you can call me Geoffry if you wish. No need to be formal."

I merely smile at him. If Father heard me address one of his colleagues with his first name, I'd probably get in trouble.

"Anyway, I'm a system administrator. My colleague Alec and I are in charge of the department that maintains the computers, company network and servers at the office. We also take care of whatever issues people have with their computer systems. Hehe, in a way we're the most powerful people in the company."

I politely chuckle at his remark, but remind myself I'd better try and steer the conversation away from his area of expertise if I don't want to embarrass myself again.

"Your mother came to us last week with the request to set up a digital conference system."

Indeed. During the days I spent at Father's side after he was hospitalized, it quickly became clear to me that the matter of him now missing out on the final steps of the company's expansion wasn't a passing problem. And while I was thinking on how to help him, Hanako's suggestion of a teleconference came back to mind.

I first spoke to Akira about the feasibility and then later to Mother and Father as well. Mother wasn't extremely enthusiastic about going to the US without Father at first, and I don't think her reluctance was out of insecurity. Rather, she seems to partially blame Father's condition on the company and wasn't eager to stick her neck out for it instead of remaining by her husband's side. Eventually, I managed to convince her that helping Father tie up this loose end would be the best way to get the four of us together again. As for Father, he was reluctant as well because he considered not showing up in person to an important meeting to be an insult to his business partners although when Mother assured him that these were special circumstances and that the people we'd be meeting wouldn't think less of him for it, he eventually relented.

"I am glad you managed to obtain the necessary equipment so quickly."

"Well, we've worked with stuff like this before, so it wasn't that big of a deal."

I hear him take a careful sip from his cup.

"By the way, how is your dad?"

"He's getting better. Though it is unlikely he will be seen in the workplace any time soon."

I pause for a moment and then continue.

"Mister McLaughlin... It is probably best to tell you in advance that my father will not be able to talk at length and can only be present for a very short while. It would be good if you could take that into account."

"...fair enough. I'll try not to waste any time. I kind of need to get home quickly too. Lord knows it's going to be a long night for me as well. Alec's gonna owe me quite a few pints when he gets back."

"Your colleague accompanied our business delegation to the United States, didn't he?"

"Yeah, we drew straws to determine who was going to stay here and who was going to take a trip to the US and stay in a luxury hotel. Three guesses who took the short one."

I giggle a bit at his remark.

"That's unfortunate for you, but I assume that someone had to stay behind."

"Yeah and to be honest, this was for the best. Alec's a bit of an eternal bachelor, and he can afford to go there for a week or two. I have a wife and a seven-year old waiting for me at home, and my boy has football training at six each Wednesday. It'd be kinda hard to drive him there when I'm on the other side of the world. His mom could do it if necessary, I get called on emergencies from time to time, but there's usually nothing but fathers on the sidelines. Football is really a guy thing, you know?"

"Of course."

He's talking about it like it's normal for him to be home around that time each day. Maybe it is over here, but if that's the case then that's a pretty big contrast from the way things were in my childhood. Even before he left the country, Father's job often kept him away from the home for six days a week, and he wouldn't return from work until way after my bedtime. It was this way with all fathers in the neighborhood. During these weeks where I've been by his bedside, we've probably had more extended interaction than any other time in my life I remember.

I consider asking him about his son, but my ears suddenly pick up the sound of approaching footsteps. I instinctively rise to my feet when they stop on the other side of the door, and when it opens, I greet my father with a graceful bow.
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 37 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:02 am

"Hello Father. I'm glad you could join us."

"Lilly. Mister... McLaughlin. Good afternoon."

I can tell that he's doing his best to speak at normal volume. Since speaking too loudly or even breathing too deeply is still painful and very exhausting, I doubt he will last very long. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that he'll do whatever it takes to make certain his colleague won't notice.

"Good afternoon, sir. How are you feeling?"

"I am well... thank you. I apologize for the delay."

"Not a problem. Your daughter's an excellent host."

I wait until he's seated, pour him a glass of fruit juice and hand it to him.

"Would you like some more tea, sir?"

"I haven't finished my first cup yet, but thanks."

He scrapes his throat.

"I'll try not to take up too much of your time. Shall I start explaining how we've set up things?"

A short pause before responding. I know that Father prefers to start meetings off slowly with some polite small talk and that getting down to business immediately feels rude to him, but at the same time he seems to remember the importance of saving his strength.

"Please proceed."
02
"First of all, I notice there's a wireless network set up here. I can log the laptop onto it, but I will need the network password."

"Please... check under... the table."

I hear a the sound of fingers probing the underside of the table surface.

"Ah! A network cable. I didn't realize that table leg was hollow. That'll do fine too."

I hear a soft click as the cable he spoke of is inserted into a device on the table.

"Looks like we have a connection to the web. This laptop here runs the conference software we've installed. This little unit next to it is the transmitter for the wireless headset. The headset should be able to pick up the signal from just about anywhere inside the house. I also have a normal headset ready on the off chance of the transmitter failing."

"I... beg your... pardon, but do... you have... a spare head... set?"

"Would you like someone else listening in too?"

"If... she is... interested."

I realize that Father's talking about me. I was planning to remain by his side this night, but I didn't expect being given a chance to actually listen in. I doubt I'll understand much of what's discussed, but this is quite the chance to hear my parents 'working'.

"I'd be honored, Father."

"I have several more headsets back at the office. I'll stop by there and fetch one later this evening."

"Thank you."

"This laptop is part of a pair. Alec took the other one along to the US. He has a transmitter just like the one here, except it's connected to a collection of microphones. Since some of those meetings the upcoming week will be held over dinner, we felt that putting a teleconference unit on the table might be cumbersome. The microphones we'll be handing out to the participants are the small, unintrusive kind. You clip them onto your lapel and then forget they are there. They have a noise filter too, so you shouldn't have any problems making out what is said even if there are other discussions going on nearby, and if the volume is too soft, the conferencing software has the ability to amplify the incoming voices."

"That is good. After... all, I will not... be able... to ask them to... repeat themselves."

"That's true. Everyone in the room will be getting a microphone, but only your oldest daughter will have an earphone, so she'll be the only one who can actually hear you."

Akira's job will be to act as Father's proxy. If, at any point, Father wants to bring up his own points, he will mention them to Akira and it'll be her task to relay them to the rest of the room.

"We also took the possibility into account that people might want to share documents. Alec has a small scanner with him, and I have a wireless printer in the trunk of my car. Any documents or graphs they want you to look at can be transferred from there to here in a matter of moments."

"Quite convenient. I... suppose all that is... left is to ex... plain to me how to set... up the connection."

"I think I actually have a better idea, sir."

"..."

I silently cringe. I'd be very surprised if Father didn't take that as an insult and the fact that I'm present here as well probably only made things worse. But to my surprise, there isn't even a subtle change in tone when my father answers.

"What exactly... did you... have in mind?"



"Well, I was thinking about changing the plan and being present here myself to operate the equipment. I could get things running over here while you and your daughter can relax in the room of your choosing and leave the technical stuff to me. You can focus on the meetings while I keep the connection running, handle the receiving and printing of incoming scans and immediately jump in in case of a malfunction."

"You would... work from this room... then?"

"Yeah. I can take over and control the laptop from my desk at the office, but in case of technical issues I'd still need to drive over here, and that could take up to 10 to 15 minutes. If I'm allowed to handle things here, that will also mean there won't be any need for me to spend time teaching you the ropes about setting up the connection and working with the software."

"...Very well then."

"Great. I believe the first meeting is set to take place at ten o' clock our time, so I could be here at nine to set things up. We'll have plenty of time to run some tests and talk to our guys on the other side."

"It has... decided then."

Sensing that there's not much more business to discuss, I take advantage of the moment of silence to address Father's colleague.

"Can I pour you another cup of tea, sir?"

"Just one then. I don't want to impose on you longer than necessary."

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

"Should I take the printer out of my car now or is it just going to get in the way?"

The meeting ended with a minimum of small talk, and I have taken it upon myself to see our visitor out while Allison guides Father back to the master bedroom."

"Is there a need to do... something... with it before it can be used?"

"No. Your father can turn it on and press the connect button and my laptop will find it as long as it's within range. I assume you'll want to remain in a bedroom upstairs this evening?"

"Yes, it would indeed be most convenient if he remains in bed. If you leave the printer in the hallway, our housekeeper will take it upstairs."

I hear the sound of the trunk opening and then being slammed shut. After putting his cargo in the hallway, he walks up to me again.

"I could tell he was straining himself earlier on. I'll set your dad's microphone's output volume a little higher than usual so he won't need to raise his voice as much. I have a buddy who broke a few ribs in a rugby match once, and he spoke in little more than single syllables while he was recovering. It's a real pain when you can't breathe well."

"Thank you for going through the trouble of accommodating him."

"Don't sweat it. I'll be back in a few hours."

I remain near the front door until the sound of his car's engine is no longer audible and then make my way back inside. Father is probably resting right now, which gives me time to get started on today's dinner. This is probably going to be a long night, so it'll be best to be well prepared.

--------------------------------------
03
"I did not even hear the doorbell. Your sharp... sense of hearing never ceases to amaze me."

I smile humbly upon re-entering the master bedroom after briefly going downstairs to let the system administrator in and making certain he was provided with a cup of tea. The housekeeping staff all went home two hours ago, but Allison made sure that everything she thought I'd need for tonight would be in a place where I could easily find it.

"It wasn't really the doorbell itself. I heard the sound of a car outside."

"Nevertheless."

As inconvenient as my blindness is at times, I'm thankful for the fact that it has honed my sense of hearing to a greater degree. Speaking at length still tires and discomforts Father, but as long as he keeps his voice down to a whisper, he can communicate without it hurting too much. That does mean people other than me are forced to ask him to repeat himself every two sentences or so.

"Has Mister McLaughlin gotten settled in there?"

"Yes. I've made sure to serve him some tea and left the water boiler and a supply of tea bags in the study so he can make some additional tea for himself if he feels like it. I also asked him to knock and wait for me to come out rather than walk into this room if he needs to talk to us. He's currently on the phone with his fellow administrator, but he said everything will be ready in half an hour."

"So we still have about half an hour... of time to kill."

"Would you like to rest for a little bit more?"

"I do not think I would... be able to sleep in the current situation. But perhaps you could give... me another bowl of your hot soup. It is truly on... par with the rest of your cooking."

"I will."

I walk over to the corner of the room where a small electric stove is keeping the large pan of miso soup that I made this afternoon to get us through the night warm with its single heated plate. I went through a lot of effort to make the soup myself, but the result is apparently quite pleasing to Father. I fill a bowl with the contents of the pan, slowly walk back to the bed and carefully place it in Father's hands.

"Let's hope everything goes well, and we'll have no difficulties."

" Mister McLaughlin seems capable enough. We... should be fine."

My thoughts return to the talk we had with him earlier today.

"Father, may I ask something?"

"What is it?"

"What did you think of his proposal?"

"To handle his duties in here instead of from the office? I am not... overly fond of others using my private study... without me being present, but his suggestion was the most practical and riskfree one."

"I understand, but there was something that caught my attention."

"You are referring to the way he brought it up, are you... not?"

"If his words offended you, you did a good job of hiding it."

Father lets out a self-deprecating sigh.

"Welcome to western civilization, Lilly. It is quite... a different world over here."

"I imagine."

"A subordinate telling his superior that he 'has a better idea', especially in... the presence of others, would be a massive transgression in our home country. But westerners... are a lot more tolerant and sometimes even encouraging when it comes to questioning or challenging... people in positions of authority. As long as the challenge has merit... and is voiced in a civil way, it is deemed acceptable and the person being challenged... is expected to acknowledge it without feeling slighted or shamed. I was told in advance to expect this, but... it takes some getting used to. It helps to realize the people here weren't... brought up with our value system. I think... I would probably still expect Japanese employees to stick to our own etiquette."

That probably explains why he puts up with an employee making him lose face in front of his family without even a change in heartbeat while I get put on prohibition for falling asleep in the wrong place.

"Are there any other Japanese working here besides Akira?"

"None that I know of at the... moment. We have good relations with several universities... in the region, so there has been little need to borrow talent... from the Japanese office. People from here sometimes travel to Japan and we get visitors from their branch, but we are not involved in each... other's day-to-day activities. This branch was... initially only intended as a production plant. Assembling and later also manufacturing the equipment that was sold to our clients in the region here... was cheaper than producing it in Japan and then shipping it to Europe. Eventually... it started picking up more and more... customers and became a full-fledged sister company. The board... has been playing with the idea of sending managers from the Japanese branch here to make them familiar... with this part of the company, but did not want to immediately replace the Scottish managers who have been doing a good job serving this company for years. I became... manager of this branch six years ago because that was when the former local manager here retired, and I could take his place without pushing away someone else. One of my tasks was to... test which aspects of Japanese management style could be succesfully implemented here and which ones would merely... cause frustration. You cannot just lead... a western company like... a Japanese one or a Japanese company like a western one... and expect it to work out."

"That sounds like a tough job. Japanese management style and company culture are very different from the western one, aren't they?"

"They are. Japanese... management emphasizes loyalty and insight gained through... seniority, long-time goals, risk avoidance, maintaining harmony and decision-making through well-crafted consensus. Western management emphasizes quick... returns on investment, individual decisiveness, efficiency and calculated risks. Many times the... two seem incompatible. I have found that many people... here often do not have the patience for sitting in meetings for hours on end until a consensus is made on how... to deal with a problem. Westerners... also have a very different definition of company loyalty than Japanese, and that is not something you can ignore when leading a company."

"I'm sure both cultures have their merits."

"Hmmm... It was not really my intention to complain. There is something interesting about the carefree way... they can go about their lives without the burden of what others... might or might not think of them. They also admittedly handle diversity a lot better than we do."

I wonder if that's truly a touch of envy I hear for a moment. I feel a bit taken off guard by his words.

"That's a rather frank assessment..."

"On the other hand, many could... be more loyal. You would be surprised how... many western managers seem unwilling to impose a... pay cut on themselves while their company is going through hard... times. Too many people, workers and managers alike, only seem to be in... it for themselves. It is hard for me to understand that attitude. I... try not to condemn them though. Nor am I saying that their culture... is better... or worse. I believe it is best to keep an open mind about the differences... between our society and theirs. It would be very difficult for... me to lead a branch consisting of almost nothing but Scotsmen and... deal with American businessmen on an almost daily basis if I let everything about western culture get to me."

I suppose what he says makes sense. When moving to another country, it's logical to try and adapt a little to fit in with the local people better. It just feels a little off to hear my father, who I've always seen as very traditionally-minded, say these things. It clashes with the image I had of him. I initially thought it was just Mother who changed during her time here, but perhaps Father has changed in his own subtle way as well.

Still, managing a company with a completely different business culture must have been a very harrowing job for Father, and I'm starting to suspect that the stress he's been under may have been caused by more than just social pressure to live up to his own father's accomplishments. His job here has probably been sapping a lot of his energy from the very beginning. That would explain why the doctors said that he's had high blood pressure for years.

"It still sounds like it must have been very stressful for you. How do you think Akira will handle the culture shock?"

"I think she will... do fine. Your sister can be very straight-forward when... she feels she needs to be and westerners value that trait as long as... it is combined with a modicum of respect. Young people tend to be more adaptable to... begin with. I suspect she will do a better job at integrating... into western culture than I could ever hope to do. I have... heard that her transferring here required some sacrifice, but I feel... fairly confident that in the long run she will not regret her decision to move here."

"Ah... Father? About that..."

"Yes?"

"Were you... very disappointed in me when you learned I decided to stay in Japan?"

"Hmmm..."

There's a long pause after I pose my question, and for a moment I'm starting to suspect he's not going to answer in order to avoid hurting my feelings. But just before I can apologize for asking him, he answers.

"When we invited you and Akira to join... us here, I used to believe that if anyone would reject our offer, it... would be Akira rather than you. I was... rather shocked when your mother told me the news. But, on the other hand..."

"Y-Yes?"

"...From what I have heard from... you about your life in Japan over the last two weeks, I know that you had your life set up well there. You had a school... you enjoyed attending, a position of responsibility among... your classmates and friends you enjoyed spending time with. All of those are valuable things. To... give all of that up, just to make a brand new start on the other end of the... world in a country with a culture completely different from your own... is quite a gamble."

"Father...? Are you saying...?"

"All I am saying is that while it is most regrettable that you decided to stay there, I do understand why you chose to do so."

"I..."

I don't know what to say for several seconds. What I feel right now is a strange mixture of relief and befuddlement. I've always assumed that Father would be dismayed by the fact that I turned down the summons. He was always the one who would talk to us about the benefits of respecting and deferring to your elders. Did he start getting second thoughts about having me move here?

"Thank you for your understanding, Father."
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Chapter 37 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:03 am

Or is this about something else? Is it possible his words earlier weren't merely a reflection on my situation, but also on his own? I've learned from Father's and Akira's stories that the work culture between Japan and Scotland is radically different. In Japan, working overtime is pretty much a daily occurrance and leaving before the boss goes home is considered rude and bad for the team spirit, so people like Father would usually remain at the office until late in the evening. Afterwards, the various teams would go out drinking together or visit karaoke establishments. Since so little time is spent at home, people's entire circle of friends tends to consist of the same colleagues they spent a large part of their week with.

But judging from what Akira has told me, people here often immediately go home at the end of their official work day, and they only do overtime when there's an approaching deadline to meet. While it's not uncommon for friendships to form on the workfloor here, most people here develop their friendships outside the workplace through social activities like sport clubs, hobbies or pub visits. Mother quickly developed a big social network here and has been partaking in a large number of activities outside her working hours, but how well did Father adapt here? After over 25 years of having all his social interaction through the workplace, how quickly could someone like him switch gears? Was him doing all that overwork here on his own purely out of loyalty to the company and to his own father or was it also because any time outside his office was simply spent at home in that study of his, reading one of the countless books he keeps there? Is the quantity of books in there an indication of how much of his free time he spent on his own without the company of others? Did he want Akira and me here because he desired more company? Was loneliness part of the stress factors that nearly ended up killing him? Did he say what he just said because of the possibility that I might have ended up feeling lonely here as well?

"Father?"

"Yes?"

I skim the surface of the bed with my fingers until I locate his hand and gently place my own on top of it.

"How about the life you had in Japan? And the friends you had there? Aren't you... lonely here?"

An uncomfortable pause. I can sense his hand stiffening for a moment. Was that question out of line?

"Is that... pity I hear in your voice, Lilly?"

"Just a bit of concern for your well-being, Father."

"I have been fine, Lilly."

The tone in his voice pretty much confirms what I've been thinking. But he probably feels that over the last few weeks he's already shown enough vulnerability to his children, so I doubt that prying further into his personal feelings will achieve anything other than making him uncomfortable. So I drop the subject, but not before giving his hand a gentle comforting squeeze.

Not really knowing how to continue the discussion, we simply stay like this for a little while, neither of us bothered by the prolonged silence, until my attention is drawn to a static noise coming from the nearby nightstand.

"The headsets. It sounds like it's starting. Would you like one more bowl of miso soup, Father?"

"That would be appreciated."

I refill Father's bowl and take the two headsets off the nightstand. We both put one on and I carefully speak into the microphone.

"Ah... is this thing on already?"

"It is and I can pick you up loud and clear, Miss Satou."

"Mister McLaughlin. How are things proceeding so far?"

"We've succesfully got a session running. The clip-on microphones have all been distributed to the meeting's participants, but we're keeping their microphones muted until the meeting has officially started. It'd be kind of a cacophony otherwise."

"Could we... speak to... my daughter... or Mrs. Satou?"

"Sure. I'm adding you two to the session right now. Then I'm going to take a short bathroom break. I'll be back in five minutes."

"Hello?"
04
"Hey Sis! Will you be listening in too?"

"Akira! It's so nice to hear you again. How was the flight?"

"Kinda long, but our airline had some very luxury business class seats, so I can't complain. Heh, they have some pretty good liquor too."

"Akira. Is everything... ready? I do not... hear anyone else... nearby."

"That's because I just retreated to one of the empty meeting rooms here. I figured that in case you wanted to discuss some last minute stuff, it'd look weird if others see me talking to thin air."

"Wouldn't they notice the headset? It seems like something that would be hard to miss."

"I'm not wearing a headset. I have the same microphone on my lapel as everyone else and I'm listening to you through one of those earpieces that secret agents often wear in movies. Hehe, I was just thinking... between the earpiece and the business suit, all I'd be needing right now would be a sidearm and maybe some sunglasses, and I'd be ready to join the secret service."

I laugh at Akira's wacky remark, but hear a soft groan coming from Father. It seems Akira's playful attitude isn't inspiring confidence in him.

"Akira... can I... count on you to take... this a hundred... percent seriously?"

"Dad, it's not like I've never been part of business meetings before. Everything will be fine, I promise."

"Just act... like the person... standing in... for me is... expected to act. *mumble* And I will have your... mother buy you a vodka martini afterwards."

"Hmmm? I didn't catch that last part."

"Never mind. Am I sufficiently... audible to you?"

"You are. You can probably speak a bit softer if that feels more comfortable."

"That might... cause problems if... someone else is... speaking at the same time."

"Father? Perhaps you should lower your voice a bit more so that speaking is less painful for you. If at any point Akira didn't hear you clearly, maybe she could softly clear her throat as a cue and I will repeat your words to her."

"That's a pretty good idea, Sis. Something like this?"

We hear her let out a soft 'hrmm' under her breath.

"That will probably suffice. Father?"

Father lets out a resigned sigh.

"Very well. Let us... give that a try."

"I'll be heading back to the rest. Mom's finished giving everyone a mic, and she's explained your situation. Without getting too specific, of course. I'll leave it to her to give you the details, but so far everyone's reacted very positively, and Mom got word from just about everyone that they're willing to go out of their way to accommodate you."

"I really hope... that will not be necessary."

"By the way, Kojima will be seated at the head of the table in your place despite you being 'present'. We figured the board wanted a senior in that seat instead of me, despite him only being an observer in a practical sense and me representing you directly."

"I agree with... that decision."

While Akira's speaking, I become aware of a slight background noise appearing on the line, indicating the vicinity of other people. I faintly hear Mother's voice asking Akira if she's ready.

"Yeah, I'm ready and so is Dad. Let's go in."

The next moment, we're startled by a wave of voices as the microphones of the meeting room's occupants are turned on. I cringe a bit as the room suddenly appears to be filled with people. Just as I prepare to take off the earphones, the fragments of conversation suddenly fade out and then increase in volume again. I fiddle a bit with the dial on my headset until the sound volume's comfortable. I notice that some voices sound further away than others and certain people are specifically audible through either the left or the right speaker. I suppose the administrators set this up in some way or another and smile in appreciation of their effort to make the experience feel more natural to us.

And then finally, the meeting begins. Kojima opens the meeting with a short introduction, followed by a word from Father, consisting mostly of an apology for not being able to be there in person and a statement of appreciation for his business partners. I personally think he might have stressed the apologetic part too much, yet Akira delivers his words without a single trace of insincerity nor do I hear even a hint of the usual defiance in her voice that's almost always there when she's dealing with our parents. I suppose in her mind right now Akira isn't representing her father, but rather representing her boss. It's impressive how much of a difference that makes with her.

What stands out most for me, however, is hearing Mother. Unlike Father, who merely listens most of the time and only rarely takes the opportunity to provide a quick summary or offer his own opinion, Mother turns out to be the member of the delegation who seems to be handling most of the questions and counterproposals. Her tone right now isn't the energetic and casual one I've been struggling to get used to over the last few weeks. Instead, it's polite and relaxed, yet confident and in charge at the same time. I've never heard Mother speak this way before. I realize I have to remain focussed in order to assist Father, so I try not to think about it too hard.

The meeting ends up taking two hours with only a short coffee break near the middle. For the most part, I've simply sat by and listened, repeating Father's words to Akira when necessary, handing Father scanned graphs and proposal summaries as they roll out of the nearby printer and refilling our bowls of soup once or twice. Still, after two hours of taking in a continuous stream of information, I feel drained. When the microphones are turned off, I let out an exhausted sigh.

"Tired?"

"Only a little bit. This will be good practice for the months prior to the exams though, which will involve cramming as much information as possible into my head."

"That is one way of looking at it."

"I suppose I should show Mister McLaughlin out. It's probably late for him as well."

"That would be appreciated. Since there... are a meeting and a business dinner planned for tomorrow, it... will be okay for him to sleep in tomorrow morning. He... will probably have to be up for most of the night."

"I will tell him so."

--------------------------------------
05
"He will be back here at eight o' clock tomorrow evening."

After showing the system administrator out, I returned to Father's room. Judging by the sound of his voice, he's either feeling less tired than I am right now or he's simply doing a better job at hiding it.

"That is good to hear."

"He was quite relieved when I told him he could sleep in. He said that this had to have been one of the longest working days of his career."

"Hmmm. I suppose it would be ungrateful to... point out to him that at our Japanese branch we used... to consider any working day shorter than 11 hours to be an unproductive one on general principle. "

"Looking on the bright side, he at least didn't leave before his boss went home today."

"Touché."

He chuckles a bit at my remark, then groans in discomfort. Laughing too much will probably be out of the question for the time being.

"Father, can I get you anything before we retire for the night?"

"Hmmm..."

There's a long pause as if he's considering something to himself.

"If I still had been at our Japanese... office, my co-workers and I would have headed over to a drinking establishment... to drink and celebrate today's events right about now..."

"Do you want me to fetch you some wine, Father?"

"I suppose a little nightcap cannot hurt. You have been to the cellar before, have you not? Is it not too difficult to navigate?"

"Not overly so."

"One of the bottles of wine on the second shelf from the top will probably do. I am certain you already know where to find some glasses."

"I'm sorry, but...did you say glasses?"

"You know what they say about people who... drink alone. You may not be a co-worker, but you did do your... best to help out this evening. It is okay... with me for you to have a drink or two...as long as it is under the supervision of an adult."

My smile widens a bit. This is certainly one pleasant and unexpected surprise.

"Thank you, Father."

With a bit of effort, I manage to get a bottle from the wine rack in the cellar and two glasses and a corkscrew from the kitchen and get them all to the master bedroom in one piece. Father takes the bottle and corkscrew from my hands, and moments later, I hear the distinct sound of a bottle being uncorked, and the smell of white wine teases my nostrills. I sit on the side of the bed, hold out my glass and hear a sloshing sound as it's being filled.

"Just remember... that a proper lady does... not pass out on the couch."

I playfully raise my hand.

"It will not happen again. The Lord is my witness."

"Very well. To the success of your mother and... your sister then."

"And to your speedy recovery as well, Father."

"That too."

I carefully balance the glass in my hand, bring it up to my face and slowly breathe in in order to sample the wine's aroma. I continue taking in the smell until it leaves a subtly sweet taste in my mouth and then take a few soft sips. The wine's taste turns out to be as pleasing as its fragrance.

"Father, I suppose this nightcap indicates that the meeting went well overall?"

"Things matched my expectations. Aside from Akira, who performed better than I expected."

"How about Mother?"

"She did as expected. She has... been part of everything since this all began, so she... knows how to handle herself."

"Really?"

"Your mother has been an true asset to the company from the... moment we came here. She did an excellent job helping the staff and... me get used to one another's mindset and bridge the cultural... divides. She has also always been ready with advice on how... to best deal with our Scottish staff and how to best interact... with American business contacts. I also quickly discovered that her knack... for networking and connecting with business people has remained as sharp as it... undoubtedly was in her days as a business reporter."

There's an unmistakable hint of admiration in his voice, and I'd probably feel a sense of pride if all of this wasn't so new to me. Shortly after Father was hospitalized, Akira suggested his and Mother's marriage was in ruins, but from the way they speak about one another, I think she was sorely mistaken. Still, Father's words once again make me wonder who Mother really is. The quiet and graceful homemaker I remember from my childhood? The energetic woman I've been spending time with here? Or the confident businesswoman I heard through my headset this evening? Perhaps a combination of all three? Is that even possible?

"Father, how... do you see Mother?"

"Akira was incorrect about us... Lilly. Please just take my word for that."

He doesn't really seem to be eager to discuss that particular subject, so I decide to drop it and move to a different topic.

"Mother certainly handled herself well from what I could tell. I don't think I'd be capable of such a thing. But then again corporate business isn't really where my own interests lie."

I hear Father let out a soft 'hmmm' as he hears this.

"You have... plans for the future then?"

"I would like to study English after I graduate and become a teacher after finishing my higher education."

"I had a very good English teacher back in... university. It is a valuable job. You would... be surprised about how many businessmen in our country, even senior... ones, are insecure about their own English skills. And yet it... is important in staying relevant in this age of globalisation. But... ah..."

I give him a reassuring smile.

"You can ask, Father. I won't be offended."

"Is that not hard? How would you prevent... students from cheating on a test for example? Or handle discipline?"

"I would seek the help of another English teacher. At times when my class has to take a test, I'll ask him to switch classes. He keeps an eye on my class for an hour while I teach his. As for discipline, I would make a seating chart so that I know where each pupil is sitting and I would walk around the classroom while teaching, so I can keep students in check through force of proximity."

"How about tests? How would you grade them?"

"I would again engage in a deal with a fellow English teacher. I would prepare and write up both my own tests and his, as well as the corresponding answer keys and he would do the grading. I'm...ah...still trying to think up how to deal with essays. If I wanted to check a specific pupil's homework, I'd have them read it to me out loud."

I take another sip of the delicious wine before continuing.

"I would also attempt to create a sense of team spirit in each class I'd teach, so pupils could eventually be relied on to grade each other's homework. I acknowledge that school teachers have duties that require sight, but there are just as many which do not. By volunteering to take some tasks of the latter category off my colleagues' hands, I can get away with asking them to help me with things I cannot do myself."

My explanation is followed up by a long silence on his end. I can almost hear the gears in his head turning as he weighs and evaluates every word I just said. Then, just before I am about to break the silence...

"You seem to have put... a lot of thought into this."

I wonder what he thinks about my plans for the future. I weigh the tone in his voice for traces of skepticism, but the only thing I can pick up is a sense of honest curiosity.

"It's been a dream of mine since middle school, so I've had some time to think about it."

"You learn something new every day."

As I empty my glass, he takes it from my hand and pours a bit more wine into it. When I take it back, I notice it's lighter than the first time. It's probably only half-full this time around. We gently touch our glasses together and then slowly sip the contents. After noticing a failed effort to supress a yawn on my part, Father decides that enough is enough for today and bids me good night. I carefully make my way to the door, but as I open it I hear a soft chuckle behind me.

"Father?"

"It is nothing. Just an... amusing thought that came to me just now."

"Hmmm?"

"I just thought about how... different it felt, holding... a meeting this way. Interacting with people without being... able to see their faces. Having to determine who is... talking purely by the sound of their voice, their accent and... the direction their speech is coming from. I suppose... you can relate... to this?"

I cover my mouth to mask a cheerful giggle. For some reason it feels really good to hear him say something like this.

"Trust me when I say that it's not so bad once you get used to it."
06
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:07 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 38

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:03 am

Chapter 38
01
The sun is already setting by the time Hisao and I make our way to the parking lot. I received a text message from Lilly's mother telling me that they landed safely and that she'll drop Lilly off near the school gates.

“Are you sure they’ll be here soon?”

“Yes. It should take them less than an hour to get here.”

My boyfriend chuckles a bit.

"I have this strange feeling of déjà vu. Don't you?"

I smile and nod back.

"Yes. This is exactly the same situation as when we were waiting here for Lilly before."

"Well, it's not exactly the same."

That's true. The last time we were here waiting for Lilly to arrive, Hisao was wondering out loud whether we should be holding hands or not. This time, we've been holding hands since we got here. He probably would have wrapped his arm around me too if it wasn't for the other thing that's different from before: The presence of the other two Yamaku students who invited themselves onto our welcoming committee.

"No, not exactly the same."

Hisao throws a suspicious side-glance at our classmates.

"It's kind of heartwarming to see that you've missed Lilly so much that you're joining us here to welcome her back."
02
"Hicchan, ever since we came here with you, you've done nothing but gripe. If I didn't know better I'd say our presence here is bothering you. If we're imposing on you, you should just come out and say so."

"You're not really imposing, but..."

"Perhaps you were hoping to take the opportunity to be lovey-dovey with your girlfriend for a little while, and us being here is preventing you from doing that."

"WAHAHAHAHA~!"

"That's not really the issue here."

It looks like Hisao has been thinking the same thing as I have. When Lilly's mother and Akira left for the US, Lilly decided to stay in Scotland to look after her father, and as a result she wasn't able to return to Yamaku until the company's business delegation was back from their trip. Because of that, Lilly has missed close to 2 weeks of school, and during those weeks, Shizune has missed no opportunity to express her disapproval of her cousin's absence. When Hisao and I went for the gate in order to wait for Lilly and met the student council duo on our way there, Shizune insisted on accompanying us. Neither I nor Hisao can shake the feeling that Shizune's simply here because she can't bear to postpone the scolding for one more day.

Hisao and I went to town the other day to do a bit of shopping for this evening. We wanted to make the occasion a bit special and bought tea and snacks just like before to celebrate Lilly's return. Lilly's probably not going to have a lot of energy, but I'd be very surprised if that's also the case for her mother. Given her energetic nature, Karla is probably as jetlag-proof as they come.

While I'm absentmindedly toying with my hair, Hisao suddenly points at a car heading up the parking lot and approaching us. As it gets closer, I see the striking blonde hair of Lilly and her mother behind the windshield. As the car stops in front of us and the car door opens, Karla steps out and gives a cheerful wave while Lilly slowly gets out on the other side.

“Lilly!”

Even though we've spoken with one another on a very frequent basis, I still feel overjoyed to see my best friend again and rush to greet her. Knowing that Shizune and Misha are watching, I go for a modest embrace, but the moment I make contact with Lilly, she wraps her arms around me and gives me a hug that is as drawn-out and tight as it is sincere and loving.

"Hanako..."

I blush a bit. I'm not really accustomed to the usually reserved Lilly making such an affectionate and unrestrained gesture. The smile on her face is one of the happiest ones I've ever seen though. It dawns on me that Lilly's probably not aware that her cousin is nearby and looking at us, but I decide that that revelation can wait for a few more seconds. With some effort I manage to tune out the rest of the world around me and return Lilly's embrace. As fun as the last few weeks have been for me, things still weren't completely the same without Lilly around, and I'm really happy that she's back.

"It's... really good to s-see you again, Lilly."

"I've really missed having you around, Hanako."

"Apparently not enough to come back sooner and avoid missing the first weeks of the new trimester."

"WAHAHAHA~! Awww... that's not nice, Shicchan. You ruined a really sweet moment just there."

Upon hearing Misha's voice, Lilly instantly freezes, and a look of horror appears on her face. She lets go of me and hastily turns towards the source of the loud voice that ruined the magic of our greeting. Her face is a little flushed, and I can almost see her brain going into overdrive in an attempt to figure out how to deal with this unexpected embarrassment.

"Ah... S-Shizune. When did you get here?"

Feeling a bit guilty about not notifying Lilly before, I whisper to her.

"S-Sorry, Lilly. Ummm... We ran into them on our way here, and they f-followed us here."

Rather than responding to Lilly's question, Shizune turns to Karla, smiles and makes a deep and respectful bow.

"Welcome back to Japan, aunt Karla. It's good to see you again."

Lilly's mother smiles back broadly at Shizune and replies with a polite bow of her own.

"Thank you, Shizune. It is good to see you too. You certainly seem to have grown. I didn't even recognize you at first. How is your family doing these days?"

"About the same as always."

"I see. And who is your friend here?"

"I'm Misha. Nice to meet you."

Maybe I misjudged Shizune. It's probably been a long time since she has last seen her aunt and maybe she simply wanted to say hello to her. From what I've heard, Mister Satou and Shizune's father don't like each other, but as far as I can tell there appears to be no bad blood between Karla and her niece.

"The pleasure is all mine. I am very pleased to meet you as well."

She then turns to us.

"Hanako... Hisao. It is very good to see you two again. Lilly told me that you two still managed to make the most out of your remaining vacation days. That is a great relief to me."

She bows to us as well, and I notice that her bow towards me is deeper than the others. I can tell that Karla's a lot more formal than she was in Scotland right now. It feels a bit odd coming from her. Is she acting that way because she doesn't want to puzzle her niece? In the meantime, Lilly has managed to regain her composure and awkwardly nods to Shizune.

"You caught me a bit by surprise, Shizune. But thank you for the welcome nevertheless."

Lilly's mother frowns and shoots a puzzled look at her daughter.

"You were surprised that your own cousin is here to greet you? I was assuming you asked Hanako to bring her along as well."

"Uh..."

A slightly panicked expression appears on Lilly's face, and I suddenly realize that she probably never told her parents that she and Shizune used to get into fights all the time. From the looks of it, Shizune has come to the same conclusion as she gives Lilly a highly amused 'let's see you talk your way out of that one'-look.

"I... ah... apologize. I did intend to drop by and catch up on the last few weeks. But student council duty must have been keeping you busy, and I didn't want to take up time you may not have."

"Well, it's nice that my efforts are acknowledged every now and then."

Lilly's mother gives Shizune a curious glance.

"Does student council truly take up so much more time than, say, an ordinary school club?"

"It is hectic at the start and end of each trimester, and it gets even worse during special events like school festivals or other activities. We usually suffer from a lack of helping hands around those times."

Shizune toys with her glasses for a second and then starts signing again.

"Not every class representative is of the reliable sort either, and we're regularly forced into crunch time because some of them won't hand in budget reports in time or even worse, ask for extensions of the deadline. This often causes the final few days to be extremely stressful."

I can see the corners of Lilly's mouth twitching a bit as she hears her cousin's remarks. It's obvious that she does not like where this is going, but she doesn't dare react to Shizune in front of her mother. Shizune, on the other hand, appears to be having the time of her life. Karla gives her niece a sympathetic look, obviously still oblivious.

"Well, the best thing you can do is to keep fighting the good fight. Think of it as good practice for the workplace later."

"Yes, I suppose you end up working with all kinds of people there as well."

I exchange a worried look with my boyfriend who also seems a bit uncomfortable with Shizune's little game. Deciding to cut this awkward little charade short, Hisao steps up to Lilly's mother.

"Maybe it's a good idea to return to the dorm rather than hang around here. I'm sure that Lilly's eager to get back to her room and start unpacking."

Lilly's mother nods.

"Yes, that's a good idea. Let me get the luggage out of the trunk."

Karla opens the trunk of her car and fishes Lilly's suitcase out of it. Before she closes the trunk, however, she quizzically looks at Shizune who's still wearing a huge smile.

"By the way, Shizune... I remember my daughter is a class representative too. She isn't among those unreliable people you just complained about, is she?"

This time it's Shizune's turn to get a little uneasy. Her opinion of Lilly's handling of her class is pretty well-known, but she obviously doesn't want to appear mean-spirited in front of her aunt. So with a little forced smile she shakes her head and signs a few things to Misha, although in a less enthusiastic manner than before.

"Don't worry. Her classmates consider your daughter to be very adept at her duties."

"Yup. And over the last two weeks several people from her class picked up her duties purely out of loyalty, so that says a lot."

Judging by the lack of signing on Shizune's part preceding it, that last statement is Misha's contribution to the discussion, and my hunch is that Shizune isn't very happy with her friend letting slip that particular detail. Lilly, who was looking rather tense just a minute ago now gives her cousin a cheerful smile before twisting the knife a little bit.

"I'm honored by this kind appraisal from no one other than the student council president herself. I will make sure to remember these gracious words."

While Lilly's mother has her back turned in order to close the trunk, Shizune shoots her cousin a dirty glare, but when Karla turns around and grabs the suitcase, Shizune merely shakes her head and sighs as if forcing herself to dismiss the matter.

"Let's get going, people."

We leave the parking lot, walk through the school gate and make our way to the girls' dorm building. As we near the entrance, Shizune politely bows to Lilly's mother and starts signing to Misha.

"We still have some work left to do, but it was good to see you again."

Karla responds with a bow of her own, takes a little card out of her handbag, writes a number on it and then gives it to Shizune.

"I'll be in the area for a little while. If you wish to do some catching up, do not hesitate to send me a little text message, and I'll treat you two to lunch."

Shizune gives her aunt a friendly nod, and then she and Misha walk back towards the school building while we venture inside the dormitory. When we get to our hallway, I take Lilly's room key (which I got from Lilly before Hisao and I left Scotland) from my bag and unlock the door.
03
"Welcome back, Lilly. We cleaned your room for you yesterday. It was already starting to get a little d-dusty in your absence."

"Thank you, Hanako. I will be happy to return the favor this week if you let me."

"It's... okay."

We enter and Lilly's mother takes the opportunity to look around a little bit.

"Well, isn't this a cozy place?"

"We... umm... bought tea for tonight. I'll go and make some."

Lilly smiles at me, but nevertheless shakes her head.

"Hanako, I think you've already done enough for me as it is. Would you mind if I take over the hosting duties for tonight?"

"Aren't you tired, Lilly?"

"It's been a rather long day, but I haven't really done much other than sitting still and reading a bit. I think being able to put my shoulder to the wheel for a little while may actually make me feel better."

"Okay then. We put the tea in your cupboard in the kitchen area."

"I will be right back."

Lilly walks out of the room and the three of us sit down. Lilly's mother stretches herself and sighs, dropping her formal disposition now that we're alone.

"Man, at the start of this week I was still in the US. I've really been all over the place lately."

"That must be exhausting."

"I've been able to handle it so far. It'll be good to take it easy for a few days though. Take some time to relax and catch up."

Lilly's mom plays with her hair a little bit.

"You know, the last time I interacted with Shizune, she was probably short enough to fit in my suitcase with a bit of effort. She's kind of starting to look like her mother now."

"You know Shizune's mother?"

Lilly's mother looks a little wistful for a second.

"When I married my husband, Mayoi was still living at home, so we lived under the same roof for some time until she got married and became part of the Hakamichi family. We barely saw each other anymore afterwards as she barely came home anymore after her marriage. Her husband and my husband didn't get along so well either."

"What's Shizune's Dad like then?"

This question makes Karla grin for a moment.

"Pretty much the total opposite of my husband. My husband once told me that he felt his brother-in-law was a cartoon character pretending to be a human. The man's a little odd. Or was when I last saw him. That was really long ago though. He might have changed."

Before we can consider whether to leave it at that or ask for more details, the door opens and Lilly comes in carrying a teapot and several cups. She carefully places them on the table, fills the cups and then hands one to each of us.

"It's been a while since we've spent time together like this. Let's enjoy the evening together."

Hisao checks his watch after Lilly says this and frowns.

"I'm afraid I can't stay for very long. I have an appointment in 15 minutes and I still have to stop by my own room."

"An appointment?"

Lilly looks a little puzzled.

"Isn't it a little late for that? Most of the teachers have probably gone home already."

I giggle.

"Not this t-teacher."

"I beg your pardon?"

Hisao grins.

"It's a bit of a long story, but the gist of it is that Mutou was approached by several students who were interested in giving the science club a try. There are now two first years and one second year student attending the meetings. One of the juniors still has some trouble with one of the subjects, and I didn't have a lot of time to explain it to him during our last meeting, so I promised to stop by his room this evening to tutor him a bit more."

"If he has trouble with the subject then isn't he in the wrong club?"

Lilly's mother snickers.

"I recall that that article Hanako wrote specifically said that an interest in the subject was more important than good marks. Looks like some people took that literally."

"It was actually... m-meant to be taken that way."

"Hmmm?"

"I... had some trouble with a few parts myself just before the summer break, but Hisao was r-really good at explaining them. So I thought..."

Hisao looks a bit sheepish.

"That line in Hanako's article about interest in the subject being more important than high marks is more or less a nice way of saying that the club is ideal for people who have an interest in science, but have trouble following Mutou's lectures. His teaching style is a bit unique. At the science club we can let members get familiar with certain topics in a more casual manner that allows them to understand the subject better. And there are also other members who can help explain things."

Lilly's mother frowns.

"If students are having trouble comprehending a subject because a teacher's lectures are too convoluted, starting a club to compensate for that isn't really the first thing I would do as a school."

Lilly giggles.

"That may be so, but Mutou has his good qualities as well and most students like him. Also, I think this is a really good initiative. I hope word of mouth can get you a few more members in the future, Hisao."

"Thanks Lilly. Anyway, I guess I'd better get going. I still need to get my textbooks from my room."

Lilly's mother gives Hisao a friendly nod.

"I very much doubt that we won't be seeing each other again before I fly back to the UK, so I'm not going to say goodbye here and now. Best of luck with your tutoring gig."

"Thanks. Have fun and enjoy the snacks we bought."

He gives me a quick kiss, gets up and walks out of Lilly's room, leaving me with the two Satous. With not much more to say about the subject of Hisao's new responsibilities, we simply sit there for a little while and take the occasional sip from our tea cups. Eventually the silence becomes a little awkward, and I bring up the first subject that pops up in my mind.

"So ummm... Mrs. Satou..."

Lilly's mom chuckles.

"I won't be offended if you keep using my first name, Miss Ikezawa. But I won't press the matter if you feel rude doing so."

"Ummm... Karla... How d-did it go in America?"

Karla smiles playfully at me.

"I suspect you already know most of it, seeing that Lilly's been calling you so often, but... I'd say the trip was officially a success."

"Officially?"
04
"Well, before my husband was hospitalized, I was looking forward to the trip. Not just because we'd finally be tying up a process that's been taking us years to set up, but also because I was planning to stick a well-earned vacation at the end of it. Obviously that didn't end up happening, and during most of the trip I was actively counting down the minutes. So I can't really say it was an enjoyable experience. But since we ended up striking a major deal there, I can at least call it a productive trip."

"You could... still go on v-vacation with him when he's feeling a little better."

Lilly's mother smiles at my suggestion, but I notice her smile has a sad quality to it. Did I say anything wrong?

"Yeah, I guess I could try and convince him to take a break together... When he's feeling better."

I notice Lilly has adopted the same sad smile as her mother. They obviously know something I don't. Last time I spoke to Lilly on the phone she said that his condition was slowly improving.

"Ummm...Is he... s-still okay?"

Karla looks away and for a moment there's a very bitter look in her eyes that sends a shiver down my spine. It's the same kind of look that I've seen on Akira's face a few times.

"Hmmm... Physically he's getting better, but about a day after we got back we got word that he won't be returning to his job after all this. It was a pretty severe blow to his morale even though I got the impression he wasn't very surprised himself."
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 38 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:03 am

"He g-got fired?"

"Well, technically he resigned on his own, but... It's a bit of a complicated situation. Let's just say corporate politics reared their ugly head and leave it at that."

"I'm s-sorry..."

Karla doesn't immediately answer and closes her eyes.

"You know... My mother used to tell me that God works in mysterious ways. When we asked Lilly and Akira to join us in Scotland, the idea was to make a fresh new start. Things worked out differently than we planned them, but..."

She opens her eyes and smirks.

"This has all the telltale marks of an opportunity to make that fresh new start. It just feels a bit mixed. I can't really feel glad about it knowing what had to happen for things to get to this point."

This gets me to smile. I've been thinking the same on several occasions ever since I became Hisao's girlfriend.

"I... think that's f-fine. I've often thought about this m-myself. If Hisao... never had his first h-heart attack, he never would have c-come here. I wouldn't w-wish what he's been through on anyone, but... I think that... maybe... it's still... okay for me... to feel really happy that he came here and... that I met him."

Both Lilly and her mother laugh cheerfully at my reply.

"You know, that's a pretty good point. I guess there's not necessarily something wrong about being happy with silver linings. Now we'll just have to figure where to go from here."

"Any ideas?"

Lilly smiles mysteriously.

"There are... some."

"Some?"

Lilly falls silent and then slowly turns towards her mother.

"Mother? Would it be okay if I tell Hanako?"

"Even though the whole thing is still up in the air?"

"I assure you that she won't talk to anyone about it."

Karla lets out a resigned sigh.

"Okay then."
05
Lilly turns back to me and straightens her pose a bit as if preparing for some major announcement.

"Hanako. One of the options that my parents are... strongly considering... is moving back to Japan."

That statement manages to take my breath away for several seconds, and I wonder for a moment whether the people down the hall were able to hear the gasp I just let out.

"Lilly!"

I can barely believe this, but the happy smile on Lilly's face tells me that I didn't imagine what I just heard. As this statement slowly starts sinking into my brain, a smile almost as large as Lilly's starts forming on my face.

"Lilly, t-that would be wonderful."

"Nothing has been decided yet, but... I'm keeping my fingers crossed and offering a little prayer every evening."

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

"Thanks, Hanako."

"Lilly? What about Akira? Would she be coming back too?"

Lilly's smile drops for a moment.

"I've asked her several times to consider it, but so far my attempts to convince her haven't met with much success."

Lilly's mother takes this moment to jump in.

"You tried as hard as you could, dear, but Akira's situation is different from ours. I don't think she'd be taken very seriously at the Japanese branch anymore if she returned there so soon after leaving. And forcing her to come along would defeat the purpose of having her join you here. I know you care about her a lot, but I think we should allow her to choose the life that she feels is best for her."

"I know, Mother..."

Lilly gives a resigned nod, but the tone in her voice suggests that she's not particularly happy about it. I'm suddenly reminded of something else. If Lilly's parents were to return to Japan, will Lilly move back in with them? That would probably make sense. I'd still be happy for Lilly, but I'd be really sad to lose my neighbor. We'd still be able to have lunch together and talk to each other, but I'd really miss hanging out with Lilly in here before bedtime.

"Lilly, ummm... If your p-parents move b-back here, you would... probably go and l-live with them again, w-wouldn't you?"

Lilly shakes her head and gives me a reassuring smile.

"Don't worry, Hanako. I won't be going anywhere. I've already decided to stay here, and if my parents return to this country, I'll simply visit them on Sundays. I promise you that Mother and Father coming to live in Japan again will not come at the expense of my friendship with you. Mother can be my witness."

Lilly's mother gives me a cheerful nod.

"With the exams coming up later this year, it'd probably be more convenient for Lilly to keep living here on campus rather than having to deal with the travelling again on a daily basis and you two seem so close that I'd feel really bad about doing anything that would create distance between you. Besides..."

She grins and a mischievous twinkle appears in her eye.

"...imagine how early Lilly'd have to get up each morning in order to make it to class every day. It'd be torture."

Lilly's expression immediately changes into a pout, and she shoots her mother a disapproving look.

"M-Mother! That was a bit uncalled for. Besides, I had to get up early when I was still living with Akira, and I handled that just fine..."

This feels a bit awkward. I have the impression that Lilly hasn't gotten used to her mother's habit of playfully teasing her. Karla, for her part, merely snickers at her successful attempt at getting a reaction out of her daughter. Upon hearing this, Lilly lets out a tired sigh and shakes her head.

"Mother, if you keep making fun of me, I'm afraid I won't be able to share any of our snacks with you."

Lilly's mother laughs.

"You're not shy about bringing out the big guns against me, huh? Very well, I'll stop poking fun at you."

Lilly gets up and takes the teapot.

"Thank you. I will go and get us some more tea. Hanako, where did you put the snacks for this evening?"

"On the bottom shelf of your cupboard."

"Good. I will be back soon."

After Lilly has left the room, Karla stares at the door for a moment and then looks back at me.

"You know... When we left for the USA, Akira assured me that my husband was in good hands with Lilly. I thought she was merely being polite at first. But when I came back from that trip, it turned out that Lilly had been responsible for nearly every meal my husband ate those weeks and was pretty much running the household in Allison's place. I got the impression that her presence was also soothing and comforting for my husband. The fact that all of that surprised me probably shows that some extra time spent getting to know my daughter better is probably long overdue."

I giggle. I've been experiencing Lilly's nurturing side ever since I was introduced to her, so what I'm hearing right now doesn't surprise me in the least.

"Did I say something funny?"

"Lilly likes to... mother p-people she cares about, so..."

Karla lets out an amused laugh.

"...my daughter's been mothering her own dad for the last few weeks. That is kind of funny."

Lilly's mother eyes me with a smile.

"Lilly's been a big support for my husband, but she said that you in turn were a big support for her all this time. So... Thanks for that."

I'm a bit flustered by Karla's grateful expression. Lilly's called me on an almost daily basis while she was in Inverness, and I was happy to help her unwind by listening to her, though I never really thought of it as much of a big deal.

"I d-didn't do t-that much."

"You did enough, and that's what matters."

"Ummm..."

"Yes?"

"It's... probably not my p-place to say so, but... I... think... if you r-really r-returned to Japan... Lilly w-would be... very happy."

Lilly's mother smiles sadly.

"You're the third one to mention that in a few days. Lilly herself made a pretty strong case for moving earlier this week. And Akira sided with her."

"And ah... W-what do you think?"

"Me? Hmmm. I think..."

She sighs sadly, and for a few seconds it seems like all traces of her usual up-beat personality vanish before my eyes.
06
"I think... I'm really going to miss my homeland."

"It has... already b-been decided?"

"My husband's the only one who hasn't thrown in his opinion yet. He hardly ever makes decisions on a whim. There are a few factors to consider in the whole situation, and he wants to think about them first."

"Factors?"

"Like a job. He'll probably want to start working again at some point. Objectively speaking, he's probably more likely to get one quickly if we stay in Scotland. He has a reputation there as a capable businessman leading a successful company, and I have a large network of business contacts in the Highlands area I could make use of to create opportunities for him. His successor would probably agree to buy his shares if we offered, and we could use the money to retire or buy shares of local company. Maybe even set something up ourselves. It'd be a completely new start. If he wanted to continue working as a manager, western companies are also more open to hiring outsiders as managers while their Japanese counterparts prefer managers who started work at that company as freshmen straight out of university and who grew into the role over the span of a few decades of company service."

She absentmindedly toys with her blond bangs while continuing.

"But in the end a lot of it comes down to what he wants to do with his life. Even before he entered elementary school there's been this roadmap made out of other people's expectations that told him exactly where he was and where he was supposed to go. I can only imagine that now must be a confusing time for him now that all of that is suddenly gone. Still..."

Lilly's mother stares into the distance for a second.

"...there's little doubt in my mind that deep down he'd really like to return to his home country. He's missed it a lot over the last few years. I also think that even though he wouldn't have much say on the board of directors yet, he'd still want to remain involved in the company that's been part of his life ever since he was young."

The slight tone of resignation in her voice makes me worry a bit. I'm having the impression that if the Satous end up moving back here, it'll merely be because Karla abided by the majority decision.

"You would... rather n-not move?"

Lilly's mother smiles sadly.

"It won't be easy to leave everything behind that's become part of my daily life over the last six years, but it was bound to happen eventually. Though I would have liked to stay in Scotland, I knew our move from Japan to Inverness was never really intended to be permanent. My husband left Japan for his job, not because he was tired of living here. He would probably have wanted to return here after his retirement anyway. He probably even felt he had to in order to continue serving the company as a member of the board of directors."

"B-But... h-he... you asked Lilly..."

"To tell you the truth... asking Lilly and Akira to move to Inverness wasn't my husband's idea. It was mine."

"Y-Yours?"

"It's a bit ironic. When we lived in Scotland, I'd see my husband more often in a single day than I'd have seen him in a week while we still lived in Japan. But despite that, I felt we were slowly growing apart. When my older sister fell ill and said that she wanted to see Lilly and Akira, it kind of gave me an official excuse. I had hoped some time spent together as a family of four would get us closer again. But things were merely very awkward during their time here, and I started fearing that if something wasn't done, our daughters would be little more than strangers to us by the time my husband retired and we'd move back. So I convinced my husband to take action to reunite our family. Conveniently enough a position was available at the office at that time that Akira could probably fill. I don't think she would have considered moving otherwise."

"Oh."

"My husband always insisted on Lilly finishing her education in the places we picked for her, so I didn't think I'd be able to convince him, but he went along with it after some urging on my part."

"But now... you're m-moving instead of Lilly."

"Karma works in weird ways, huh? Still, I asked Lilly to give up her life here and move to the other end of the world just for us. It's only fair that I'm not going to be a hypocrite about it now that the shoe is on the other foot. And besides..."

She gives me that familiar grin of hers, although this one looks just a little bit more forced than usual.

"...I have experience in permanently leaving my homeland behind in favor of another, so I'll be okay. Besides, we'll get to see Lilly a lot more often if we move here, and I do want to spend more time with her. A few weeks weren't really that much to reconnect with one another."

"W-Were you... very disappointed when Lilly s-said she wanted to stay here?"

"I'm kind of split on that. On the one hand I was very sad and disappointed after that phone call. But when I thought it over some more, I realized that Lilly's decision must have been a very hard one, and I came to respect it. Children eventually have to leave their parents' nest and find their own way in life. Lilly's always been a very obedient girl, and I sincerely worried that her initial decision to move was merely because she felt it wasn't her place to reject our offer. After the initial shock from her change of plans wore off, I realized that above all I'm extremely proud of my daughter for having the courage to follow her own dreams rather than letting others dictate them for her."

She smiles proudly to reinforce her words.

"What about y-your job? Do you already k-know what to do?"

"Our staff manager is already looking for someone to replace me and when we find someone, I'll spend my remaining time in Scotland informing business contacts and teaching my successor the ropes. Afterwards I'll be focusing on helping my husband get back into his daily routine. I haven't really thought of what to do after that. I'm sure I'll get plenty of time to think about it."

Lilly's mother reaches absentmindedly for her tea cup and puts it to her lips only to realize that it's empty.

"Speaking of time, what's taking that girl so long? She doesn't get lost in here, does she?"

I giggle and shake my head.

"No."
07
As if on cue, the door opens and Lilly enters carrying the teapot and two bags of snacks.

"I'm terribly sorry for the wait."

"Couldn't find the snacks?"

"I just ran into a few friends down in the common room who started asking me how my time in Scotland has been, and I felt it was rude to just brush them off like that."

"Heh, I'm sure that'll happen several more times the upcoming days. Better to get yourself prepared for it."

"I'll do my best."

Lilly pours the tea, and we take some time to feast on the snacks she brought along.

"Lilly?"

"Yes, Hanako?"

"If your friends who aren't b-blind want to know what it was like in Scotland, I could m-maybe get you a few of the pictures I took so you can show them."

"Hmmm, that's a very good idea. But aren't those your photos?"

"I'll simply print out some extra copies at the club. It's n-not a problem."

"In that case I'd love to have a few of your photos, Hanako."

Lilly's mother has lowered her teacup and has turned her head in my direction upon hearing about the club.

"So how's the newspaper club going? Have you already released the column you were working on in Inverness?"

"N-Not yet. It'll be out next week."

"I can't wait to read it."

She's still as passionate as ever about the subject. Suddenly an idea pops in my mind. I'm not sure if Naomi's going to go along with this, but she might just be interested.

"Ummm...K-Karla?"

"Yes?"

"Maybe ummm... If y-you have t-time... Y-you don't really have to if you d-don't want to, but..."

Is this really a good idea? Isn't this too amateurish for someone with Karla's experience?

"It m-might be nice if... ah... you could s-stop by the c-club tomorrow and have a l-look around yourself."

A surprised smile appears on Karla's face, and I can see a twinkle in not one, but both of her eyes.

"Can I? Really?"

"I'd h-have to ask Naomi, but she m-might allow it."

"I'd love to drop by and see things for myself."

"I'll ask her in c-class tomorrow."

"Wonderful. It's a busy day for me tomorrow as my husband's successor wanted to see me, so I have to drop by the Japanese branch tomorrow morning. But I also have an appointment with the principal here tomorrow afternoon to fully explain our situation to her and apologize for Lilly's absence over the last weeks. If you let me know if I can stop by I will do so after I'm done with that meeting. It'll be a great way to conclude the events of the day."

"Let you know?"

She takes a business card out of her bag and writes a number and e-mail address on the back. When I take it, I notice they differ from the ones on the front. These must be her private phone number and e-mail.

"I already have your phone number, but would it be a problem for you to give me your e-mail address too? For the sake of completeness?"

"O-Okay."

We take out our cell phones and put in the other's contact information. When it's finished, I look at the small list of contacts on my screen. Karla's name is visible right above Lilly's and Naomi's entry.

"...Done. That makes five."
08
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sun Sep 21, 2014 8:30 am, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 39

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:04 am

Chapter 39
01
"A writing club, huh?"

Lilly, her mother and I are currently sitting in Lilly's room and having a cup of tea. We all have plans for this evening that don't involve hanging around here, but it feels nice to take a few minutes to sit back and relax.

"Not really an official c-club. Just a few of us trying s-something new."

"As a result of my advice?"

"Yes."

Karla's visit to the newspaper club a few days ago had been an unexpected success. Neither Naomi nor Mister Hoshino had objections to letting a former journalist pay a visit, and so the afternoon at the club turned out to be quite different from the usual fare. Lilly's mother was first introduced to everyone and given a little explanation on how we usually go about putting a newspaper issue together. Afterwards, all usual activities for the day were put on hold, and we spent several hours listening to Karla's stories about her own time as a journalist. It turned out that Karla and Naomi took pretty much an instant liking to one another, feeding off each other's enthusiasm rather than being put off by it.

At first I was a little worried when Lilly's mother mentioned that she had been out of the profession for quite some time, but that concern was quickly alleviated when it became clear how knowledgable Karla still was about many aspects of the job. She started with an recount of how she went to study journalism in order to broaden her horizons and meet new people and how she got to travel around the country as a business reporter. She continued with an account of how she switched jobs and relocated to Japan and concluded with an analysis on how she experienced the news business in Europe, Japan and the United States.

"I spoke with one of the club's members in class two days ago. It seems you've made quite an impression on the club, Mother."

"Hahaha, that's good to know. It'd have been bad if it turned out that I was the only one who had fun that day."

"I heard you brought me up, by the way."

"Only to make a point, dear. You should be honored that I brought you up as a source of inspiration."

I remember that. Naomi asked Karla about the possibilities of getting a job in the news business if you couldn't drive and were encouraged by the doctor to keep your day-night rhythm as regular as possible. Karla responded that the image of the reporter who's out and about 24/7 in search of the next big scoop hardly covered all journalists and that many articles could take weeks or even months to gather interviews and information for, so planning the project properly could go a long way in avoiding having to pull all-nighters. She also mentioned that it wasn't uncommon for reporters to team up to work on articles, and joining up with the right partner was all it would take to work around your individual limits. She then mentioned how Lilly wanted to teach English as a career and listed some of the workarounds her daughter came up with to circumvent the limits of her blindness. That was a pretty motivating moment for everyone. Even I found it inspiring, even though Karla didn't really say anything about Lilly that I didn't already know.

"Speaking of inspiration, what advice did you give that inspired the formation of this club?"

Lilly's mother turns to me.

"Probably the stuff I said about writing practice, wasn't it?"

I nod. Near the end of her visit, Lilly's mother said that the best way to start a journalism-related career would be to apply to a good university and get plenty of writing practice in the meantime. Mister Hoshino promised to drop off a collection of brochures at the club for universities that offered suitable studies, and Naomi came up with a proposal to cover the writing practice a day after Karla's visit. Her proposal was to start checking out online writing competitions and take part in them.

Unfortunately for her, Mister Hoshino immediately shot that idea down, as he argued that the club was centered around the creation of the school newspaper and received a club budget specifically for that purpose. He did encourage Naomi to pursue the venture after club hours, though and said he was happy to look up a few contests held by magazines, websites and other third parties that high schoolers would be able to partake in. Encouraged by our teacher's support, Naomi promptly announced the founding of an unofficial writing club and invited everyone in the room to join.

I wasn't very sure how serious she was at first. Naomi has the tendency to be a bit impulsive from time to time, but when she approached me the day afterwards and repeated her invitation, I realized she was actually planning to go through with this. Long story short, she ended up convincing me to give it a try. I wasn't sure if this was going to go anywhere, but I had been thinking of getting some writing practice myself, and since our teacher said he was willing to provide feedback on everything we submitted, this appeared to be a pretty good opportunity.

"Y-Yes. Mister Hoshino said he'd look into a few competitions for us to submit our w-work in. Even if we d-don't win anything it'll still be good practice."

Lilly smiles.

"And even if you don't win anything you're still spending your time with friends doing something you enjoy. That's never a waste of time."

Friends? I'm slowly starting to get used to my clubmates' presence, but I'm not sure if we're truly friends. Certainly not in the way I'm friends with Lilly.

"I... suppose."

"When will you be starting?"

"We... meet up for the f-first time this evening. It's just... three of us right now."

"How exciting. And where will you be meeting up?"

I sigh. That issue came up earlier today, and I'm not too fond of the outcome.

"We d-drew straws. They're c-coming t-to my room tonight."

Lilly nods understandingly, but her mother looks a bit confused.

"You look a bit apprehensive about it."

"Ummm... L-Lilly and Hisao are the only two people I've ever let into my room before."

I'm quite aware of the possibility that they'll find my room empty, dull and devoid of personality , especially Naomi who tends to speak her mind from time to time, and that might be enough to instantly kill my motivation and what little self-esteem I've been trying to gather for this.

"Would you like to use my room, Hanako? Mother and I will be away for most of the evening, so nobody will bother you here."

Karla will apparently be travelling the country the upcoming week in order to look for attractive neighborhoods to settle down in if they want to go through with the plan of migrating back to Japan. That means she won't be in the area for several days, so she and Lilly are going out tonight and probably won't be back until rather late.

"Ummm..."

I strongly consider taking Lilly's offer, but there are a few problems with it. First of all, if this meeting turns out well, it won't be the last time we get together, and I might end up playing host at some point in the future again. I can't keep relying on Lilly for that. Also, the others will be able to immediately tell that this isn't my room and might start speculating why I'm so reluctant to invite them over to my place. That speculation, especially with Naomi, might be worse that the real thing.

"Thanks, but... they'll probably s-start thinking bad things about me if I won't even l-let them into my room."

Lilly's mother toys around with her hair a bit and looks at me with a serious look in her eyes.

"I guess this must be kind of intimidating, but sometimes the only way to move forward is to take a bold step and have faith that it'll turn out alright."

"Faith?"

"Yep. It can help from time to time, you know."

Lilly takes the teapot and holds it out for me.

"If you're not going to use my room, please at least use my tea set. Seeing that you were the one who picked it, I feel it is also partially yours anyway."

That might not be such a bad idea.

"Okay then. I'd better go and make new tea."

We leave Lilly's room, head down to the kitchen area, and I start boiling water for a new batch of tea. Judging by the fact that Lilly and her mother are carrying their handbags, the two are just about ready to leave. As I start filling up the teapot, Lilly turns to me.

"Hanako, I know that Naomi is part of this little club too, but you said there were three of you right now. Who is the third member?"

"I am."

We turn around to find my fellow editor standing in the kitchen doorway wearing her favorite red-and-white cap, carrying a flat, black bag with one hand while wearing an orthopedic brace on the other. Lilly's mother smiles and returns Jun's bow with a polite one of her own.

"Yamazaki, wasn't it?"

"Good evening."

Karla shifts her gaze to the bag Jun is carrying.

"You brought a laptop along?"

She nods.

"It's my own. We can use it to type up what we come up with and look things up if necessary."

Lilly's mother frowns.

"Do you have internet here? I didn't notice any network sockets in the wall of Lilly's room."

I shake my head.

"There aren't any. But I've seen people checking their mail on l-laptops in the common room before, so the building probably has Wifi."

"That makes sense."

Jun nods enthusiastically.

"There's a Wifi router in the common room's TV cabinet. The network isn't password-protected so anyone with a laptop who wishes to access the internet can log onto it."

"Mother, now that one of Hanako's guests has already arrived, perhaps it would be a good moment for us to be on our way."

I use my hand to hide a small amused smile. Lilly has a point of course, but I noticed she visibly cringed for a moment when the discussion turned technical. Lilly's never been very comfortable with her computer illiteracy.

"I guess so. You'll say hello to Inoue for me, won't you?"

"Sure."

"Well, have fun you two. Bye."

Lilly and her mother wave goodbye and walk out of the room while I'm left with Jun who seems eager to leave.

"Shall we go, Hanako? This laptop is getting a bit heavy, so..."

"Oh... ah... Sure."

We leave the kitchen and make our way to the door of my room. Once again my anxiety flares up a bit. Jun isn't someone whom I expect will immediately criticize me for the way my room looks, but she'll definitely think something when I let her in.

"Hanako?"

"J-Just a moment."

I unlock the door to my room, and we go in. I walk right up to my desk and put the tea set down so I don't have to see the look on Jun's face. There's no immediate reaction either. When she finally says something, it isn't even a reaction to her surroundings. I'm not sure whether to feel relieved or worried.

"...can I put my laptop on your desk? It'll be easier that way."

"Ah, sure."

She walks up to my desk, plugs her laptop into the nearby power socket and starts it up. The room is quiet except for the subdued humming of the computer. The silence starts feeling really heavy to me, but it doesn't seem to bother Jun. I haven't really known her for very long, but one thing I've learned about her is that she isn't very talkative most of the time unless a subject she's specifically interested in pops up, at which point she can get quite verbose. I don't think it's shyness in her case... I've seen her put Naomi in her place when the latter said something that Jun thought was ridiculous and that's a pretty big thing seeing that Naomi is her senior. It's just that she doesn't like to use twenty words to say something that can also be said with ten.

"..."

"..."

While I'm still struggling to think of a way to make conversation, Jun has finished booting up her system and is now running her internet browser to test the network connection. That suddenly makes me wonder about something.

"Ah... Jun?"

"Hmmm?"

"Ah... You... often visit the computer lab, don't you?"

"Yes. I think that's where we first saw one another. It was some time before you joined."

"Why... do you go there if you h-have your own laptop?"

"This is a really old model, and it isn't always stable. That's why it took so long to start up. It can't handle graphically intensive websites well. Or message boards where a lot of pictures are posted."

"Oh."

"Hanako, what do you like most? Writing or editing?"

"I like the idea of writing. I just... don't have much experience yet."

"Maybe now that I'm back at the club you can do more writing. I'm sure Naomi can find plenty of things for you to do."

"Maybe... I'd still like to do a bit of editing if that's okay. It's... umm..."

Safer. People are less likely to criticize me, because I didn't actually create anything for them to criticize.

"...fun too. Do you like editing?"

"It's a fun job to do. I've been told that I'm very particular about spelling and grammar, so it's nice to put that to good use."

"Told by whom?"

"Some people online. I don't think much of it. I usually make an attempt to type correctly, on message boards even if one of my arms is in a cast or brace, so it's not too much to ask others to do the same, is it?"

For some reason she rolls her eyes while she says that. I wonder why.

"No. But... if you prefer editing then why did you join a writing club?"

"Editors and researchers are useful for writing clubs too. When Naomi invited me, I told her I wasn't really up to writing stuff myself, but I'd be happy to assist you with yours."

The conversation falls silent again until I'm startled by a sudden movement from the door handle. Someone just tried opening the door. Jun throws me a puzzled look.

"Did you lock the door after we got in here?"

"F-Force of habit."

I quickly unlock the door and notice someone with bleached hair and a file folder under her arm walking down the hall and away from the door.

"N-Naomi."

She turns around and waves.

"Hey! I was already heading for the kitchen to check for you there. Is Jun already inside?"

"Y-Yes. C-come in."

I let Naomi into my room and my heart skips a beat when I see her take a long, long look around the room. Surprisingly, the expected 'What the hell?' doesn't come. Instead, she merely keeps sweeping my room with an analyzing gaze that feels strange coming from her. Eventually, her eyes fall on my cabinet containing my two dolls. A smile suddenly appears on her face.

"Hey! This one looks a lot like Satou. That's probably not a coincidence, is it?"

I'm taken a bit off guard by her sudden switch from analytical observer to her usual self, but manage to stammer out a response.

"It... was a g-gift from Lilly. Hisao p-picked it out for her."

"It looks really cute."

Jun taps her fingers on the teapot next to her laptop to get Naomi's attention.

"Do you want to have some tea? It's still warm and pretty good."

"Yeah, I'd like some."

A bit relieved by Jun's attempt to divert Naomi's attention away from my room's interior, I pour some tea for her and myself, and we take a seat on my bed while Jun remains seated on my chair. The atmosphere is fairly relaxed as we drink our tea and just sit there, but I still feel a bit on edge. I wonder if that's because there are two people whom I haven't known for that long sitting in my room right now. Ever since I came to Yamaku, this room has been the only place where I could always go to feel safe and secure. The knowledge that I'll have nowhere to run off to if something happens that sets my anxieties off makes me feel uneasy and a little bit cornered.

"...Hanako?"

"Ah... Y-yes?"

"I was asking whether it's okay to get started."

I really need to stop spacing out over this. I'm not going to be able to pull my weight here if I can't put my mind at ease.

"S-Sure."

Naomi gets up, scrapes her throat, pauses for a bit of effect and then throws her fist up in the air.
02
"Welcome to the first meeting of our new club, people. It would be grand if we could start cranking up pieces tonight already, but let's start with the most important thing first."

Jun looks at the folder Naomi took along with her.

"You spoke to Mister Hoshino about recommendations, didn't you?"

"We'll get to that later. The most important thing for now is deciding on a name for ourselves."

"Ummm... D-do we really need a name? This isn't an... official club, is it?"

"Of course we need a name. I already felt cheesy saying 'our new club' the first time and having an official name makes things easier. We need to know what to say when referring to the club. It's also a matter of principle."

Jun looks puzzled at that.

"Why is it a matter of principle?"

"If we don't even have the creativity to think up a name for ourselves, what does that say about our ability to come up with stuff to write about?"

"I can't really argue that point."

Naomi grins.

"Okay! Brainstorm time, girls! How are team names made up?"

Jun thinks for a moment and then starts typing on her laptop. A few seconds later she moves aside to reveal a website containing information about the Japanese baseball league.

"Yomiuri Giants. Hanshin Tigers. Tokyo Yakult Swallows. Chiba Lotte Marines. Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks."

"Okay, so those teams often use animal names or some other impressive-sounding noun and combine it with the area they're from or the company that owns them. That's not a bad way to come up with a name. For us that would probably be Yamaku then. We just need a noun to go with it. Maybe animals. How does 'The Yamaku Kittens' sound?"

There's a short silence followed by a giggle from all three of us. I think that name sounds way too cute for a writing club. Jun smilingly shakes her head.

"That may be a better name for a cheerleaders' squad. Maybe we need to go with something that refers to writing or writing implements. 'The Yamaku Pens' or 'The Yamaku Pencils' perhaps?"

Those might be better suited for a writing club. Naomi doesn't look completely convinced though.

"Doesn't sound bad, but I think it lacks a little punch."

"There aren't that many writing implements. I hope you're not planning to go with typewriters or word processors."

"Hehehe, that sounds horrible. I don't know, maybe we ought to look at it from more than one angle. Hanako, what do you think?"

"Ah... I'm... n-not sure. I don't r-really have any better ideas."

"What's the last team name you've heard lately? Baseball teams don't count."

"Ummm... Oriental Express?"

"Huh?"

"In Scotland... Lilly and her sister won a p-pub quiz under that name."

"Heh, that sounds kinda cool. Do you remember any more names?"
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 39 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:04 am

Akira listed a whole bunch of them when we left the pub, but I don't remember them all.

"Ummm... A lot of them w-were related to beer or drinking like ummm...'Beer today, Gone tomorrow'. And some were some self-mocking names like... 'Beauty School Dropouts'."

"Hmmm, a slightly playful name may be cool too."

Jun turns back to her laptop and types a few more words. The page she's looking at must be pretty funny, because she lets out a soft giggle but when Naomi comes over she quickly clicks the page away.

"Hmmm... Well, some of those pub quiz team names are pretty creative, but I don't know how I'd feel about referring to us as 'Oh no, my pen's running ou...' or 'One wheel short of a unicycle'. It'd probably get old after the second time."

Naomi nods.

"Yeah, so playful is okay, but over-the-top is bad..."

"Maybe we should go with the pen or pencil angle after all."

Suddenly Naomi snaps her fingers.

"How about... The Broken Quills?"

Jun and I instinctively exchange a baffled look.

"What?"

"Ummm... W-what?"

"You girls know what a quill is, don't you?"

"Yes, but what about the broken part?"

"It's not meant to be insulting, but simply a little playful. I mean, if you use Yamaku in the name and people wonder what the heck the word means and look it up, they'll know what kind of school this is anyway."

"Just because we attend this school doesn't mean we're... like... damaged beyond all use, right?"

Naomi pumps a fist into the air as if Jun just proved her point.

"Just like a quill you break in half. It may not be exactly like an ordinary quill, but you can still use it and you can even write masterpieces with it if you have the inspiration and the drive. We may be attending this school and have reason to do so, but with inspiration and drive we too can create some great things!"

I exchange another baffled look with Jun. Naomi's reasoning, as twisted as it is, kind of makes sense, but only in a very morbid way.

"I'm still not completely sold, to be honest."

"Hanako?"

"I'm... not really sure... either."

"Consider it, okay? And take some time to think up some alternatives. We'll get back to this the next time. Let's get to the other topic of tonight."

Naomi takes the file folder she brought along and fishes several sheets of paper out of it.

"Aaaaand... here are our challenges. Look them over and let me know what you think."

She passes a few pages to each of us, and I start look through mine. I'm impressed by how many our Japanese teacher managed to find in only a few days. There are a few contests organized by online writing communities, but most of them are hosted by various literary clubs associated with high schools and universities in the region.

"Wow... A p-poetry contest."

"I have one about essays here."

Jun scratches her cheek.

"Did you girls notice that most forms mention a word or page limit?"

Naomi nods.

"I think Hoshino picked those out on purpose. He probably wants us to start small and not spend months writing a single piece. Hanako and I have exams in Januari after all."

She smirks.

"If we're going with the essay assignment, I suggest we make them about those exams. Plenty of stuff to write about."

"Such as?"

"How stupid they are. You spend three years working your butt off trying to get good grades and yet all those grades end up not meaning crap as far as your admission goes. Just a handful of days in three whole years that have any significance whatsoever. You sleep through high school and have a lucky break at the end and you pass. You work hard and have a bad day or two and you flunk. Does that sound fair to you?"

Looks like we've hit a personal pet peeve of Naomi's.

"If you don't like exams then how would you do it?"

"I dunno. Instead of stuffing the whole national exam into one weekend maybe spread it out throughout the year so you only have to memorize a little bit at a time and get a chance to make up on the next run if you miss one or do badly? Or maybe hold the exams four times a year. Now you lose a whole year of your life if Murphy screws you over on the wrong day. It's complete bullshit."

Wow, she's really passionate about this. Jun looks at Naomi, then at me, then back at Naomi again.

"I don't think an essay needs to be completely objective, but I doubt the word 'bullshit' will look good in there."

"Duh. I can reword it a bit."

Jun looks at one of the forms again and smirks.

"We probably won't win a prize with that subject."

"Why not?"

"Because the essay contest is hosted by a university. They might not take well to us criticizing their method of accepting students."

Naomi grumbles.

"It's a conspiracy."

Jun rolls her eyes.

"I may know of a few internet forums that are suitable for venting about that if you're interested..."

"Okay, okay. Next."

"The rest seem to be about short stories."

"Mine too."

"That's probably the best place to start. So what options do we have in terms of subjects? Jun?"

"I have science fiction and slice-of-life here. The rest allows the participants to pick their own genre."

"Hanako?"

"Hmmm... Slice-of-life, fantasy and drama. The rest leaves it up to us."

"Mine are fantasy and romance. Looks like we have plenty of options. What do you say we write down our two favorite options and compare them all?"

Jun and I both nod in agreement. As I take a piece of paper to jot down my preferences, I notice that Jun has finished her cup of tea. I take the teapot to refill her cup only to find out that it's nearly empty.

"I'll... ummm... go and make some more tea."

"Great. Thanks."

I leave my room, teapot in hand, and make my way to the kitchen. So far everything's been going rather well. I'd still like to get back though. What would happen if Naomi started snooping around and found my birth control pills or the diary I kept until Lilly's father got hospitalized? I don't think there'd be a second meeting if that were to happen. At least not with me present.

After boiling some more water and refilling my teapot, I start walking back to my room. As I do so, my thoughts return to Naomi's rant about the exams. It came as a surprise to hear her get so worked up over something like that. I guess there's still plenty about her that I don't know.
03
I make it to the door of my room and reach out to push it open when I'm suddenly startled by a loud crashing noise followed by a shriek. I freeze. That sound came from behind my own door. What's happening? I uneasily open the door and look inside.

Jun's no longer sitting at my desk. She's standing up, her back pressed against the nearby wall, and there's a terrified look on her face. There are several things lying at her feet. A box of tissues, a desk lamp and an alarm clock. My things. They're usually on the shelf just above my bed. Did Naomi accidentally knock them off?

"She... She suddenly got like this..."
04
My gaze shifts to Naomi who hasn't moved since I opened the door. She's still sitting on my bed, but there's something strange about her posture. It looks like she's leaning - no, slumping - against the now empty shelf. Just when I'm about to walk up to the bed and ask if she's alright, her head snaps back as if an invisible person just walked up to her and punched her in the face. At the same time, she violently swings her left arm as if trying to slap someone. I cringe as I hear her hand crash into the shelf. That sounded like it hurt, though Naomi doesn't even acknowledge it. That certainly explains how all my items suddenly ended up on the floor. I look at Jun again. Judging by the freaked-out look on her face, this is probably the first time she's seeing Naomi having an epileptic seizure. And truth be told, the sight of Naomi, eyes rolled back, lips slightly blue and movements spastic and unnatural is an extremely disturbing sight even though I've witnessed this spectacle plenty of times myself over the years.

"What should we do?"

I really don't know. If we were in class, Natsume or the teacher would jump in and take care of this. But right now it's just Jun and me, and neither of us really seems sure what to do. Again, Naomi's hand violently hits the shelf. I know enough about epilepsy to remember that epileptics sometimes suffer concussions from banging their head against a wall or floor during a seizure. The least thing I can probably do is making certain that won't happen this time.

I walk over to the bed, grab hold of Naomi and try to get her to lie down to the best of my ability. I'm promptly rewarded for my efforts as one of Naomi's flailing arms hits me hard in the side.

"Ow!"

I quickly back off, grimacing and rubbing my side. That was unexpected. Jun worriedly gets a little closer, but quickly steps back when one of Naomi's legs kicks the air. I don't think it's a good idea for someone as physically fragile as Jun to try and get anywhere near Naomi. Some time ago she accidentally tripped and broke her hand while trying to catch herself. I don't want to imagine what would happen if Jun took a hit from one of Naomi's thrashing limbs. I doubt the results would be pretty.

"Are you alright?"

I quickly nod. I don't think I'm the one we should be worrying about right now.

"Is... is it always like this?"

I nod again. Well, it's like this most of the time. There are times when she simply appears to black out, but my mind isn't really clear enough to give Jun a detailed account on Naomi's condition as far as I've experienced it.

"Hanako, we should... probably get help. Don't you think?"

My first thought is ironically that I don't want some random nurse barging into my room. Then I realize how selfish and unfeeling that is, and I feel guilty for even thinking it.

"Y-Yes, we probably should. But w-we can't leave her alone like this."

Jun is obviously looking to me for advice on how to deal with this, but unlike someone like Natsume, I really don't have any experience handling this sort of thing.

"Hanako?"

"...Natsume. You s-should go and fetch Natsume. I'll stay with Naomi."

"Right."

As Jun walks out of the room I focus my attention back on Naomi. She's still flopping around like a fish out of the water, and she's threatening to fall off my bed because of it, so I take a deep breath and push her as far back onto the bed as possible, making sure she keeps lying on her side. I'm currently racking my brain to remember what my first aid training said about seizures again, but one thing I remember is that it's best to lay victims on their side so they don't risk choking on their own saliva. Judging by the large dark stains that have already formed on my pillow, that's certainly something to keep in mind with Naomi.

"Hanako?"

The door opens and I see Jun in the doorway. Did she find Natsume already? It's probably been less than a minute.

"Did you already find...?"

Jun points at something near my feet.

"I just thought of a better way to get a hold of her. Could you toss me Naomi's handbag?"

I take the handbag Naomi left near the nightstand and give it to Jun. She opens it, takes a cell phone out of it, quickly presses a few buttons and then puts it to her ear. That's a pretty smart move. I don't have Natsume's number saved on my phone and apparently Jun doesn't either, but Naomi unsurprisingly does.

"Natsume? This... ah... is Jun speaking. Something's happened to Naomi."

"It's... ah... actually still happening as we speak."

"No, we're in Hanako's room right now."

"I'll tell her. Thank you."

Jun puts down the phone and turns back to me.

"Natsume's on her way. She says that the best thing to do is to let the seizure run its course and not to put anything in her mouth or restrain her in any way."

"Ummm... O-okay."

"She also said that if the fit lasts longer than five minutes, you'll have to use this and then warn a nurse."

She reaches into Naomi's handbag and takes something out of it that looks a bit like a marker.

"It's an injection pen that's applied to the thigh. It contains a rather strong anticonvulsant for emergencies."

I instinctively look at my alarm clock on the ground only to notice it's not displaying anything right now.

"Ummm... W-when did this start?"

"I'm... not really sure. I think 3 minutes ago."

I really hope Natsume gets here before it comes to that. Naomi isn't thrashing around as badly anymore, but she's definitely not lying nice and still either, and I wonder if, nervous as I'm feeling right now, I'd be able to keep my hand steady enough to jab that thing in just the right place without messing up, especially with 'the right place' twitching every second or so. Without really thinking about it I put one hand on Naomi's thigh and make a few stabbing gestures with the other hand in an attempt to practice the motion. It is then that I suddenly notice something. Naomi's inner thigh feels a bit moist and when I look down, my eyes fall on a dark stain on the blanket. My eyes widen in shock as I realize what happened and I can only barely suppress a gasp.

Jun looks at me with a worried expression.

"Is something the matter?"

"N-No."

This is getting worse and worse. First my clubmate has an epileptic fit right in front of us. Then it turns out I might have to apply an injection in order to stop the seizure, and now I find out that Naomi has voided her bladder in the process. What's taking Natsume so long?

"Just one more minute. Is it... just my imagination or is she quieting down a bit?"

The twitches seem to start getting more infrequent. But there's still a trinkle of drool coming down her lips, and a small puddle has already formed on the pillow her head is resting on. I take a tissue from the box on the floor and start wiping Naomi's cheek. Just when I get started on the pillow, a knock on my door draws our attention. A moment later, Natsume enters the room.

"How is she?"

Jun makes a helpless gesture.

"It might be better for you to have a look yourself. I'm afraid I'm not very familiar with this."

Natsume approaches the bed, and I consider moving over, but then I remember the stain on my blanket, and I decide that I can at least try to make sure Jun doesn't notice, so I remain in place trying to block the spot.

"Was it like this the whole time?"

I shake my head.

"N-No, it was... like it usually is in c-class."

We remain silent for some time and watch as Naomi's convulsions become more and more infrequent until eventually they stop entirely. Just when I'm about to ask what to do now, we can see Naomi's eyes open just a little bit, and she lets out a soft moan.
05
"Ooh...."

"Are y-you alright?"

Natsume positions herself close to Naomi's face and speaks to her in a soft voice.

"It's okay. I'm here. So are the others."

"What...is...g-going...on..?"

There's more than a hint of fear in her voice and it pains me to hear the usually confident and up-beat Naomi talk like this.

"You had a seizure. But it's over now. It was just a seizure."

"W-What...who...?"

"It's over now. Do you remember where you are?"

"...n-no..."

"Do you know who I am? Or who these girls are?"

She tries to open her eyes a little bit more and look in our direction, but when she does so there's no immediate sign of recognition.

"...no..."

"Do you remember your name?"

"...n-no..."

The fear in her voice starts becoming more pronounced, and I can even sense a hint of panic. She sniffles before the next words leave her mouth.

"W-what...is going...on...?"

"Just close your eyes and relax. Let it come back to you. It will. It always does."

"...but..."

I softly place a hand on her shoulder.

"Just r-relax, Naomi. It'll be okay."

As Naomi closes her eyes again while letting out a pathetic whimper, I whisper Natsume's name to try and get her attention, and when she looks at me I make a little gesture with my head towards the Naomi's groin. The fact that she closes her eyes and groans softly suggests that Natsume has gotten my meaning. After some deliberation, she gets up and looks at Jun.

"Jun, will you do me a favor? There's usually a nurse on duty in the dormkeeper's office, and otherwise there'll be one doing rounds outside. Could you go and give her a summary of what just happened?"

Jun looks a little puzzled.

"Is it necessary to bring a nurse in here?"

"No, but if we report this right now, Mutou won't be expecting Naomi to show up in class tomorrow morning, and it'll save me an explanation later. Just stress that the seizure is over and that the situation is under control."

"Well... okay."

Jun shrugs her shoulders and leaves the room. As the door closes, Natsume silently sighs.

"What a mess."

It is, in every sense of the word.

"N-Now what?"

Natsume thinks for a moment.

"Do you happen to have a spare blanket?"

"In my closet."

"I'd like to use it. Also..."

She takes Naomi's handbag, takes a room key out of it and gives it to me.

"I'd like you to go to her room real quick and get a few things from there. You're probably faster on your feet than I am. I need you to retrieve her pajamas from under her pillow and some clean undies..."

I blush a bit as Natsume casually peeks under Naomi's skirt.

"...white ones if there are any. She keeps them in her dresser. There should be a washing bowl and a wash cloth in the bathroom next to her room."

"Ummm... O-okay."

Trying not to think too hard about this, I leave my room and hurry over to where I believe Naomi's room is. Good thing we swapped room locations before drawing straws to determine where to hold our meeting. A few minutes later, I return to my room with the items Natsume requested. Natsume's still at Naomi's side, and Naomi's still lying completely still. She's obviously still very much out of it.

As I put the items I retrieved on my desk, Natsume gives an appreciative nod. Before she can say anything though, the door opens and Jun comes back in. I instinctively move in front of the bed in order to prevent Jun from spotting the stain on my blanket. Natsume coughes softly in order to get our attention.

"It'd be rude of me to ask you to leave your own room, but would it be a problem if you gave Naomi a bit of privacy? You can wait in her room if you like."

Jun and I both nod our heads in unison. I personally don't think this is something I'd even want to see anyway. Before we leave, Jun asks if I'd mind carrying her laptop. When I walk out of my room with her laptop, I notice she's carrying my lamp and alarm clock along with her.

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:10 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 39 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:04 am

06
"Wow."

After we got to Naomi's room, Jun plugged in the lamp only to conclude it didn't work anymore, even after swapping its bulb with the one from Naomi's desk lamp. So she removed the fixture, started tinkering with the wires, and after putting the fixture and the bulb back in, my lamp was working again.

"Your lamp is rather sturdy. The impact merely caused one of the wires to get loose."

She takes my alarm clock and starts using a screwdriver from her laptop bag to get it open. I look at her in awe.

"I... never realized you knew how to fix things like that."

Jun smiles humbly.

"I'm not some sort of gadgeteer genius. I've just spent a lot of time around electronic devices."

"A lot of time?"

"My father runs a small store that sells consumer electronics, and he tended to take damaged devices with him to tinker with them before disposing of them. I couldn't have any physically intensive hobbies, so he gave me my own devices to experiment with to pass the time. Flashlights, digital clocks, portable CD players, hairdryers...even an old Gameboy with a cracked screen."

She points at her laptop bag.

"I asked a laptop for my birthday a few years ago, but instead of buying one for me, Father started bringing discarded laptop systems home with him that I ended up salvaging for parts that still worked. The system in the bag is a bit like Frankenstein's monster. There's stuff from at least four different systems in there. "

Something tells me that Jun would have been a great fit for the science club, and if it had existed at the start of her first school year she may very well have ended up joining it instead of the newspaper club.

"I'm impressed. Did you f-fix many of the things you were given?"

Jun smilingly shakes her head.

"I learned a lot from taking apart those devices, but especially in the beginning I often merely ended up putting those things out of their misery. *giggle* I guess breaking stuff really is a second nature to me."

I smile awkwardly. Hearing Jun poking fun at her own condition sounds a bit off-putting to me, but she's hardly the only person around here with that habit. Naomi occasionally jokes about her epilepsy, and Lilly makes light of her own blindness all the time. Even Hisao has occasionally started making little jokes about his condition. I've never been able to poke fun at my own scarring. Do I simply lack a sense of humor, or is it the fact that others have made fun of my appearance so often that makes it seem inappropriate to joke about it? Lilly said that a little self-mockery can help you put things into perspective. While I'm pondering all of this and more, Jun has been examining the insides of my alarm clock, and she softly shakes her head.

"I don't think there's much hope left for this alarm clock. The impact from Naomi's haymaker damaged several capacitors, so even if I got it running again, it would remain unreliable and lose power ever so often. There's not much use for an unreliable alarm clock that resets itself every few days. You're better off setting your phone's volume to maximum and using its alarm function. At least until you can get another alarm clock."

"Thanks f-for having a look. At least you got my lamp working again."

"It's okay. I needed to do something to get my mind off what just happened anyway. That was really disturbing."

She gives me an unsure look.

"I wonder if we set it off in some way. Like... Maybe my computer screen triggered it?"

"I... don't really think so. I think they just h-happen from time to time without needing to be triggered. Look at her room."

Naomi's room is pretty distinct. Unlike mine, it's very colorful with posters on several walls and tons of little touches to make it feel more personal. What's immediately noticable is the extremely thick carpet that covers pretty much the entire room. Also, instead of a bed there's merely a futon on the floor and nearly half of that futon is covered with all sorts of plush toys including the toy Nessie I brought from Scotland for her.

"I noticed. Maybe those plush toys aren't merely there to cushion her in case of a seizure, and she simply likes them, but this room seems geared at preventing injury in case she has an episode here. With a carpet this thick, she might not even need a futon."

"It has to be difficult to keep it clean though."

"Yes. I wonder how they clean it after a seizure. It has to be a real chore to get the spots out."

Spots? I freeze and stare at Jun. Did she see after all?

"I... ummm... meant saliva spots."

The brief look we exchange has pretty much given it away though. I know that she knows, and she knows that I know. What follows is a short but uncomfortable silence that Jun eventually ends up breaking.

"So... ah... it seems like we both saw what happened."

I don't really know what to say, so I simply nod.

"I wasn't completely sure myself until you carried in that washing bowl..."

She grimaces uncomfortably.

"...that Natsume is using right now to... I suppose it's going to take a while before she's back to normal, and you don't let someone sleep a whole night in soiled undies, but it's still a bit..."

Those were my thoughts as well, though Natsume probably has her reasons. Jun grins awkwardly.

"I heard a rumor about Natsume and Naomi once. That they're... together? This thing kind of plays into that, don't you think? Do you suppose it's true?"

"Of course it's true!"

"Ah!"

We both jump in surprise as Natsume comes walking into the room carrying a folded blanket and a plastic bag with what look like clothes inside. She has a scolding expression on her face, obviously having heard Jun's words.

"And what I did just now was totally because I'm turned on by that sort of thing."

Jun blushes a bit, but also giggles at Natsume's obvious sarcasm.

"It does sound rather silly when you put it that way. I hope I didn't offend you."

"You didn't. I know the rumor. I just thought that only a certain part of the male student body attending here actually took it seriously. You know - the innocent manga-educated kind? "

Jun laughs out loud.

"Well, I often pretend to be an innocent manga-educated male whenever I go online. I suppose part of the mindset sticks around at times whether you like it or not."

"There have been times when Naomi has helped me get dressed whenever my arthritis got so bad that I had trouble doing it myself, so she and I are fairly comfortable in each other's presence. She's my best friend, but we're not in a relationship any more than Hanako and Satou are in a relationship. I think our friendships are actually very similar. Heh... and maybe viewed in the very same light by the male student body until recently."

My heart promptly skips a few beats when I hear Natsume make that comparison. How have other students been looking at Lilly and me anyway?

"Ah... ummm... There w-weren't r-rumors about me, were there?"

"A few, after you and Satou started hanging out together. I mean, you never really interacted with other people before around here, and then suddenly you started having lunch with Satou nearly every day in addition to visiting her room in the evening. Since neither of you had a boyfriend, how could you have been anything but lesbians? You had to have been, seeing that girls having tea and cookies together is not exactly tantalizing."

"B-B-B-B-But...!"

THAT MAKES NO SENSE AT ALL!

Jun gives me an overly cheerful smile, obviously finding this conversation extremely funny.

"At least you hooking up with Nakai must have quelled those rumors just a little bit, though I bet people are now wondering whether Satou is secretly part of the relationship or not."

Please be joking. Please be joking. Please be joking.

"We're... j-just f-friends."

Natsume scrapes her throat.

"Point is: if I were a lesbian, I probably wouldn't have done what I just did. I would have felt like a creep. This was simply a little nursing chore..."

I have to admit that in contrast to the way she was speaking to Naomi while calming her down, what I saw of Natsume's actual handling of things looked rather clinical and detached. The few times I allowed Hisao to apply my moisturizer lotion for me, there was no way I would have mistaken his touch for that of a hospital nurse.

"And can we maybe lay off that subject now and switch back to the reason we're here right now?"

That's more than acceptable to me. I quickly nod.

"H-How is she right now?"

"Sleeping like a baby. I managed to get her her jammies on, changed the blanket, and then I stuck around until her mind was clear enough to recognize me and comprehend the fact that she just had a seizure."

She looks at me.

"I'm sorry to ask this of you, but would it be okay if Naomi spends the night in your room? It usually takes her brain some time to recover from a seizure, and she could use the rest right now. You can spend the night here if you like. You don't have to worry about Naomi going through your stuff. She'd never betray your hospitality like that, and besides, she'll probably be too sore to even make it out of bed tomorrow morning though I'll try to help her make it to her own room after she's had a night's sleep."

I reluctantly nod. I guess I can stay here. Or I could simply ask Hisao if I can stay over.

"O-Okay then."

Jun gives Natsume a worried look.

"Is she always like that when she comes out of a seizure?"

I'm a bit curious about that as well. I learned at the first aid training that people who just had a seizure are often in a disorientated and confused state for some time afterwards, but since Naomi's usually carried to the nurse's office on a stretcher after a seizure in class has died down, I've never really seen the aftermath until today. It was kind of disturbing to see Naomi act like a lost and frightened little child rather than the bundle of energy she usually is.
07
"Most of the time. She usually suffers from brief memory loss after the seizure ends and waking up not knowing what happened, where you are or even who you are can be really terrifying to a person. That's why I asked you not to get a nurse. I figured leaving her in an unfamiliar room with a person she doesn't know would discomfort her even more."

"Speaking of discomfort, has that... ah... thing with the bedsheets happened before?"

Natsume stares at the floor for several seconds before replying.

"Never in class, and I thank my lucky stars for that. It's happened twice or thrice in my presence over the years, and if there have been other occasions, I doubt that Naomi would have told me about them."

Natsume's expression takes on a tinge of sadness.

"Those epileptic fits are demeaning enough as they are, but I think that for the most part Naomi's resigned herself to the fact that they happen to her from time to time. But this is... different. After the first time this happened with me present, Naomi spent a good deal of the week avoiding me, and even afterwards she was really awkward with me for some time. I had been hoping to save you two the trouble of having to deal with that by cleaning things up before she became aware enough to notice what happened. This night's events will probably remain a big blur in her mind, so if you two don't slip up, she won't ever know what happened other than the fact that she had an episode. Ignorance can be bliss sometimes."

Jun and I nod understandingly.

"I w-won't tell anyone."

"Me neither. I guess some things are bad enough to even embarrass Naomi."

Natsume gives Jun an amused smirk.

"This may surprise you, but Naomi's actually quite self-concious about how others perceive her."

Judging from her expression, that does indeed surprise Jun.

"She doesn't come across as someone who ever keeps a low profile."

"You have to remember that it's impossible for someone like Naomi to be completely inconspicuous, whether she likes it or not. Even if she goes out of her way to avoid attracting anyone's attention, it's usually only a matter of time before her condition kicks in and forces her to create a public spectacle. So it's not so much the question whether Naomi ends up sticking in people's minds or not, but merely for what reason."

Jun raises an eyebrow.

"Are you saying that Naomi goes out of her way to define herself to people before her condition has the chance to do it for her? Even if it means acting a bit like a goofball at times?"

Natsume nods.

"Naomi's worst fear is probably that people end up remembering her merely as that one girl who has fits in class."

"I see."

There's a momentary silence as Natsume's words sink in. I don't know about Jun, but what Natsume said about Naomi resonated deeply with me. I wonder for a moment how the people from my former schools remember me. There's no doubt in my mind that I'll live on in their memories as just that one panicky recluse with the hidious scars on her face. They might remember the nicknames they made up for me, but I don't think anyone remembers my actual name anymore by now. For a long time, I was probably headed for a similar fate here. With luck, I'll be able to avoid that this time.

Jun absentmindedly fiddles with her screwdriver a bit before turning to Natsume.

"Doesn't Naomi take medication to prevent those episodes?"

"She does, but most of the medication she's tried so far has only been able to decrease the frequency of her episodes. If she was able to suppress her seizures completely, I don't think she'd be attending here. She's tried a lot of different meds over time, but most either didn't work or forced her to deal with very unpleasant side effects. One of the few treatment drugs that seemed to work for a while nearly ruined her social life in the past."

"Her social life?"

Natsume nods.

"One of the drugs she tried seemed to work at first, without immediately noticable side effects like skin rash or drowsiness, but it later turned out that the dose she needed to keep her episodes at bay had an effect on her mood."

"You mean it made her depressed?"

"No, more like agitated... irritable. Kind of like a permanent case of PMS. It started to take an ever increasing strain on her relationships. After a falling out with one of her best friends, she decided that having fits in public was still better than not being herself anymore and other people believing her to be someone she isn't."

I'm not really sure what to think about that. Naomi always made the impression on me of being someone who didn't care what others thought of her. But judging from what Natsume just said, it seems like deep inside she cares very much about that. Before this meeting I remember being very anxious about making a bad impression and straining my relationship with Naomi and Jun. Now I start wondering whether Naomi was perhaps just as worried as I was and just didn't show it.

We sit there in silence for a few minutes, and then Natsume slowly gets up.
08
"Perhaps it would be a good idea to call it a night. Thank you again for letting Naomi use your room, Hanako. I'll wash your blanket for you together with Naomi's clothes, so don't worry about that. I'll also go over there tomorrow morning and make sure she gets back to her own room. I might be a little bit late in class, but when Mutou reads the nurses' night report I don't think he'll make a big deal out of it."

"T-Thanks. What about Naomi?"

"Well, it's Saturday tomorrow, and we'll only have classes until noon. Naomi often says that after a hefty seizure, her muscles feel like she jogged up Mount Fuji in one go. I suspect the trip from your bedroom to hers will be all the physical effort we can expect out of her tomorrow."

I exchange a glance with Jun. She nods as if she just read my thoughts.

"Ummm... M-maybe we c-can v-visit her tomorrow after classes and... keep her company?"

Natsume smiles.

"You should. I think she'd really like that. Just be prepared to hear her complain every ten seconds or so about how sore her muscles are."

"O-Okay."

Natsume says her goodbye, promising me I'll be able to get back into my own room before classes start tomorrow. After she leaves, Jun also starts getting up.

"I'd best be going as well. We both had a rough evening."

"Are you... okay now?"

"Yes. I was just a little freaked out when it happened, but I'm fine now."

She sighs.

"When you think about it, that epilepsy of hers is a pretty messed up condition. It's not just the seizures and the memory loss and the medication and that incident with your blanket. If you look at this room, you can tell that it's geared towards someone who could go into convulsions almost completely at random. That's gotta be so creepy. You take a bath, you risk drowning. You walk up a staircase, you risk breaking your neck. How does she put up with it?"

By joking about it and living her life to the fullest without worrying too much, it seems.

"With... a s-smile, I think. Knowing her..."

"I wouldn't want to trade places with her. My condition isn't exactly a blessing, but I'd still take mine over hers, thank you very much."

"..."

Jun opens the door, but before she walks out, she turns around and smiles awkwardly at me.

"This sure was an unusual first meeting, was it not? I wonder if this is going to be a regular occurrance."

I giggle.

"I hope not."

"I've been thinking..."

"Yes?"

"Maybe 'The Broken Quills' isn't such an inappropriate name for us after all."

We both let out a laugh, mostly as a relief from the insanity of this evening.

"M-Maybe not... Shall we tell Naomi tomorrow that we accepted her suggestion?"

"Let's do that."

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

"Hisao?"

I softly whisper the name of my boyfriend, but receive no reply. He's probably asleep already. After Jun left, I realized I didn't really feel completely comfortable spending the night in an unfamiliar room, so I snuck into the boys' dorm and asked Hisao if I could stay over, which he had no problems with. Now that we're lying in bed, I'm absentmindedly fiddling with my hair as I'm thinking about the events that took place this evening. Especially Jun's words after Natsume left have been nagging me almost non-stop.

(My condition isn't exactly a blessing, but I'd still take mine over hers, thank you very much.)

I didn't tell her that, but my first reaction to her statement was to agree with it. It took me a while to let that sink in and realize how shocking that was.

I'm not particularly happy with the way my life has turned out. There's nearly a decade of my life that I'd like to erase from my memories if such a thing was possible, and I'm not even 20 yet. Unlike Lilly, Hisao, Jun and Naomi, people only need a single glance at me to be able to tell that something's seriously wrong with me. I'll have these scars for the rest of my life. Even though it's no longer as bad as it used to be, I'm also still a nervous wreck at times who gets panicky about stuff that other people wouldn't even think twice about. I have very few people in my life, and I tend to anxiously avoid those I'm not familiar with. My scars come with their own set of physical limitations. All in all, my life's hardly enviable. And yet...

Would I want to trade my life with any of them? Would I want to walk on eggshells all the time like Jun, knowing a casual misstep could severely injure me and spend a large part of my life dealing with one bone fracture after another?

Or Natsume, who has to deal with chronic pain and stiffness of her joints on a regular basis even though she's in the prime of her life?

How about Naomi, who has to deal with the combination of sudden dramatic seizures that make her the center of unwanted attention whenever they happen and medication that she doesn't always react well to?

Would I want to trade places with Lilly, who can only navigate places unsupervised if she's memorized the layout? Who is dependant on others for several basic things and who can never read normal books or watch movies?

Do I envy Hisao his life, who is regularly confronted with his own mortality, has to take a truckload of medication every day and who knows that a sharp shock, excertion or simple scare could kill him?

I'm not really sure anymore. I probably have more trouble functioning in everyday life than any of my friends, and yet my life may very well be a lot more normal than theirs in a decade or so. That notion keeps whirling around in my head for quite some time. Before sleepiness finally gets the better of me, one thought sticks in my mind, and to my surprise it is accompanied by a sense of curiosity rather than anxiety.

I wonder what my life will be like a few years from now on.
09
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 40

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:05 am

Chapter 40
01
Yuichi Imai.

I hesitate for a moment before pushing the buzzer underneath the label that bears his name. The last time I visited this place things went downhill pretty quickly. I kinda wonder if it was a good idea to come here. Still, I guess it beats spending the Sunday evening in my hotel room or at some random bar. Besides, if I hadn't told Lilly last night that I'd be having dinner at Yuichi's place today, she probably would have spent the entire evening trying to convince me to visit our parents' home together with her today. At least now we got to spend that evening relaxing, catching up and hanging out in her dorm room together with Hanako and Hisao. I had a pretty good time. It's good being back in Japan for just a little while. The weather's nice too. Octobers in the UK are a lot colder and wetter from what I've heard.

I hear the intercom crackle a bit and then a familiar voice greets me.

"Akira?"

"Yo."

A high-pitched beep sounds, and the door to my right slowly swings open.

Last night while hanging out with my sister at Yamaku I was able to pretend that nothing had changed. For a little while at least. Can I do the same with my ex-boyfriend? Would that even be a good idea? I'm not sure. I make my way up the stairs until I reach the front door of his apartment, which opens as I approach. My former boyfriend steps out, gives me a friendly wave and we get inside. As he closes the door we stand there awkwardly for a moment. This used to be the point in time where we'd share a kiss, but since we've broken up that's not exactly appropriate anymore.

"...Dinner's almost ready."

"...Neat."

I take off my shoes and get ready to put them away, but before I do so I turn to my ex and give him a determined look.

"Yuichi, I appreciate you inviting me over, but let's get one thing out of the way first."

"...You don't have to say it."

"Yeah, I do. I just want to make it clear that me accepting your invitation does not mean I'm here to rekindle our relationship. Okay?"

"Fair enough."

I wonder. Personally I'd be surprised if we get through the evening without him trying to convince me to give things another chance.

"So Akira, why did you come here?"

I anticipated that question.

"Well I never hated hanging out with you. As long as we keep expectations realistic there's no reason for us not to have a good time this evening."

I fidget a bit. The next part is more difficult.

"Also... I feel kinda bad about the crappy way we parted last time. I've promised myself to leave here as a friend tonight."

"Friend, huh?"

"Well, we used to be friends before we started dating. I get that not a lot of couples can manage to remain friends after a breakup, but this breakup wasn't about anything related to you as a person, so maybe we can make this work. I'd like it to."

"Guess we'll have to see. This way please."

He's a little bit more distant than usual, but given the manner in which we parted ways last time that's understandable. Heck, keeping the reason I broke up with him in mind, he has plenty of reason to be bitter. As I enter his living room a very pleasant smell makes its way up my nostrils. It smells like he went out of his way to make something delicious.

"Hey, that smells pretty good!"

"I'll probably be done in a second. Make yourself comfortable."

"Want me to... ummm... help?"

It's not a serious offer. Yuichi's family runs a small restaurant, and he's a pretty good cook in his own right while I'm a pretty lousy one. We both know it. He still finds it extremely funny that my blind sister is better at this than I am.

"Not unless my neighbors calling the bomb squad again is your idea of a pleasant evening."

I give him an angry glare, mostly because it's expected of me, but inside I'm actually relieved. Usually I'd be semi-annoyed by his playful jabs at my sordid cooking skills but right now this familiar little ritual between us feels comfortable and reassuring. If he hadn't reacted the way he did after such a tempting lead-in, I'd probably have been concerned.

"Hohoho, very funny. Let's see if this food of yours is worth tasting or if it merely smells good."

He gets back to the kitchen counter, and I take a seat at the table. I take a moment to look him over while his back is turned.

Yuichi and I have known each other for several years though it wasn't exactly love at first sight between us. I'd like to think my colleagues at the Japanese branch consisted of four groups; those who were friendly to me mainly because I was a Satou, those who silently resented me mainly because I was a Satou, those who were part of both the previous groups and those who made an attempt to pretend I was an ordinary colleague. The latter category consisted of far less people than the former three, although since even I will admit that the sole reason I even got a job at the company was due to my family ties, I can't say I'm surprised about this. Yuichi was one of the people who fit into the last category. We worked at different departments, and he was often away from the office, but we occasionally exchanged small talk during lunch when he wasn't visiting clients.

Shortly after meeting me for the first time, when my colleagues went for a drinking party and I, as usual, turned down the offer to join them, Yuichi approached me and confided in me that he heard some people thought I believed myself 'too good' to associate with ordinary coworkers despite being a junior employee and that it was probably a good idea to hang out with my colleagues from time to time after work and at least make an attempt to become 'part of the team just like everybody else'.

I was annoyed and even a bit angry at his words and told him that 'everybody else' didn't have a blind kid sister waiting for them at home and that I considered it more important to spend my limited free time with her than hanging out with coworkers and pretending to have fun. He apologized and left, and I later realized that it probably wasn't fair of me to blame him for pointing out what I already knew many people around the office thought about me. In fact, I came to appreciate the fact that he at least tried to do something about a bad situation instead of resigning himself to it and trying to avoid making waves, and he seemed to be understanding of my reasons to stay away rather than dismissive. So the next lunch break I approached him and sincerely thanked him for his concern. We ended up befriending each other soon afterwards.

At some point he asked if I was interested in having a drink with him. I accepted, and I learned that evening that his alcohol tolerance was the exact opposite of mine. While I wasn't even feeling fuzzy yet, he was already three sheets to the wind, and that evening I ended up receiving a drunk love confession that was both excruciatingly awkward and highly amusing. That next day he tried to avoid me of course, but I ended up telling him that I'd be happy to give it a try when the time was right. At that point I simply wanted to be there for Lilly, and I'd feel guilty about spending what little free time I had maintaining a dating life, but if Lilly was old enough to live on her own at some point and he was still interested at that time, I'd be happy to pursue a relationship with him. So for some time we remained friends, and after Lilly moved into the dorms at Yamaku, Yuichi and I started dating.

Yuichi is rather up-front in private which makes our relationship occasionally combatitive, but most of the time we both do a good job at limiting ourselves to playful teasing and banter. I sincerely like Yuichi and felt genuinely rotten when I had to break up with him, but after having spent some time at head office in Scotland I've become convinced that my decision to migrate to Scotland was the right one.

"I hope you haven't gotten so hooked on chips and sausages that you're no longer able to appreciate a good Japanese dish."

Having finished his preparations, Yuichi walks up to the table carrying a delicious dish of rice, fried vegetables and pieces of fish.

"I think I'll be okay. And besides, I've got something to flush it down with."

I fish a bottle of Scotch out of my bag and triumphantly put it on the table. His eyes widen a bit as he reads the label.

"40%? Are you trying to poison me?"

"Some of my new colleagues would probably take offense at you insulting their favorite liquor."

"Has it become your favorite liquor as well?"

"Nah, I still like beer more whenever I visit one of the local pubs during the weekend. This is more of a special occasion drink. Except there haven't been many special occasions for some time and I don't like drinking alone anyway. I figured I'd bring it along as a gift."

"You're gonna perform a toast?"

"Not unless me having to calling the ambulance again is your idea of a pleasant evening."

I give him an overly cheerful smile, and am rewarded with an annoyed glare. He doesn't like being confronted with the fact that I can hold my liquor so much better than he can.

"I guess that makes us even now. How about a truce? At least until we finish the meal."

"Fine with me. I was actually thinking you could give this bottle to your dad. He's really into 'exotic' liquors, isn't he? You offer this to him, and you'll be his favorite person in the world for weeks on end."

"Hey, that's actually a pretty good idea. I think I'll do that. Thanks."

"Well, let's dig in before it gets cold."

We quietly start eating, and I make sure to give a few satisfied nods during the meal to let him know it tastes very good. After finishing the food we head over to the couch, and I make sure to sit some distance away from him in order to accentuate the point I made earlier. He rolls his eyes for a moment but then shrugs his shoulders.

"I guess a lot has happened at head office since you moved, huh?"

"My arrival didn't really have anything to do with any of that. But yeah, it's been an eventful time."

"Care to share some about it?"

"I think you know most of it yourself by now. Your colleagues seemed informed enough when I dropped by the office two days ago. The rumor mill's still going as strong as it was the first time I came back from Scotland. It's worse than a sewing circle."

"Well, I got the gist of it. Your father got sudden health problems, so he ended up taking part in the negotiation meetings from his sickbed, and several folks over here shifted up the chain of command because Kojima got a promotion. A very significant one from what I've heard."
02
"Sudden health problems, huh? Is that what they're calling it?"

"What would you call it?"

"Health problems is one hell of a euphemism. Chronic back pain is a health problem. That heart attack came this close to killing him. He was lucky Hanako recently picked up CPR."

"Who's Hanako?"

"Lilly's best friend. Lilly and two of her best friends from school were visiting at the time. They were with him when he collapsed. Hanako managed to keep him going until the ambulance arrived. Thank goodness the hospital wasn't far."

"He got a heart attack out of nowhere?"

"Hardly out of nowhere. He had been under the weather for weeks. We figured it was just the stress of the takeover process. We didn't think they were symptoms of an impending heart attack. He didn't bother to tell us."

"Wait... He knew?"

I give him a strong stare from across the couch.

"None of this is gonna leave this room, right?"

"Of course not."

"He's had high blood pressure for years. His general practitioner was only surprised he lasted as long as he did."

"And nobody else knew?"

"Nope, not even Mom. I think it's taken her quite a while to forgive him for that. She took it really hard when she found out that the he knew he was a risk case."

"Why didn't he tell anyone?"

"In the end I think it came down to his legacy. It took ages before Granddad retired as head of the business. Dad probably wanted to leave his own mark on the company. He figured that if people knew about his health they'd start pressuring him to take it easy - or even step down. He was probably afraid of not being able to live up to his father."

I smirk briefly.

"The funny thing is that the work culture in Inverness is completely different from the office here, and none of his direct colleagues would consider his actions a noble sacrifice on behalf of the company. They'd all think he was crazy for putting his health at risk for a mere job."

"Eventually you and your mother ended up helping him take care of his legacy, didn't you? Together with Kojima."

"Mom initially didn't feel like flying to the US with Dad still bedridden, but Lilly eventually managed to convince her to bring the whole thing to a close while she stayed behind in Inverness to look after Dad. Kojima went along in order to reassure the board back in Japan, but in practice he was little more than an observer. Mom was the one who has been involved in the negotiation talks since the beginning, and she was most familiar with the people and the American business culture, so she was the one who did most of the speaking with me chipping in on frequent occasions."

"You?"

I tell him about his trouble speaking due to his busted ribs and the conference system we set up so he could still take credit for taking part in the whole deal without having to be present or feel ashamed for barely being able to talk.

"In the end you managed to reach a deal, right? This will probably look good on your resume too."

"I didn't really do much besides act as Dad's voice. He and Mom deserve the credit."

"So, how was it spending over a week with your mom?"

"I didn't really interact much with her. I spent more time with the rest of my colleagues. It was a pretty good opportunity to get to know them better. The system administrator who came with us was a bit socially awkward, but ridiculously knowledgable in the realm of Japanese manga. Made for quite a bit of relaxing conversation for a recent immigrant like myself."

"You don't think it would have been an opportunity to reconnect with your mother?"

"I think she had enough on her mind already as things were."

"..."

I can tell from his stare that Yuichi thinks I'm making excuses, but that's not the case this time. While we were in the US, I could tell that there was something on Mom's mind. Something that bothered her enough to have several restless nights and the occasional absent-minded look whenever we were alone. It could have been simple worry about Dad, but since Lilly gave us daily updates on his condition, there was probably more to it than that. Maybe she knew all along how things were going to play out with Dad at the company. If she and I had been closer, I probably would have asked her to confide in me. As things were, the only thing I could do was avoid imposing on her too much.

"Anyway, it still felt very satisfying to return to Inverness and report that our company now had three branches."

When Mom and I returned to the mansion, Lilly and Dad were waiting for us. Dad was still in a pretty sorry state, but he nevertheless went outside together with Lilly to greet us. When we got out of the car and stated to Dad that the trip had been a success (which he knew already of course since he had taken part in the meetings), he bowed deeply to us and started saying how proud he was of both of us - now that we'd dragged his bum out of the fire. He was being really formal about it, and it turned out that Mom wouldn't have any of that at that moment. Before he could finish his speech, she stepped forward and hugged him with one arm while embracing Lilly with the other. He seemed surprised and awkward about it, but didn't resist or protest. Lilly, on the other hand, looked happier than I've seen her in a very long time. I didn't really feel like being part of the whole thing, so I took that moment to say goodbye and return to my apartment. They didn't try to stop me, and I'm happy they didn't let me ruin their little moment.

"So I guess your dad's honor was saved. Though from what I heard it didn't exactly last."

"It didn't. It still took us by surprise though. At least it took me by surprise. I wasn't there when he heard the news."

"About Mr. Kojima?"

"That's not his name anymore. He's called Koji Satou now."

"So you now have a new uncle?"

I do. The head of the Japanese branch more or less got the ultimate promotion when Granddad adopted him as a son, heir and new head of the family - and adopted his wife along with him.

"Yeah... Still feels weird to call him that though. I usually settle for his name with a honorific attached to it when we're alone."

"He's kind of old to be adopted though."

"What are you talking about? Last time I heard nearly 98% of all adoptees in this country are adult guys."

"That's not what I'm talking about. Aren't adoptees usually in their late twenties?"

"Yeah and if Dad had been replaced when he was still around that age, they would have plucked a fresh prodigy out of Tokyo University's graduate pool and planted him in the company to learn the ropes, but whoever was going to transfer to another continent where they couldn't teach him the ropes or keep an eye on him had to be a senior executive with experience and loyalty to the company. Koji's worked for the company for decades, and his dad was a friend of the family. They trust him, and they probably felt he earned the opportunity. Even Dad doesn't seem to begrudge him his promotion, though it's possible he's merely putting on an act. It's hard to tell."

"Still sucks for your dad though. At least they didn't expect him to adopt his own successor."

"Koji's two years older than Dad. It's not possible to adopt people older than yourself unless you're willing to use loopholes..."

He snickers.

"You're the lawyer. I'll take your word for it. It would have been weird having an adopted brother old enough to be your father."

"Besides maybe they figured this was already enough of a blow to him as it was. No need to rub even more salt in his wounds."

"He wanted to keep going after his recovery?"

"I think so. His job and what he called his 'responsibilities' have always been everything to him. I think he thought he'd be able to pull it off as long as he kept himself under close medical surveillance."

"But not everybody agreed with him, it seems."

"I guess they felt he wouldn't be able to give his all to the company anymore. Or worse, have another heart attack and die from it. The British would actually find that kind of thing morbidly amusing: The CEO of a company making heart monitors being a heart patient. But black comedy isn't exactly something I think the board enjoys. They'd probably see it as a massive loss of face. Since the company is still a family business, and a Satou had to be in charge, they simply made Koji a Satou and adopted him and his wife into the family."
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 40 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:05 am

"How did your dad take the news that he was laid off?"

"They didn't fire him directly. Granddad simply adopted Koji and Dad was told his new brother would be assisting him with his duties from now on, and he was asked to teach his new second-in-command the ropes. They probably expected Dad to take the hint and resign of his own - which he did. I'm not sure how he reacted to the news when he got it since I wasn't there when it was broken to him. When I spoke to him he seemed resigned to it, and he said they told him that at least he'd be well provided for."

I can't help but crack a sad smile at that. Of course Dad received a significant percentage of the company shares in compensation and a position on the board, although since he's so much younger than the rest, he'll have very little say in practice. Still, the hidden meaning behind that way he worded his answer to me was quite clear. Yuichi doesn't need to know that story though.

"Lilly worries about him though. She says he's taking it a lot harder than he likes to let on."

"She's probably right about that."

I look at my former boyfriend with an inquisitive look.

"You're a former family heir too, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but our simple family restaurant wasn't what you'd call a multinational. I was meant to take it over, but I was never really much of a manager to begin with. So eventually my parents adopted someone who had shown interest in managing it and who ended up getting married to my sister."

"What was that like?"

"It's never fun to be replaced, and it kind of hurts your ego. Oldest sons have a special status in the family. It's like an identity you grow up with since early childhood. I was lucky I was never that interested in taking over the business and came to that conclusion early. Your dad spent decades in that role."

"Yeah."

"Losing your employment at a company you've worked your entire life at sucks to begin with. You lose the environment you formerly spent nearly 80 hours a week in. You lose pretty much your entire social circle and all your friends. And you lose your daily routine..."

"I think several of those already vanished when he moved to Scotland. Working culture is different there. People usually work only around 40 hours a week and often seek their friends outside the workplace."

"...but losing your status as patriarch at this point is way more than that. In addition to your inheritance suddenly dropping down from 'everything' to 'nothing' it also comes with a sense of shame and failure. And a loss of purpose. He probably feels like part of his identity has been stripped away and given to someone else."

I don't have much experience with adoptions, so I'll take Yuichi's word for it. If what he says is remotely accurate, it's kind of hard not to feel pity for the old man at this point, despite the fact that I'm still not overly fond of him.

"Well, at least he still has Mom and Lilly to cheer him up. They seem pretty determined not to let him sink further into a depression."

"And parts of their efforts to cheer him up involved moving back to Japan, huh?"

"Yeah, they moved back here permanently not long ago. The decision wasn't made easily. Mom was initially hesitant to leave her homeland again and mentioned that several companies there would have welcomed Dad and would even offer him part-time employment if his health wouldn't allow full-time work. Koji wasn't eager to see them move either. But Lilly and I made a pretty strong plea for moving, and Dad eventually took our side. When she flew to Japan to drop Lilly off, Mom even went to look at some houses afterwards, so she probably expected this outcome already. Our old house was sold some time ago, and they've moved into a new neighborhood. Made a brand new start as it were."

"So, aren't you considering moving back here as well?"

"I didn't move to Scotland for my parents. I moved there for my job. And my job wasn't shipped back to Japan."

"But both your parents and your sister are now living here."

"And I'm happy for her. Lilly still needs her parents despite the grownup appearance she puts on, and now that she's given them another chance I sincerely hope they don't blow it. If she spends enough time with them, they might actually become a family again."

"She's decided to give them another chance, but you obviously haven't."

"They never even apologized for just walking out on us. A heart attack sucks a lot, but it's not an apology. A thank you to me would be appreciated too."

"A thank you?"

"Thank you Akira, for being there for Lilly in our place during her puberty and some of the toughest school years of her life. We appreciate the fact that we can pick things up again now that the hardest part is largely over."

"...you're still pretty bitter about that."

"...I guess I am."

I'd be lying if I denied that this is how I feel. Lilly has her life pretty well in order right now and is hardly in need of any parental oversight anymore. Mom and Dad can now tell themselves that they're good parents by merely hanging out with her. How easy. I noticed that this train of thought kept returning to me whenever I saw my sister and our parents interact lately. I guess it's not healthy for me to think or feel like that, but it's been on my mind a lot, and it's one of the reasons I decided not to accompany Lilly to our parents' new place today. I realized I just don't feel comfortable seeing them interact.

"You think you'll get an apology?"

"Naw. Especially not from Dad. He'd probably feel it'd weaken his position as head of the family. As if his failures don't exist as long as he doesn't admit them. Doesn't work that way with me."

"Well, offering apologies isn't exactly a family trait to begin with."

"Okay, what does that mean?"

"That palm print was still on my cheek the morning after you left last time."

I sigh. Last time we were together was when I came by his place to invite him to a weekend trip to our family's summer home in Hokkaido. I planned to tell him about the job offer I took while we were there, but the damn office rumor mill had already caught up with me by that time, and Yuichi was quick to confront me with what he learned about my upcoming departure. I wasn't proud of my decision to move, and when we got into an argument I was prepared to take his reproaches in stride. I managed that just fine at first until the moment he argued that I was a lot more like my parents than I cared to admit. That was the one thing he shouldn't have said. I lost my temper, gave him a hard slap across the cheek and stormed out of his apartment with the intention of never speaking with him again. I felt crappy about it afterwards but still didn't speak to him until we ran into each other this week while 'uncle' Koji and I were at the Japanese office for a few days.

"Who exactly used to like leaving hickeys on my neck?"

"I know which one of the two I'd rather receive."

"Fine. I guess I shouldn't have slapped you. I'm really sorry about that. But that remark you made was still way out of line."

"It wasn't really an intentional attempt to hurt you. It was more like... an angry observation."

I narrow my eyes at his words, but he shows no sign of backing off.

"What exactly was it you said back then? It was something like: 'Life isn't a fairy tale. You can't set it up and expect it to stay that way forever; sometimes stuff happens that you have to roll with, even if it means hurting yourself or others.', wasn't it?"

"My job would have hit a pretty abrupt dead end if I hadn't taken that offer. Heck, at least over there people won't start pressuring me to quit my job and start making babies when I turn 30. You said before that you understood my situation. Has that changed?"

"It hasn't, but I kind of wonder if maybe your dad has been in a similar situation in the past and thought the same thing as you at the time."

"He was worried about his job if he had refused? Is that what you're saying?"

"Is it that hard to believe, given what's happened recently? As head of the company he could at least guarantee you a job long enough for you to learn the ropes and pass the exams required to get your law degree, but only for as long as he maintained that position. Maybe that's part of what he meant when he said he'd be guaranteeing your financial future by accepting his promotion and moving to Inverness. Who knows what his replacement would have done. People usually aren't given a job in a legal department without a solid university degree, so maybe your dad figured that giving up his influence in the company would have made things complicated for you too."

I never really thought of it that way. I always assumed that they had no choice but to stick with Dad and that he could do whatever he pleased, but maybe that wasn't the case after all.

"You think that the threat of replacement was an issue even then?"

"In most other countries family businesses underperform compared to their competitors. Over here it's the exact opposite. There are two reasons for that. The first one is the fact you can pick an heir from the academic cream of the crop if none of your own sons is up to the challenge. The second one is that the biological heirs who do take over their father's business are extremely motivated to perform well because they know that their job and family position can be given to someone else if they mess up. One of the reasons I wasn't eager to take over my dad's restaurant was the fact I didn't like the idea of living with that kind of pressure for a job that didn't even catch my interest. But yeah, I think he knew. You can't motivate someone if he doesn't know that he has a lot to lose. And a company heir who willingly tosses aside his responsibilities doesn't easily get a second chance, here or anywhere else, because he'll be seen as unreliable from then on. And with two daughters to provide for, including a blind one... "

"...okay, okay, makes sense, I guess. But even so..."

"Hmmm?"

"It's not like Mom and Dad saw each other that often during their marriage. Dad has had to deal with long working hours for as long as I can remember. Usually when someone gets promoted and has to move and his family can't come along, he just goes to live on his own and visits his family on Sunday every weekend or whenever he has the time. Why did he have to request Mom to accompany him and not us? I get that Mom's been a great help in getting him settled there but she could have advised him over the phone or simply spent some weeks there. I get that he was probably lonely there, but they've been slowly growing apart ever since they moved, so in the end it might have done more harm than good to his marriage. Or they could have taken Lilly along with them. There are good schools in Scotland too. Heck, they could have phoned her more often."

"I won't try to justify any of that."

A brief silence. He tosses me a can of beer that I catch and open with a grateful nod. Looks like he still remembers my favorite brand.

"You're angry that I walked out on you like this?"

"You said your father was rather lonely. Are you happy over there?"

"I think so. I still try to speak with Lilly over the phone twice a week or so. Company culture at work couldn't be more different. I start at half past 8 each day and go home at 5 in the afternoon. That's 6 hours less than I used to work here. There's overtime from time to time, but it's an exception rather than a rule. Meetings are quick and people skip the small talk. There's a lot of focus on efficiency. People are pretty direct and not afraid to respectfully challenge their superiors. We're expected to give our all, but overall I think I like it there. I've had more free time in these last two months than I had in my last two years here. Colleagues generally don't hang out after work and get-togethers aren't mandatory, but I've joined a gym that some of my new colleagues go to, and there's some people I met there that I sometimes visit a pub with during the weekends. All in all, I think I've managed to adapt well and fairly quickly, even though I still feel like a fish out of the water at times. But I felt the same at the Japanese branch, so that makes no difference."

"How about your new boss? How's he doing? He's older than you, so the change must be bigger for him. "

"There's a lot of competent people there, but the place has to be managed like a western company because that's what the employees are used to. Even for Dad it was a massive culture shock and he had Mom to advise him on how to deal with things. I think that's part of the reason the job was so stressful for him. Mom has a deal with Koji that she'll give him all the advice he wants when he needs it and will frequently drop by in Scotland to help keep an eye on things and to help smooth over any conflicts or misunderstandings. In return, Koji's wife will be taking care of Dad's parents instead of Mom."

"She didn't come along?"

"Koji's wife doesn't even speak English. She'd be utterly isolated and miserable there. That does make it more lonely for him though. I've been trying to occasionally spend time with him and keep an eye on him so he doesn't end up in the same situation as Dad."

"That can't be bad for your career prospects."

"I want to go and get a good deal of experience here, but I'm not sure if I wanna work there forever. I've spoken with some of my colleagues, and I've learned that it's pretty socially acceptable in the UK to leave your job if you get a better offer somewhere else."

"No company loyalty huh?"

"Not to the point of working several hours of unpaid overtime a day and sticking around until the boss goes home. People see the whole thing as a way to earn a living, rather than as a social obligation to their boss. I've done some thinking, and maybe I'll leave the company someday as well. I still like it there, but I'd also like to tell myself I got somewhere without having needed to use my family relations as a crutch. I'd even be willing to take a slight drop in pay for the ability to tell myself I'm in a certain position solely because my boss thinks I'm more qualified for it than any other person."

"So all in all you've settled yourself pretty nicely over there."

From the tone of his voice that's not merely a neutral conclusion.

"...maybe I'll return to Japan someday, but certainly not now. This isn't just about Mom and Dad. I want to know if I'll be able to set up a life there and feel like I'm at home there. It's something I've wondered about for a long time. Lilly was sad to hear that but nevertheless said she'll be supporting me all the way. I get that you're angry because I took this decision so quickly, but..."

"I don't blame you for taking the job in Scotland without a moment's hesitation. It sounds like you made the right decision back then and that you still stand behind your choice."

"But...?"

"What stung was the fact that you probably made the decision to end our relationship in that same split-second. Like it didn't matter to you at all."

"That's not true."

"Last time you came here you didn't visit me to tell me about your decision to migrate. You visited me to break up with me. You already decided for the both of us by that point."

I sigh wearily.

"Don't tell me you were going to suggest a long distance relationship, Yuichi. Like I said I have no idea when and even if I'm going to return to Japan. And we barely had enough free time to maintain a normal relationship when I was still living here. Why set ourselves up for disappointment?"
03
"I was more thinking along the lines of asking for a transfer myself."

"What?"

"I would have mentioned that to you last time if you hadn't been in such a hurry to break up with me."

"You'd give up all your friends and family here just to make a new start there?"

"Don't tell me that's a crazy idea because you've done exactly that yourself."

"Your situation is completely different from mine and besides... I couldn't possibly ask that of you."

"You could have. You just didn't. Or wouldn't. Look, I'm a pretty worldly person, I'm a good English speaker, my parents aren't expecting me to take care of them anymore after they retire so it could have worked. Heck, a temporary working visa just to test the waters for a while could have worked as well."

"Could have worked?"

"You already broke up with me and insisted on being just friends. I'm not going to drop on my knees and plead for a second chance. Not when it was never my wish to see our relationship shot down to begin with."

I came here prepared for attempts to convince me to give things another try, but this is not something I saw coming. Is he really serious about this? Seems like it. Maybe he's right. Instead of wondering if there was a chance to save our relationship after accepting Dad's offer, I immediately started thinking of ways to break up my relationship with Yuichi without hurting him too badly. I kinda wonder if he doesn't deserve someone better than me. Still, the way he worded it suggests he's still open to giving it a try. Practically speaking it shouldn't be too hard. It would just take a little time to arrange a working visa. Koji will almost certainly greenlight the transfer if I ask him. He knows what it's like to live far away from one's partner.

I can't believe I'm actually seriously considering this. At the start of the evening I was loudly insisting I wasn't here to revive our relationship. So much for my determination.

His words are loud and clear. He wants to transfer too and give our relationship another try if I apologize profusely and tell him that I want him back. That'll be a serious blow to my pride, though it might just be worth it. Maybe.

I need to think. Somewhere. Without him staring at me.

"I'll... uh..."

"Sleep on it?"

I let out a resigned sigh.

"Maybe. But not here."

"Fair enough."

I don't think we'll be able to have any more small talk after this. Yuichi must have read my expression as he gets up and tosses me another beer can.

"One for the road."

"...Yeah."

As I put my shoes back on and walk out the door there's a painful silence between us. I give him an awkward wave and then walk down the hall to the elevator with a very confused feeling in my gut. Before entering my car I take out my cell phone and dial the top-most number on my contact list.

"..."

"Good evening. Lilly Satou speaking."

"Yo..."

"Akira. So good to hear from you. "

"Had fun with the folks today?"

"Your presence was missed here. The three of us went on a rather long walk today. Long for Father at least. He needs to rebuild his stamina, and Mother and I also felt that he needed to get out of the house more. It just doesn't seem right that he spends most of his days doing little more than sleeping in and reading on occasion."

Sounds like the old man is still struggling. My thoughts return briefly to Yuichi's words earlier about losing one's position as heir at this point in life. I make a mental note to tell Lilly about what my boyfriend said this evening since I think she'll find it interesting.

"It's only natural he'll need some time to sort things out and fill that sudden void in his life."

"How was your dinner with Yuichi?"

"...are you busy right now?"

"Just drinking tea with Hanako."

"I know it's already late, but err..."

"...when do you think you can be here?"

Wow, she caught on pretty quickly.

"In 35 minutes. No, make that half an hour."

"We'll be waiting."

A grateful smile appears on my face.

"Thanks Lils. You're the best."
04
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 41

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:05 am

Chapter 41
01
Bbeeeep - beeeep - beeeep

An earpiercing whine comes from the alarm clock near the bed, and I annoyedly swat at it in an attempt to make it shut up.

"Ouch!"

Unfortunately, somebody else was in the process of turning it off already, and as a result my hand ends up slapping his.

"S-Sorry!"

"That's not exactly a nice way to say good morning."

"Then... Maybe this makes up for it?"

I give my boyfriend a quick kiss as a means of apology. He smiles in response.

"Yeah, that ought to do it."

He yawns, stretches out and then slowly gets out of bed, putting on his boxers in the process. I look at his alarm clock. It's still really early in the morning. Hisao always sets his alarm clock this early during the week, so he can go running on the track before class. At least, when the weather permits it. As autumn gave way to winter, he's been forced to put off his track visits more and more. And now he's carefully brushing aside his curtain to see if that will be the case today as well.

"And...?"

"I don't know. It's not exactly dry, but it's not exactly pouring either."

I wrap the blanket around myself, walk over to where he's standing and peek through the gap between the curtains. I can clearly see raindrops falling from the sky. It might just get worse before it gets better. I bet it's kind of cold outside as well.

"It's raining again."

"It's not really raining, it's merely drizzling."

"Are you really planning to go running?"

"I'm not sure yet. I don't want to risk catching a cold, but I doubt I'll have much opportunity for running in the upcoming months."

"You could maybe use the fitness facilities in the auxiliary building after classes."

"I would if they were open in the morning. I'd rather use the afternoon to study."

He walks over to the shelf holding his medication and starts opening the various bottles standing there. I'm not sure if that means he has decided to go to the track anyway or if he simply feels he might as well get that part of his daily routine out of the way. In the meantime, I keep looking out the window.

"I think... it's starting to rain harder."

He walks back to the place where I'm standing and peeks past me.

"I don't really see anything different. Maybe it just seems to you that way."

"Eh?"

He grins.

"Maybe you'd just like me to get back to bed."

I smile.

"Wouldn't... you... too?"

He chuckles and nods, but doesn't really say anything. He just keeps staring out the window, still trying to make up his mind. I hesitate for a moment and then decide to help him a bit. Before I can have second thoughts, I walk back a few steps and use my hand to tidy and straighten my hair.

"H-Hisao...?"

"Hmmm?"
02
He waits for me to reply, and when I don't say anything back, he turns around to look at me. As he does so, I straighten myself out and then let go of the blanket, allowing it to slowly slide down to the ground. I can see his eyes grow wide at the sight of this bold gesture. I avert my eyes and blush heavily as I feel his gaze wander up and down my body, but I resist the urge to cover myself up again.

"Ummm..."

He doesn't say anything. He just keeps looking at me. He probably doesn't even know how to react. Nevertheless, there's a small trace of a smile on his face. Trying hard to ignore the shaky feeling in my legs, I slowly walk up to him, press myself against him and start kissing him deeply. During a breathing pause, I look into his eyes and do my best to give him my best smile.

"Hisao... W-why don't we go back to bed?"

As I say this, I gently press my right index finger against the side of his face, using it to tickle his earlobe before moving to a little spot on the side of his neck.

"Ah!"

I giggle as I watch him shudder. I remain focussed on his neck for a little while longer before running my finger down to the inside of his elbow. Over the course of the last four months, I've discovered countless little spots I can tickle or stroke to get a reaction out of him or get him aroused, and I can find most of them even with my eyes closed.

A playful kiss on his cheek.

"...Hisao?"

His breathing speeds up as I tickle his nipples before moving downward and putting my hand on the part between his legs.

"H-Hanako..."

He starts thrusting his lower body against my hand, and his own hand starts wandering across my body before stopping between my legs.

"S-Shall we...?"

I start instinctively grinding my private area against his hand, first slowly but then faster and harder.

"Y-You're not giving me a great deal of choice, are you?"

I giggle again, withdraw my hand and then, as a final tease, sneak it into his boxers and softly tickle him between his legs for just a split-second before withdrawing again. From what I just felt, I could tell that a visit to the track is the last thing on his mind right now. I walk back and sit down on the edge of the bed, looking at him expectantly. He waits for a moment and then takes off his boxers, rolling his eyes as he catches my gaze.

"Well, it's pretty clear I'm not exactly in good shape for running at the moment."

"Pffffffff..."

I quickly press my hand against my mouth to stifle a laughing fit. It's true that running would probably be uncomfortable for him right now. The alternative activity on the other hand...

"Shall we?"

I lie back, close my eyes and open my legs a bit to show him that I'm ready. A few seconds later I feel him get on top of me, and we let our mutual desire overtake us…

--------------------------------------
03
"Hanako!"

After getting back to the girls' dorm and having a shower and a quick bite, I put my books for today in my backpack and get ready to make my way to the school building. Just when I reach the exit, I hear someone calling my name.

"Natsume."

My classmate and clubmate slowly walks up to me as I turn around to face her. I notice she's still using a crutch to get around, just like last week.

"Good morning."

"Good morning."

Natsume looks past me at the rainy weather outside.

"I don't think it's going to stop raining before classes start. I take it that you're not planning to sprint through it?"

I pulled a sprint through the rain from the boys' dorm to the girls' dorm this morning, but I'd rather not arrive in class completely winded and out of breath, so I shake my head.

"I have an umbrella in my room. M-Maybe it's a good idea to go and get it."

"If you're heading out now, you can share mine."

She opens her backpack and takes a rather small folding umbrella out of it.

"Oh... ah... Thanks."

"It might be better if you hold the umbrella. It's a bit awkward to hold a crutch in one hand and an umbrella in the other."

"Sure."

I take Natsume's umbrella from her and fold it open. As I do so, I notice it's moist.

"You've... already been out this morning?"

"Yes, for a little walk. It's difficult, but the nurse said that it's especially important to remain physically active even during the bad times."

We start walking, and I do my best to match Natsume's slow pace while holding the umbrella above our heads. Natsume's reason for attending Yamaku is because she has rheumatoid arthritis, and if Naomi is to be believed, she's had a particularly bad spell last week. I don't really have as much interaction with Natsume as I do with Naomi, but she, Naomi and I usually join up these days whenever we're required to work in groups of three, and we also have to work on stuff together during our activities at the newspaper club from time to time. All in all, even though we're not extremely close we still get along pretty well.

"How... ah... is your arthritis today?"

"A little better than last week, though maybe that's just because I've had a higher dose of medication over the last few days. I think I'll manage as long as it doesn't get any worse. If it does, however, I'll be in big trouble."

"Because of the upcoming National Center Test for University Admissions?"

"Yes. I can't cram if I'm in constant pain, but I won't be able to study if I'm completely drugged up on painkillers either."

"I'm... sure you'll do fine. You've always had very good marks in class."

Natsume gives me a surprised look for a second or two but then catches herself and smiles.

"Thanks."

"I-Is something wrong?"

She shakes her head and smiles again.

"It's nothing. I never realized you paid attention to my grades. I sometimes just forget that we've spent nearly three years in the same class already. Sorry."

I get where she's coming from. Until last July I wasn't really that much of a classmate to Naomi and Natsume, but more someone who was present in class without really being part of it. Like a phantom of some sort. Looking back, I feel a sense of regret that it's taken me this long to start opening up to my neighbors in class.

"It's okay."

Natsume nods, and her smile slowly disappears again.

"Good marks aren't really enough though. More important is the upcoming National Center Test. From what I've seen of it, they call the preceeding period 'examination hell' for a reason."

"From what you've seen?"

"I have an older cousin who went through this thing four years ago. He eventually made it into the university he wanted to attend, but near the end he was really hanging on for dear life. He was like sleeping only a few hours a day, and he lost several kilos in weight in the process. He was afraid that if he slept more than four hours, he was guaranteed to fail the tests. My aunt said he looked like a zombie by the time the exams started."

"That sounds... really excessive."

"Well, we are competing on a national scale, you know?"

"I guess... all we can do is our best."

It probably helps that while I'm aiming for a good university, I'm not trying to get into the really famous ones like Tokyo University or Kyoto University, which are usually restricted to the cream of the national crop.

"I guess you're right."

We reach the school building, and I shake the raindrops off Natsume's umbrella before folding it up again and giving it back to her.

"Thanks. By the way... Were you away from the school grounds yesterday?"

"Huh?"

"Naomi wanted to stop by your room yesterday, and she went there several times over the course of the day, but she said that neither you nor Satou answered her knocking."

"Lilly spends most of her Sundays at her parents' home since they moved back here, and Hisao and I went on a d-date yesterday that lasted for most of the day."

We decided that yesterday was going to be the last date we'd go on until the exams are over, so we took our time and spent most of the day away from Yamaku.

"Oh, okay. Well, I'm sure we'll hear what it's about when she gets to class this morning."

"She didn't tell you already?"

"No, she said she wanted to tell you first. So if I had to make a guess, I'd say that it's related to that unofficial writing club the three of you started."

"The Broken Quills?"

Natsume rolls her eyes at the name that Naomi came up with for our club, but then nods.

"Yes. Naomi said I didn't need to wait for her this morning. It's possible she's somewhere around here telling Jun about it as we speak."

"I'm a little curious now."

"It's probably something good. We spent most of yesterday studying together, and there were several moments where she'd start grinning like a loon completely out of the blue. Still wouldn't tell me what was going through her mind."

We make it to the classroom, and I take a quick peek inside before entering. I notice Naomi's not here yet, but Hisao is, and he already seems absorbed in one of his study books. I quietly walk up to him, whisper a quick 'hey' and then quickly move to my own seat while hoping that nobody caught the knowing look we shared. I take out my books, but before I start studying, my thoughts return to this morning's earlier events. Before today, my way of taking the initiative was simply dropping a hint or two and then leaving things up to him. Today has been the first time that I've actively seduced him. I wonder what he thinks of me now that the adrenaline rush has settled down. Did I act inappropriately?
04
"There you are!"

My gaze jumps from my study books to the doorway, and I see my friend with the bleached blonde hair standing there sporting the biggest grin I've ever seen in my life. Natsume wasn't kidding when she said Naomi was in high spirits. I'd probably be happy for her if her attention wasn't focussed directly on me right now. As it is, I'm feeling very uncomfortable.

"Guess what? Guess what?"

Naomi, without breaking stride, walks right up to me, and I'm completely aware of the fact that all the students who already made it to class are looking at us right now. I instinctively get up and back away. Naomi, however, seems too excited to notice.

"W-What?"

"We totally rock! Mwah!"

"Eek!"

I yelp in surprise as my upbeat neighbor steps forward and lands a big wet smacker on my left cheek. My face instantly turns bright red, and my classmates' gazes, which were aimed at the two of us until just now, are now all directed squarely at me. Feeling like a deer in the headlights, I back away until I'm pressed against the wall.

"Ah... I... ummm..."

"Hey Inoue!"

Just when I'm about to consider making a break for it, the annoyed voice of my boyfriend cuts through the murmur.

"Why don't you go and get yourself a girlfriend of your own instead of hitting on somebody else's?"

I'm not sure if this remark was intended to divert attention away from me or if he's simply voicing his annoyance with Naomi's behavior, but regardless of the intention, the class bursts into laughter and people focus away from me and back on Naomi, who grins sheepishly and sticks her tongue out at Hisao.

"Is that jealousy I smell, Nakai?"

Natsume groans and gives Naomi a hard poke in the ribs with the handhold of her crutch.

"Stop being such a bonehead. What's this all about, and why is it necessary to make such a spectacle out of it?"

Naomi excitedly smiles at her best friend and produces a piece of paper from her handbag.

"Tadaah! Check this out!"

Natsume leans forward to read the paper Naomi's holding, but before her eyesight can focus, Naomi turns and presses it into my hands.

"You read it first, Hanako!"

Still feeling a little nervous, I take the piece of paper from Naomi and attempt to read it without letting my classmates' stares get to me.

Despite my frantically beating heart and nervousness, I manage to keep myself together long enough to read the piece of paper which turns out to be a certificate and I let out a surprised cry as I realize what it means.

"Oh!"

A proud smile appears on my face for a moment, and Hisao's previously annoyed frown gives way to a curious expression as he notices this.

"What is it, Hanako?"

"Umm... W-we won something in one of the writing contests we signed up for."

"Really?"

He walks up to me, and I hand him the certificate.

"It says here that your contribution made third place in the writing competition for high school students organized by a section of the Letters Faculty at Osaka University. The prize money is a sum of 20,000 yen."

Naomi once again gives an excited thumbs-up.

"Isn't it awesome?"

Takashi Maeda, who sits in front of me in class, gives Naomi a grumpy glare.

"You raised all this ruckus for a third place?"

Naomi narrows her eyes and shoots a withering look of her own right back at her classmate.

"Tell me Maeda, how many contests have you participated in? Ever won anything? Have your artistic talents already been recognized by people in the field? Holding expositions already?"

Natsume rolls her eyes, gets up and puts a hand on her best friend's shoulder.

"Alright, relax already. You could have been more subtle about this whole thing, but I think it's a great achievement for both of you. I mean, it's not like you girls have had years of experience, right? I really am impressed."

Naomi beams at her friend's words.

"That's kind of what Hoshino said. He reminded me that there were close to 200 participants, so in the end we still did well."

Hisao gives me a proud look.

"I'd love to hear more about that, but..."

He looks at the doorway, and we notice that Mutou has just arrived in class.

"...it looks like it'll have to wait."

--------------------------------------
05
"...and I don't think I need to stress the importance of being well-prepared for the next week. You are all free to spend this hour and the afternoon studying for whatever subject you believe will need the most attention. Be sure to make the most of the time you still have."

I can hear a few soft sighs. Mutou isn't really telling anyone anything new, but I suppose it's part of his job to keep harping on this.

Somewhere around the middle of next week, we'll have mock exams. They're the closest thing to a dress rehearsal for the National Center Test we'll be taking in January that we're going to get. Like the real ones, they'll be held over the course of two days and even though the results officially don't matter, students who underperform will be expected to take part in a heavy dose of supplementary lessons until mid-January to catch up in the subjects they did badly in. That alone seems to be a good motivator for everyone to study as hard as they can in order to get a good grade next week.

"If you want to study in small groups, that's fine as well."

I can distantly hear Misha asking Hisao to explain a math problem to her, so I open my own study book without waiting for my boyfriend to join me. As I resume reading through the chapter I started on earlier this morning, I hear Natsume whisper to her best friend.

"So, what was your winning story about?"

"Hehehe, no more rolling your eyes this time? I see you're finally starting to take The Broken Quills seriously. Better late than never."

Natsume sighs impatiently.

"Very well... Hanako?"

I look up from my work to see Natsume smile playfully at me.

"Ah. Yes?"

"Can you help me with this chapter here?"

"Uh? Ummm... Sure."

Natsume moves her chair next to mine and sits down at my desk.

"So, about that story of yours..."

Naomi gives her friend a mock-offended look.

"Hey, don't ignore me like that. I was going to tell you already."

She takes her own chair and joins us at my desk before nodding at me to indicate it's okay for me to tell Natsume what she wants to know.

"Ummm... The name of the story is 'The Missing Star'. It's about a blind student who joins his school's astronomy club. It's... a short story we submitted for that particular contest."

"A blind student, huh? Based on somebody we know?"

"Not really, although we did ask Hideki for some input."

"That's pretty neat. So, do you two literally write such a story together? Or do you write stories on your own and share the credit?"

"They're all... team efforts."

Naomi takes this moment to jump into the conversation.

"We kinda work like this: one person submits a proposal or a rough draft and the other fills in the blanks for a bit before handing it back. We then switch it back and forth once or twice more, each time refining it a bit more before letting Jun give it a final check for errors or plotholes. We have a couple of rules in place. No scrapping the other person's ideas, merely refining them or asking them to be reconsidered. No new ideas after the story's been switched back and forth once. And no mechas, zombies, ninja's, pirates or characters belonging to existing works."

Natsume grins.

"You've really been restraining yourself."

I was pleasantly surprised about that as well. Jun insisted on the zombie/ninja/pirate/mecha rule because she was worried that Naomi would spend all our meetings coming up with inane and clichéd ideas, but it turned out that a lot of her proposals were remarkably sensible.

"Naomi's really put forth a lot of good ideas. Most of the ideas we ended up using were hers."

"Aw, everyone has ideas. Making something workable out of them is another thing altogether and Hanako's got a real knack for that."

Natsume smiles at our little exchange of praise.

"Sounds like you girls really grew into your roles. You may be a natural team. It's nice to see your efforts paid off. But have you actually turned a profit? Those contests need entry fees to pay for the prizes, don't they? And I recall that you signed up for several over the last few months."

Naomi beams proudly.

"Well, Hoshino secured a small budget to pay for part of it and we got ourselves a sponsor for the rest."

"A sponsor?"

I nod.

"Lilly's mother spoke to us before our second meeting, and she agreed t-to sponsor us as long as we didn't go overboard."

"Wow, that's really generous of her."

Naomi enthusiastically nods.

"Yeah, she's a really awesome person."

Natsume giggles and gives her best friend an evil smile.

"And a really smart investor as well. Since she's paid nearly all of your entry fees, she's probably entitled to nearly all of your winnings too."

"B-B-B-B-But....!"

I just barely manage to hold back a giggle myself at Naomi's mortified expression. I don't think that Karla's even a tiny bit interested in our prize money. Our winnings are probably little more than pocket change to her.

"Hmmm... We should probably tell her that we won something... and offer her a share. I don't think she'll accept it. Lilly's family is... not poor. But it's the p-polite thing to do."

Naomi sighs and then nods.

"I guess we should. Could you call or mail her about it?"

"Sure. I'll send her an e-mail this lunch break."

"Great. Be sure to thank her again from us."

"Okay."

Natsume gently nudges Naomi's side to get her attention.

"So, assuming your sponsor rejects her share, what do you intend to do with the spoils? And who is going to get to keep the certificate?"

"Hmmm..."

Naomi takes a moment to think about that.

"I guess we could draw straws to determine who gets to keep the certificate. Or maybe we could pass it from one member to the other every week. Or maybe..."

Her face suddenly lights up, and a smile appears on her face as she holds out the certificate to me.

"...we could simply let Hanako have it."

"M-Me? But why me?"

"Jun and I have plenty of posters hanging on the walls of our room and lots of other decorations as well. It'll stand out more in your room, and while you're studying, you can look at it as a reminder that we can do anything if we put our mind to it!"

I think she's trying to say that my room's the one most in need of additional decorations, and I might be the one most in need of motivational means to stay positive. I could be wrong though. It's not really like Naomi to be this diplomatic. Still, the hint about my room's atmosphere aside, it's a pretty sweet gesture.

"Ah..."

"Go ahead, take it. Just don't forget it belongs to all three of us."

"Well... Okay then. But... I'll just k-keep it safe on behalf of our club."

"Works for me. Now about our prize money, do you have any idea what to do with your share?"

Not really. Hisao and I went on our last date before the exams yesterday, and I'm not sure if my share will be enough to treat him anyway.

"No."

Naomi smiles.

"Are you coming to our little get-together on Friday?"

I'm not sure yet. The newspaper club always goes to a little coffee shop in town to hang out after a new issue has been printed. I've been avoiding those outings up until now, due to my difficulty in socializing with my fellow clubmembers. But Naomi's never stopped inviting me, and now that I've gotten slightly more familiar with the various people in the club, coming along with her is slowly starting to lose its intimidation factor.

"I'm... not sure yet."

"It's the last outing we'll have. That makes it kind of special. Also..."

That's a good point. After this week's release, Naomi, Natsume, Hideki and I will be officially putting our club membership on hold in order to focus completely on our exams.

"...we'll be taking a group photo that afternoon, and it just wouldn't feel right if some of the members weren't there."

I guess I could give it a try this once. I don't want the other members to regard me as a spoilsport either.

"...I'll c-come along this time then."

"Awesome! It's a date! Friday afternoon after we finish printing. Don't forget. And afterwards..."

We suddenly hear a stern cough from the front of the class.

"Inoue!"

We look up from our books and notice that Mutou is staring at Naomi, along with half of the class. Seems like Naomi delivered her last statements a little bit too loudly. Natsume exasperatedly shakes her head, and Mutou gives Naomi an admonishing glare.

"It didn't sound like you were discussing any subject matter just now."

"Sorry teacher. We just had to make an arrangement for our club's group photo, and I suddenly wondered..."

"Is this relevant to this class's homeroom session?"

"...since homeroom classes will be replaced with cramming sessions after next week, would this week be a good opportunity to have a class photo taken?"

Mutou looks puzzled.

"Is something wrong with the class photo that was taken at the start of the school year?"

"Well, not every student in this class is in that one. Maybe it's worth taking another one."

"Hmmm..."

I can see Mutou's eyes shift briefly to my boyfriend. I can tell that he's not fond of the idea of having his star pupil missing from the class photo that'll probably appear in the yearbook.

"...seeing that every pupil of this class is currently present, are there any objections to having a photo taken this afternoon?"

No reactions. I presume that that's a silent approval.

"We'll reserve some time in the afternoon for it then. "

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:14 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:42 am

Chapter 41 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:06 am

06
"Thank you, Kawana. You can tell your friend that he took a good picture."

Mutou nods at Misaki who came to show him a copy of the class photo she printed out. About 20 minutes ago, we took the class photo Naomi proposed this morning. Misaki Kawana, the girl who sits in front of Natsume during class and who is a member of the photography club, took a friend from her club along who was willing to operate the camera and quickly dropped by the copyshop afterwards to print out a preview for our teacher.

"Should we send the picture to the student council, teacher?"

"Yes, they're the ones who'll be in charge of the tasking people to put the yearbooks together."

"We'll do that then. Have a nice day, sir."

Misaki makes a stiff bow and leaves the room. Now it's just Mutou and me. After the photo shoot, Mutou approached me and asked if he could speak to me after class. I wonder what it's about. I really hope it's nothing bad.

"Go ahead and take a look."

He hands me the printout, and I look it over. A smile appears on my face. I think it looks pretty good. I'm standing next to Hisao of course, and I'm turned slightly towards him so my right side is less visible. We're standing fairly close to each other, so I'd like to think that people who pay close attention to the photo can deduce that we're a couple. Then again, this might just be wishful thinking on my part.

"It appears you approve of it."

My gaze shifts back to Mutou, who appears to have been observing me while I was looking at the picture.

"It's a... nice photo, I think."

Mutou nods and takes the printout back.

"If I recall correctly, this is the first time you've taken part in this sort of thing."

I nod.

"I've been... thinking l-lately that... maybe... it's okay if people... look back on that photo in the yearbook and remember... that I was part of this class too."

"I think that would be more than fine and not just with me. I suspect that you were the reason for Inoue to make that suggestion about having another photo taken and not Nakai."

"P-Probably."

He smirks.

"I must admit that I find you and Inoue an odd pairing."

I've heard that before. And in truth, I do still have difficulty dealing with Naomi's occasional antics from time to time, like that smacking kiss earlier this morning. And yet for each impulsive thing she does, there's usually another sweet and kind action to make up for it, like lending me that camera for my vacation or suggesting that class photo to Mutou. I also learned from Natsume that part of Naomi's restlessness is a mild side effect of the medication she's taking, so I do my best to take Naomi's personality quirks in stride and focus on the good parts.

"She can be... quirky, but she means really well."

Mutou nods curtly.

"It's good to see you making some more friends. How are you doing these days? In a general sense, that is."

The last few months have been very good to me. In addition to still being in a relationship, I've managed to strengthen my friendship with Lilly. I was initially worried that Lilly and I would start drifting apart now that her parents are living in Japan again and we do see each other slightly less now that Lilly spends each Sunday at her parents' home, and I attend meetings of the writing club several evenings per week. But while Lilly keeps the Sundays open for her parents, she keeps the Saturdays open for me, and over the last few months we've gone on several 'girl dates' together, just like the ones I took her on when she was still in the process of deciding whether to move to Scotland or not.

In addition, I've started to enjoy the little meetings of our writing club, and even when we don't end up writing a lot, I still feel it was at least good hanging out. I never really talk a lot during those sessions, but they're still rather fun to attend. I'm slowly warming up to my fellow newspaper club members, too, and we recently started exchanging greetings whenever we run into one another in the hallways. After nearly three years, I'm slowly starting to become part of this school and its student body, and I've found myself feeling sincerely sorry that it'll all end at the start of next spring. I never expected to ever feel this way again after my accident, but surprisingly enough I'm feeling rather happy with my life right now.

"I'm doing... fairly well... at the moment."

Mutou waits for a moment to give me the chance to say more, but when I remain silent he continues.

"Your Japanese teacher informed me of the prize you and Inoue won. He was quite pleased. He said you have potential."

I blush a bit. Seems like news spreads quite quickly around here.

"Of course, potential in itself is hardly enough to land a good job. A good education will be vital in order to build on and refine that potential. I heard that you've been considering your options and that you've picked two universities to potentially attend."

I meekly nod. Naomi and I both plan to study Journalism and Media after graduation. Mister Hoshino said that he was certain that we'd get plenty of opportunities there to take creative writing courses if we were interested.

"He looked through your application forms and was puzzled by what he saw. Your first choice of university is Kasshoku University, a large and well-regarded university, but your second choice is a school that most students of your capabilities wouldn't consider unless they had no other options. He wanted me to present you a list of alternatives he deemed more fitting to your level."

"Ummm...."

"I looked at your picks myself, and I picked something up that I believe Hoshino overlooked. Both schools of your choice are located in Chiba. And that happens to be the very city Nakai's school of choice is located in. In fact, you two are aiming to attend the same university after graduation, although you're shooting for different faculties."

Looks like he found me out. I embarrassedly nod my head. Hisao was the first person to take interest in Kasshoku, and while its science program is supposedly well-regarded, this choice was also one of practicality as the university is located in the same city his parental home is located in, meaning he can move back in with his parents to cut down on living costs. Lilly and I looked up the university as well and found that it'd also be able to suit our educational needs, so we both decided to try and get in there as well. Neither Hisao nor Lilly has put forth a second option, but since both are really good at the subject they'll be studying I don't think they'll have that much trouble making it in as long as they can pass the national test.

"If you make it into the same university as he does, there won't be a problem, but if you end up going to that second school you're planning to apply for, I believe you'll be doing yourself a serious disservice."

"Ummm..."

"As your homeroom teacher, I can understand your reasoning here. But as a teacher, I still feel compelled to point out that the choice of whether and where to continue studying after high school is one of the most important decisions of one's life. It's a decision with very long-term consequences. More so than anything else right now."

I'm getting a vague feeling of what he's trying to say without actually saying it. I'm in a relationship right now, but not every high school relationship lasts all the way until marriage. I don't want to think about it too deeply, but what if I picked a university of lower calibre so I could stay around Hisao and he ends up breaking up with me at some point? But if I went off to study in another city, would our relationship even last? I'm not so sure how well either of us would do in a long distance relationship.

"Think of it this way, Ikezawa. The decision of many companies to hire you will depend for a large part on whether you've attended a reputable university. The other factor involves interviewing skills. As it is, someone else may be better at sweet-talking his way through a job interview, but if you have better credentials than the competition you'll still have a good chance of being hired. You should see this as an opportunity to even the odds in your favor. Here at this school we make it a point to push all our students to try for the very best universities they can possibly get into in order to compensate for possible disadvantages they might have on the job market later. It is always better to attend a reputable university and appear slightly overqualified for the job of your choice later than to be passed up again and again."

That's not a bad point. One of the selling points of attending a prestigious university used to be that it came with an almost guaranteed job offer afterwards. That's not really the case any longer, but the name of one's university still carries an extreme amount of weight. And if there's one thing I don’t have faith in, it's my ability to not bungle up a job interview, so I guess I really don't have much choice except to try and compensate in the credentials department as much as I can.

"So... Another alternative option then?"

"If you're going to pick alternatives then they should at least be serious considerations. They'll have additional entrance exams, but you'll be studying the same material for all the ones you partake in, so it shouldn't cost you extra time to prepare. I have a few pamphlets in my desk, so if you have time, we can go over them and get this out of the way before the afternoon is over. I know of a few universities that hold entrance exams on a day you won't already be taking one."

"O-Okay then."

He gives me an awkward smile that is meant to be reassuring, but I think his smile is a bit weird. If anything, it makes me slightly nervous.

"It's good to keep in mind that if everything goes well, your second choice won't matter much in practice. Hoshino believes you have what it takes to make it in as long as you study hard enough and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. Your grades have really picked up over the last few months. Particularly your Japanese. I wonder if that's because of your social life is improving or if it's simply because you seem to have a clear idea of what you want after you graduate here."

"M-Maybe both. But... it also helped that I have one tutor who wants to b-become an English teacher and another who is planning to teach science."

A proud expression appears on my homeroom teacher's face.

"So... Nakai has made a definite decision?"

"For now..."

Lilly's opinions about teaching may have influenced him to some degree, but the deciding factor has undoubtedly been the fact that he's already been acting as a science teacher to some degree over the last several months. Not just to Lilly and me, but also to his fellow clubmates.

The science club currently counts eight members, which is quite impressive considering the fact that it was just Hisao, Mutou and Kenji before the summer break. The majority of the new members are junior students since most third years at this school have either already joined a club or have no intention of becoming part of one regardless of what it is about. As club president and Mutou's star pupil, Hisao's dutifully taken it upon himself to help his fellow club members out whenever a subject gave them trouble. He usually did these tutoring sessions during club hours, but there were also times when he'd drop by a member's room to help them get a better grasp on the material.

Lilly and I were very impressed when we learned how serious Hisao was taking this task, sometimes even dropping by the computer lab or library to read up on a subject some more in order to better help his fellow club members. That was also the time when Lilly first started putting the idea of teaching science as a career into Hisao's head. And despite the fact that Hisao first took to his new activities in an attempt to compensate for his mentor's confusing lectures, Mutou seems to have taken Hisao's career aspirations as a personal compliment and has been all too happy to encourage his protegee's plans for the future.

"Too many students simply go to university because they feel that it's expected of them, not because they want to develop themselves and hone their specific interests into talent. But the best students know that passion, ambition and a clear goal give all their efforts meaning and are a better source of motivation than a mere desire to go with the flow of society."

I really managed to get him going. I don't think this is really meant to be a discussion, so I obediently nod my head.

"Speaking of motivation, have the two of you considered visiting the open house day this weekend?"

"Open house day...?"

He probably said something about it, but I'm not exactly sure when. Was it this morning while Natsume was interrogating Naomi and me? Mutou sees the blank expression on my face and shakes his head.

"I brought it up during homeroom classes two weeks ago. Kasshoku University is organizing an open house day for high school students who are thinking about enrolling there. They're probably hoping to get a few more last-minute applications before the Center Test starts in January. The event takes place this upcoming Sunday."

Now I remember. Hisao and I did take note of that, but never made an actual decision on whether to go or not.

"We're... not sure yet."

"If you're serious about enrolling there, being able to take a brief look around and get a feel for the place may just provide you with an additional boost of motivation. You will both need to study hard to pass your exams, and every bit of motivation should be welcomed."

"We'll... consider it."

"Very well. Let's look at some of your alternative options then and hope it will turn out to be nothing but a formality."

--------------------------------------
07
"You're considering attending a university in another town if you don't get into Kasshoku?"

Lilly and Hisao seem surprised as I tell them about the talk I had with Mutou.

"Well... M-my first choice hasn't changed, but Mutou said that I shouldn't underestimate the importance of getting into a good university."

I'm not exactly standing 100% behind my decision, but when Mutou made his point I didn't really have a solid argument against it. Besides, with some luck I'll do well on my exams, and I won't have to worry about alternatives. Unlike Hisao and Lilly however, I do feel that I need alternatives. After all, if I don't get into some university or another, I'll be homeless after graduation. I'm trying not to worry too hard about that for the time being, knowing I could probably stay with my friends for a while, but it's not a matter I can easily ignore. I looked up what renting a place would require, and it seems most estate agencies demand a tenant to have both a steady job and a family member willing to act as a guarantor in case of a layoff. I don't qualify for either criterium. And then there's the high costs.

"I suppose that is a good point. What university you attended still matters greatly to many companies."

With the conversation dried up, we get back to studying. The last months, Lilly, Hisao and I have made it a habit to study together so we can compare notes, help each other on difficult subjects and keep each other motivated. I was worried at first that we'd just end up chattering all night long, but it turned out that we've been able to exercise enough self-restraint to make these cramming sessions productive. Lilly and I are sitting on Lilly's bed, our backs against the wall, while Hisao's sitting at Lilly's desk.

As I finish another chapter about the late Edo period, I hear Lilly sigh softly and shake her fingers.

"Are your fingers getting tired?"

"A little bit. How long have we been studying since our last tea break?"

Hisao instinctively looks at Lilly's braille alarm clock before rolling his eyes and checking his watch.

"About an hour. Maybe another short break is in order."

"Very well then. But let's continue within 15 minutes."

Hisao gets up and gets us both a cup of tea from the thermos bottle we've been using during these studying sessions to keep our drinks warm. I take a sip from my cup, being careful not to spill anything on my nightgown, and turn to Lilly.

"Your mother already replied to the mail I sent during the lunch break."

"About your prize? What did she say?"

"She said she was very proud of us and that we didn't need to worry about splitting the prize money with her."

"I wouldn't have expected any other reaction from her. Do you already have any idea what to do with your share?"

I nod.

"We're not splitting the money. Naomi said that since we've earned the money as a team, we should also spend the money as a team."

"So what will you be spending it on?"

"A... 'girls night out'... as Naomi called it. The next issue of our newspaper comes out the upcoming Friday, so our club members go to a coffee shop in town to celebrate the release as usual. Naomi, Jun and I will go there too, but leave early and take a bus to the city. We're going to look for a nice p-place to have dinner and then do k-karaoke afterwards. Whether we do anything else depends on how much of the prize money we'll have left."

"Wow Hanako, that sounds like a lot of fun."

I think it does. I still prefer the quietness of the nearby town over the bustling of the city, but things will probably be okay as long as I stick close to my friends. Natsume pointed out that Naomi tends to sing off-key, but said she thought we'd nevertheless have a good time. I am kind of looking forward to it. Since we won't be submitting anything else for the time being due to the exams, this will be a good way to bring closure to the activities of our little writing group.

"I... hope so."

Hisao smiles playfully.

"That does mean you'll have to study twice as hard during the weekend to make up for the fact that you won't be able to do much cramming on Friday."

"I'll d-do my best to catch up on Saturday."

That reminds me about what Mutou said earlier about that open house day on Sunday. Maybe it's a good idea to bring this up with Hisao and Lilly.

"Ummm... Do you remember that open house day that Mutou talked about before?"

Hisao frowns and then nods.

"Right, he brought that up during homeroom some time ago. Are you planning on going there?"

"I'm not sure. Mutou mentioned it again today and recommended going. As a source of motivation."

Lilly smiles.

"Even though we can't really spend too much time away from our study books, it might be a very good idea to go there and have a look. I agree with Mutou's suggestion. It might motivate us to try even harder."

Hisao doesn't look convinced yet.

"It's pretty far away from here. We'd have to get up really early and we'd be back really late."

"Maybe I could ask my father to take us there by car. I will need someone to help me navigate the area, and I can't ask any of you since each of us will be visiting a different faculty."

"If it's not inconvenient for him, and he'll be able to handle a lot of walking..."

Lilly's smile fades for a moment.

"My own pace isn't very fast, so I'm sure he'll be able to keep up. And he has... plenty of free time right now."

"Sorry."

Lilly's smile returns, and she makes a quick hand gesture in order to dismiss the matter.

"It's fine. I'm sure it'll be a great experience for all of us."

"Hanako? Shall we go there the upcoming Sunday then?"

I'm not really sure about the great experience part, but I don't think Hisao and Lilly will go there if I don't come along. I was pretty nervous before the trip to Scotland, and that turned out really well, Mister Satou's incident notwithstanding.

"O-Okay then."

"Maybe this would be a good opportunity for you to check out the dorms there as well, Lilly. You can determine how easy they are to navigate."

"Hmmm..."

Lilly doesn't immediately respond to Hisao's remark, and I happen to know why. She told me recently during one of our outings, but I suppose she hasn't told Hisao yet.

"I'm not certain about that yet. I've been trying to convince my parents to let me live on my own after graduation. I'm used to handling life in a dorm by now. I'd like to take another step towards independence. I feel that my time at university is the perfect time to brush up my domestic skills a little more. After graduation from university, I want to be able to focus completely on my job without having to worry about still getting used to running my own household. College time is probably the perfect time to get this matter out of the way."

I silently smile. It's typical of Lilly to be planning this far ahead already.

"So what did your parents say?"

Lilly's smile falters a bit.

"Convincing them hasn't been very succesful so far. Mother seems... willing to give the possibility some consideration, but Father hasn't reached that point yet."

"Well, letting a child live on his or her own would be kind of scary for any parent at first and surely there are plenty of additional challenges for someone who can't see."

"I am well aware of that. However, I've faced many of these challenges already when Akira and I were living together, and I was able to handle myself decently."

"Did you remind them of that?"

"It's a bit tricky to make that point without coming across as offensive. There may be another way to ease their minds a bit."

"How?"

Lilly pauses for a moment.

"Perhaps they'd reconsider if I had a roommate to keep an eye on things. I was wondering..."

She suddenly turns to me and puts an arm on my shoulder.

"Hanako, I realize this is getting ahead of things a bit, but assuming we'd both do well on our exams, would you be willing to consider becoming that roommate?"

I reel in shock. Is Lilly really asking me to share an apartment with her? I didn't see this coming at all.

"B-But... M-me?"

"I think you would certainly be the most suitable person. I've been meaning to ask you this at some point anyway. I wouldn't mind a bit of company, and we could split household chores between us. That way, I can still get in whatever practice I need. And it will be good to have someone around that I trust in case there are things that need to be done that require eyesight."

"B-But..."

I stop myself before I can comment that I wouldn't be able to afford my half of the rent for something as expensive as an apartment. I doubt Lilly and her family would even accept my money to begin with. Maybe I should give this some consideration. It would certainly be the best solution to my approaching housing problem, and it would probably help with my studies if I have a nice, quiet place to return to after school hours, rather than a dorm filled with people I don't know.

"...roommates..."

"I cannot give you a guarantee that you moving in with me would be enough to sway Father's mind, but it's worth a try. And it would be the ideal way for the three of us to stay in contact with one another without having to neglect the new people we'll be meeting."

"I...ah..."

I cannot argue with any of Lilly's points. I'd like to stay in contact with Lilly no matter what, and if we become roommates that means Lilly can spend time with me at home, and I won't have to worry about me preventing her from hanging out with the new friends she'll make on campus.
08
"I... ah... would like that."

Lilly beams at those words.

"Really?"

I recall what Miss Yumi once said about taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. This is probably one of those opportunities, and if Lilly can pull this off, I don't think I'll feel sorry about it afterwards.

"R-Really."

"I am truly happy to hear that Hanako."

Lilly smiles happily and pulls me into a loving hug. I giggle as I return the embrace, and we cuddle for a little while. Lilly and I are close enough now for me to not feel uncomfortable about displays of affection of this kind. Hisao, on the other hand, rolls his eyes.

"What is it with all those girls throwing themselves at you today?"

Lilly playfully grins at Hisao.

"Jealous?"

"The answer's still no."

Lilly opens her mouth to reply, but her words are cut off by a noise that I recognize as Lilly's ringtone.

"Would you mind if I take this?"

"Go ahead."

Lilly breaks off our hug and makes her way to the phone which is lying on top of her dresser.

"Good evening, Lilly Satou speaking."

She smiles.

"Hello Mother."

"I'm doing well. We're currently studying for next week's mock exams."

"Yes, like a dress rehearsal for the real ones."

"Yes, all three of us."

"She told me that you replied already. It's great, isn't it?"

"I have been told that the money will be put to very good use."

"Yes, I've been with Father all day yesterday. We actually went to visit Grandmother and Grandfather together. It's a shame you couldn't be there. I asked Father to postpone the visit until you were back in the country, but he said rescheduling might be inconvenient."

"Hmmm... Perhaps it would be best to talk about that later."

"You're coming back on Sunday already? That's good to hear."

"Ah... Making it to the airport to welcome you back may be a problem. We just made plans for the upcoming Sunday."

Lilly smiles.

"We're going to see what our future looks like."
09
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 42

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:06 am

Chapter 42
01
"Hmmm... Notepad and pen - check."

I'll probably end up taking some notes.

"Study books - check."

To study in the car. Fortunately I can read just about anywhere without getting motion sickness.

"Lunchbox with extra large lunch - check."

They probably have a cafeteria there, but I bet it'll be really crowded, and we'd be standing in line for half an hour. Better to bring my own lunch.

"Pocket change for vending machines - check."

"Sweets for consumption during the trip - check."

"Cell phone - check. Battery's fully charged too."

I look at the cell phone lying on my nightstand. I've been using it as an alarm clock ever since Naomi accidentally wrecked my actual one, and I keep putting off buying a new one. It might be a good idea to use both my phone and an actual alarm clock on the day of the exams. Can't be too careful.

Did I forget anything? I have my wallet with me. Hmmm, can't think of anything.

A knock on the door interrupts my thoughts.

"It's open!"

The door opens behind me, I hear someone walk into the room, and the next moment someone kisses me on my left cheek.

"Hey there. Good morning."

I turn around, kiss my boyfriend back and smile at him.

"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"

"Yeah. And you? Did you stay up late yesterday?"

I nod.

"I studied until eleven, but I think I've caught up now."

Since Naomi, Jun and I were busy with our outing the whole Friday evening, I spent most of the Saturday afternoon and evening holed up in my room in an attempt to compensate for the time lost. It practically melted my brains, but I feel I caught up with Hisao and Lilly now.

"You did remember to eat yesterday, right?"

I'm not a kid, Hisao.

"Just a quick bite, but enough to keep going."

Hisao looks at my bed and notices something that wasn't there before.

"Hey, aren't you going to introduce me to your new roommate?"

I show him the teddy bear that is lying near my pillow.

"I... haven't thought up a name for him yet. But Naomi got it for me from a crane game at the arcade."

"He certainly looks cute. I just hope he'll have the decency to sleep somewhere else when I stay over."

I chuckle and nod my head.

"Sure."

"So, have you packed everything for the trip?"

"I think so. Is Lilly ready?"

"I saw her outside the dorm just a while ago. I think she's ready to go."

"Let's go outside then."

We leave my dorm building and make our way to the parking lot. As we approach the gate, we see two tall figures standing nearby. I easily recognize Lilly, but I have to look twice before I recognize the man next to her as her father. Of course he's not wearing his business suit today. Instead, he's wearing dark pants and an inconspicuous light-grey vest under his long coat. His glasses are different too. These ones soften his appearance a bit. But the biggest difference is his body language. He still looks formal, but I notice his shoulders are a bit more slumped than before, and there's a slightly tired look in his eyes. He also appears to be a bit thinner than before. He looks like he's aged a decade in those few months. I wonder if Lilly is aware of that.

"Miss Ikezawa, Mister Nakai. Good morning."

He politely bows as we approach, and I notice that his bow towards me is particularly deep.

"Good m-morning, Mister Satou."

"Good morning, sir. It's been a while. How are you feeling?"

"A lot better, thank you."

I'm not sure if I quite believe him. From the few things Lilly has told me, I know that her father's physical recovery has been going fairly well, but he's had a lot of trouble adjusting to life at home and he's quite at a loss what to do with his life now that he no longer has a daily job.

Hisao turns to Lilly.

"Now that we're all here, it might be a good idea to get going. It's still a pretty long ride."

Lilly's father raises an eyebrow.

"Are we still not one person short?"

"Huh?"

"Hey guys! I didn't keep you waiting, did I?"

Greeting us with a cheerful wave, Naomi comes running up to us.

"Huh? Are you coming along as well?"

Lilly nods.

"Hanako asked me yesterday if it was okay if she accompanied us. Since we still had room in the car, I saw no reason to decline."

I smile sheepishly at my boyfriend. I did plan to tell him that, but I've barely been out of my room yesterday, and we didn't see each other for very long.

"Sorry I didn't tell you."

"Eh, it's okay."

Naomi looks past me at Lilly's father.

"You must be Mister Satou. Pleased to meet you. I'm Naomi Inoue."

Lilly's father answers Naomi's bow with one of his own and introduces himself in return.

Naomi smiles at Lilly's father.

"Um... is your wife here too? I'd really like to talk to her again. She's been this really strong motivator for our club. Hehe... both clubs actually."

Lilly's father shakes his head.

"My wife has been in Scotland this week and is currently on the plane back home. I am afraid that my company will have to suffice for today. I will be sure to give her your regards."

"Awww."

Naomi is visibly disappointed, but then gives a resigned nod.

"Yeah, that'd be great."

Lilly tries to give Naomi an encouraging smile.

"I'm certain you'll be able to talk to her again. She'll be present for our graduation after all."

And with that consolation, we head for the car and hit the road.

--------------------------------------
02
"Ummm... Anybody want another piece of chocolate?"

"That sounds good. Thank you Hanako."

This is probably the third round of chocolates we've gone through already, but it's been quite a long ride, and we've got to keep our brains in top gear so we can keep studying. Well, at least that's true for Lilly, Naomi and me. Hisao's just looking out the window.

"Hisao, do you often get car sick if you read on the road?"

"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I remember when my father drove me to Yamaku, I was reading pretty much the entire way there, and that was the same route as we're driving right now."

Lilly's father raises an eyebrow and looks at Hisao through his rearview mirror.

"I take it then that you are originally from Chiba? Are you planning to move back into your parental home?"

"That's the idea. Living five minutes away from school is a luxury I'm going to miss, but I have my own room at home, and my parents work long hours, so I'd welcome the extra privacy."

Naomi grins.

"Eh, you shouldn't see it as a lack of privacy. You ought to see life at the dorms as a good way to meet lots of interesting new people with whom you might not interact as much if you weren't living on campus. Heck, they say that university years are the party years of your life. Not that I can go overboard with parties myself of course, but I bet it'll still be awesome."

Sounds like somebody is looking forward to her time as a university student. I am not so eager to move accommodations myself.

"I'm... not really a party p-person myself, but..."

There was Lilly's proposal, but I wonder just how much chance she has of changing her father's mind.

"Father, do you remember that conversation we had previously about... accommodations?"

"I do. But is now really the proper time to bring that up again?"

"Would you be willing to reconsider if a person like Hanako moved in as a roommate to keep an eye out?"

"A person like Miss Ikezawa or Miss Ikezawa herself?"

"Hanako herself. I... ah... have reason to believe she'd be interested in the opportunity if it was presented to her."

I can see his eyes giving me a long analyzing look that sincerely unnerves me.

"Miss Ikezawa, is that so?"

"Y-Yes... ummm... sir."

"You are not merely saying that because it would convenience my daughter, are you?"

"N-No. I'm... not very good with people, so... having a bit m-more space and only having to s-share the facilities with my best friend would be very convenient for me too."

Lilly's father furrows his brow as if weighing every word I just said.

"Hmmm..."

"Sir?"

I look at my boyfriend who's remained quiet during this discussion and now suddenly speaks up.

"Yes, Mister Nakai?"

"Would you mind if I shared something with you that caught my attention about this?"

"Go right ahead."

"I don't think sharing a place with a blind person is something that works out well for everyone. If you're sloppy by nature and leave stuff lying about or don't put things back in exactly the place where you found them, you'll usually make things harder rather than easier for your roommate."

"That makes sense."

"But I've seen Lilly and Hanako prepare a meal together a few times in the past and they seem to have a system in place between the two of them that allows them to work almost in perfect unison. Hanako seems to know exactly how to arrange things so Lilly can easily find them, and she's always very meticulous about putting things back in exactly the right place when she borrows stuff from Lilly's cupboard. I don't think it's an exaggeration when I say that Hanako is easily the best roommate Lilly could ever wish for."

I blush from this unexpected avalanche of praise. It's true that I'm somewhat used to Lilly's preferences related to chores and cooking, but I don't consider that trait to be nearly as impressive as Hisao is making it out to be. Lilly, on the other hand, smiles and gives an appreciative nod.

"I could not agree more with that assessment, Hisao."

I kind of wonder if this is going to make any difference whatsoever. I'm not really sure how useful I would be to Lilly in everyday life once she's memorized the layout of the apartment and the neighborhood. I don't think of myself as an extremely reliable safety net, and if Mister Satou's not willing to rent an apartment for his daughter, what are the odds of him wanting to do the same for a relative stranger. Unless...

A realization suddenly dawns on me.

Unless he felt he owed that person something. Didn't he say before that if I ever needed anything, I only needed to ask? If he's serious about that and he knows that I'd like having a small place of my own together with Lilly, would he refuse? Could he? Wait a second... Is Lilly counting on that? Is that why...?

No, Lilly seemed genuinely happy when I said I'd like to be her roommate. I believe she sincerely desires my company. I also don't think she'd like it if an obligation to me was the only reason her father would allow her to live on her own. But even so, Lilly's employing a pretty devious strategy, and when I look at Mister Satou, I notice that he opens his mouth to say something, but then merely sighs, shakes his head and gives his daughter a long, hard look.

"It appears that you inherited your negotiation tactics from your mother. Well, if you want me to take all of this into account and reevaluate my opinion, I am willing to do so, but I cannot make any promises."

"Thank you Father. I greatly appreciate it."

--------------------------------------
03
"Wow, it's really big. I hope I won't get lost here."

"Could you describe it to me, Hisao?"

"If the map we're looking at is any indication, this place is the size of a city block."

"Have you already located the places we're supposed to be heading for?"

"Let's see. You and your father have to be in the building on the northwest side of the campus. The faculty building I'm heading for is located on the east side and Hanako and Naomi are set for the building just to the north of here. Geez, we're spread all over the place."

"Seeing that we're all applying for different studies, it's no surprise we're set to visit different faculties."

Lilly's father turns to us.

"I propose that we meet up back here at the entrance after we are finished for the day."

We all nod in agreement. Hisao checks his watch.

"At what time should we be back here?"

"I have looked up the day's program online and I believe it ends at half past 3. So I suggest we meet back here at four o' clock."

At least somebody came prepared. Since I spent most of yesterday cramming for the upcoming mock exams, I didn't even think of looking up today's schedule. And it seems like the same is true for the rest of us.

"Fine by me."

"Sure."

"O-Okay."

Lilly gently takes her father's arm.

"We'll return here at four o' clock then. Shall we be off then? Have fun everyone."

Lilly's father bows to us and then walks off into the crowd together with his daughter. Hisao looks me over before picking up his backpack.

"Are you going to be okay?"

Looks like he picked up on my nervous mood. Over the course of last week, I've kept telling myself that I'd be okay today, since I've lately been able to walk Yamaku's hallways with only some mild discomfort every now and then. Looks like I've been fooling myself into thinking it'd be that easy. Ever since we've passed the gate, I've been feeling an unusually oppressive atmosphere.

"Y-Yes, I'm okay."

"Keep an eye on her, okay?"

Naomi rolls her eyes at Hisao.

"Geez, have a little faith. We'll be just fine."

"Well, good luck today."

"Y-You too."

I sigh softly as I watch my boyfriend disappear into the mass of people. Naomi picks up her backpack from the floor and gestures towards the buildings ahead of us.

"Shall we go too?"

"N-Not too fast, please."

I take a deep breath and then we start making our way through the crowd. I make sure to keep to Naomi's left side and stick as close to her as possible while keeping my head down. When we finally reach the entrance to our building, Naomi grabs two pamphlets from a desk near the door and hands one of them to me. I fold it open and look at its contents.
Information sessions and presentations: (start every 45 minutes. 9:15 - 15:15)
- History of journalism (classroom 1-1)
- Journalistic writing (classroom 1-2)
- Research and analysis (classroom 1-3)
- Researching media and culture (classroom 2-1)
- Advanced reporting (classroom 2-2)
- Political reporting (classroom 2-3)
- The media and popular culture (classroom 2-5)

Closing session: (15:30 - 16:00)
- The internet, social media and the future of journalism (lecture hall 1)
"Information sessions, huh? They're probably kinda like ordinary class sessions we can attend if there's still room."

"P-Probably."

"So, any special requests?"

"No. You?"

"Let's check out 'Research and analysis' first."

I nod and we go off to find classroom 1-3 where the lecture about that particular subject is being given using the map on the back of the pamphlet as a guide. As we reach the classroom, Naomi looks inside.

"Swell, there's like 4 seats left. Shall we?"

I cautiously peek into the room from behind Naomi. There are indeed a few seats left, but they're all on the left side of the room. If I sit there, everyone will probably be able to see my scars.

"Ummm... What about t-the classroom next t-to this one?"

"Huh?"

"We c-could do this one later."

Naomi looks puzzled for a second and then shrugs her shoulders.

"Well, okay."

Classroom 1-2 fortunately has several more vacant seats, and I make my way to the back of the classroom as quickly as I can. Naomi hurriedly moves to the seat next to mine. I feel guilty about forcing Naomi to put up with this. The last thing I wanted was to throw her into the babysitter's role.

The next 45 minutes are mostly spent listening to a long story about what makes a well-written article, but I'm having trouble taking notes due to the thoughts whirling around in my head.

I've been a bit antsy over the course of the week, but for the most part I've been able to keep myself from getting too worked up about it. I actually felt fine this morning, but the moment we reached the campus entrance my agoraphobia almost immediately kicked in. Despite Yamaku's campus being far from small, the school itself is definitely not very large and houses only around 250 students or so, so things are usually rather peaceful aside from the hallways and cafeteria during lunch break. It's such a contrast to this place which is both massive and crowded. Especially the classrooms are a lot larger and more crowded here. It reminds me a bit of my middle school, and I'm not so sure whether that's a good thing.

Finally, the teacher in front of the class looks like he's finishing up his story. I instinctively start gathering my stuff and prepare to quickly slip out of the room, but before I can get up I see Naomi subtly shaking her head at me, and I realize that I just stopped short of making a huge mistake. While the teachers at Yamaku were informed of some of my circumstances and tolerated my tendency to leave class early in order to avoid the crowds, I don't think there'll be such leniency here. I merely would have made a spectacle out of myself. That would have been disasterous. I quickly give a nod of understanding and put my backpack back down before I attract anyone's attention.

We wait until other people rise from their seats, and then I quickly get out of the classroom with Naomi in tow. After we get a safe distance away from the classroom entrance, Naomi turns to me and points down the hallway.

"Want to try 'Research and analysis' again? We might have more seats to choose from this time."

"O-Okay."

We quickly head over to classroom 1-3, which is still in the process of emptying. As the stream of people moves past us, I hurriedly hide behind Naomi, which is only partially effective since I'm a bit taller than her. Eventually people stop coming out of the classroom, and Naomi and I both carefully walk inside. Naomi gives a little nod with her head.

"Are we going for a spot on the right in the back again?"

"Y-Yes please."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:15 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 42 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:07 am

04
"Are you sure that this is okay?"

Naomi looks a bit uncertain upon taking her half of my lunch from my hands.

"Sure. I p-packed a very large lunch anyway. It's too much for me to eat all by myself."

"Well, okay then. Thanks a lot."

"N-Not a problem."

So far we've been to three of the presentations that were offered, and the faculty's program for the day has a window of 45 minutes reserved for lunch break, meaning we still have about half an hour before we have to return to the faculty building. I, for one, really welcome this opportunity to get a little break. Naomi wanted to drop by the cafeteria at first, but I managed to convince her to go and find a quiet and secluded spot for us to eat our lunch. Naomi didn't bring any lunch herself, probably counting on getting to buy her lunch around here, but I got her to abandon that idea by promising her half of my lunch. Fortunately I already anticipated the possibility of Naomi not bringing a lunch of her own, and I prepared a particularly large lunch myself this morning, so neither of us is in danger of going hungry.

"The sky's kinda cloudy though. If it starts raining, we'll have to run back or we'll get soaked."

"Do you... want to go b-back already?"

Naomi shakes her head.

"I take it that you had a reason for coming here, and I don't mind either way, so we're better off staying here for a while longer."

'Here' being the spot I picked after we left the faculty. It's a bench near the sports field a few minutes walk away from the journalism faculty. Since there are barely any other people around here, this spot feels nice and safe.

"T-Thanks."

Naomi gives me a worried glance.

"I... uh... know that this whole trip was to gain inspiration and motivation for the upcoming exams, but you're looking neither inspired nor motivated right now."

I answer Naomi's words with a sad nod. Looks like even she picked up on it. I'm so disappointed in myself right now. I should be motivated and inspired. This is the school I've applied for. The school that Hisao, Lilly and probably even Naomi will be attending. The first choice I've put on my application form at Yamaku. The one chance I have to easily stay in contact with my best friends and keep my relationship with Hisao going. Despite the fact that I can't afford to let my anxieties take control of me, the massiveness, crowdedness and unfamiliarity of this place started getting to me the moment I set foot in here. Naomi gives me a sheepish look.

"You really don't like crowds, do you?"

"I don't like it... when p-people look at me. Or ask me about... you know. So I t-try not to be in p-places with lots of people."

Naomi nods understandingly.

"Yeah, that makes sense. If it's a consolation to you, I'm not fond of large crowds either. I prefer smaller groups of people to big masses."

"You?"

"Surprised?"

A bit. Naomi's a pretty social girl who has an easy time interacting with others, and her bleached hair draws way less attention than my facial scarring. Of course, her epileptic seizures make even my scars seem inconspicious.

"Because of y-your... ah...?"

"...fits."

I awkwardly nod as Naomi bluntly finishes my sentence. Naomi acts about as easygoing about her epilepsy as Lilly does about her blindness, at least most of the time, but I'm not completely comfortable discussing the subject with her yet.

"Hmmm. Have you ever heard of the 'bystander effect'?"

I shake my head.

"Put simply it means that the more people are nearby when something bad happens to you, the less likely they are to do something. If you have a seizure while there are like one or two people nearby, they're very likely to do whatever they can to help. If the same thing happens, and there are 40 people nearby, all they usually do is stand there and stare. Nobody likes to risk screwing up in front of others, so nobody lifts a finger even while you're banging your head against the pavement and suffer a concussion as a result."

The brief bitter glint in Naomi's eyes suggests that she might not have made that example up just now.

"Anyway, I mostly go into town with others for that reason. This isn't a problem when I'm with Natsume or you and Jun since you know how to act when I short out, which is a real load off my mind."

"Uhhh... You... really feel better while we're around?"

It seems Naomi has more faith in me than I have. If she has a seizure in a public spot, and there are 40 people looking at her, that would also mean there'd be 40 people looking at me. And 40 people looking in my direction may just be enough to shut me down too. That'd leave Jun, and I'd rather not let her near Naomi while the latter is thrashing around on the floor.

"Yeah, I do. By the way... I didn't remember you being so high-strung two days ago, and the part of town we were in was kind of busy too."

There's a pretty big difference between the streets of the city and the hallways of the building we've spent the last few hours in. While I'm not completely comfortable walking through the city either, it helps when I remind myself that I never have to be on the streets for very long and that I can relax once I reach my destination. This place, however, will be where I will be spending the next years of my life from morning until afternoon. If I'm going to feel on edge all day long, how will I even function?

"It... probably helped that it was rather d-dark while we were there, and I... know my way around that part of the c-city a bit."

Naomi looks at me with a worried frown as she reads my expression.

"Were you hiding your anxiety and merely pretending to have fun? You weren't, were you?"

"N-No, not at all. I... really liked the day before yesterday."

That's not a white lie. After our get-together in town, Naomi, Jun and I took the bus to the city where we first had a great meal in a quiet little sushi restaurant. Then we went for a 2-hour long karaoke session until all three of us became a bit hoarse. And finally, after hearing that the arcade was a favored spot for Hisao and me to spend our dates, Jun dragged me there to engage in some competitive gaming sessions.

"Really?"

"Yes, really."

"I also had fun. It was pretty enlightening too. I never would have guessed you to have such a nice singing voice. Or Jun to be that crazy about video games."

I blush at Naomi's praise.

"Jun... didn't really surprise me that much. She likes computers, after all."

"Heh, yeah, but I don't think every girl who merely 'likes computers' acts like a kid in a candystore when you take her to the arcade."

I giggle. I don't think I could have described Jun's disposition more perfectly than Naomi just did.

"I think... she simply doesn't have many other f-friends who like to play games... particularly video games."

"Makes me wish I could have been there all the time."

Naomi reasoned that a darkened arcade hall filled with flashing displays was a very bad place for an epileptic to be, so she waited for Jun and me in the entrance hall. At first we were worried that she was going to be bored out of her mind, but after we finished our gaming binge, we actually found her in the company of no less than three large plush animals she procurred from the nearby crane games.

"But then... we wouldn't have those nice plush toys you won for us."

Naomi grins proudly.

"And don't you forget it."

On the way back I asked Naomi if she was interested in coming along today. I felt a bit bad that a not unimportant reason for bringing her along was the fact that I expected my anxieties to get the better of me if I had to attend this event completely on my own, and there's no way I could have asked Lilly or Hisao to skip their events and come along with me just so I could hide behind them.

"I won't. And ah... Thanks again for c-coming along today."

"I'm enjoying myself here, so don't sweat it. Besides, it's the least I can do back for someone who lets me stay over every once in a while."

Two weeks ago, Naomi had another seizure during a session of our writing club although she thankfully didn't mess up my blanket this time, and we let her spend the night in my bed again. Natsume joked the day after that maybe Naomi ought to start paying me rent.

"That's... okay."

Conversation dries up, and we finish our lunch without making further small talk. I feel my nerves slowly easing although I'm not sure how long that is going to last. As Naomi suggests going back, I quickly check my watch. It's nearly one o' clock. Only three more hours to go. I can do this.

--------------------------------------
05
"...and many of the people now covering our politicians are alumni from this school."

I try to take a casual glance at my watch without making it too obvious that I'm checking the time. It's 15:10 right now. Only five more minutes. We arrived fairly late, and most seats were already taken, but since this was the only presentation we hadn't attended yet we couldn't just skip it and visit another one. We're sitting right in the middle of class right now, and I'm having the impression that the person on my right, a slightly thin-looking girl with a silver-colored hairpin is staring past my bangs. In fact, I can almost swear half the class is watching me, but I'm afraid to turn my head. I consider covering the right side of my face with my hand, but that will only make the scarring on the back of my hand more noticable.

"There's also the matter of several political leaders in the Liberal Democratic Party as well as some in the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japan Restoration Party being graduates of this university. This creates a bond that can be used to your advantage to improve your working relationship with the politician you're assigned to cover..."

I've been on my guard ever since we returned here from our lunch break, and I'm feeling drained right now.

"Since Kasshoku has good ties with the five largest newspapers in the country, graduates of this school will have a good chance to get into the various kisha clubs you need to be part of in order to have direct access to the members of our legislature."

I've only been able to pick up fragments of this last presentation, so I really hope Naomi's been taking notes.

"...and there's information about Japanese kisha clubs obtainable online for those of you who wish to learn more. That is all for today. In 15 minutes, the faculty head will close off today's events with one last presentation in the hall one floor down. We are hoping to see all of you there."

As the teacher finishes and people start getting up, I breathe a sigh of relief. Eventually the teacher follows his audience out the door, leaving just Naomi and me in the classroom. Naomi walks up to me with an annoyed expression on her face.

"Man, I thought political reporting was gonna be awesome, but from what that guy just said, I get the impression that it pretty much involves working your butt off to get put in a club, get assigned to one politician and then repeating the exact same press releases that everyone else in your group is getting. That´s kind of boring, not to mention a pain."

She grins.

"Heh, what if I actually made it into the exclusive group of journalists assigned to covering one of the bigwigs and then shorted out? Can you see the headlines? 'Female reporter chews up prime minister's sofa during epileptic fit?' That'd be kind of awesome."

If that actually happened, I don't think she'd be laughing anymore. I merely shrug my shoulders at Naomi's remark.

"We'd b-better get going."

"Right. I doubt that hall is going to run out of seats anytime soon, but we'd better not press our luck."

"Eh... hall?"

Naomi looks confused.

"Yeah, they're gonna tie the whole thing up in that lecture hall in 15 minutes, aren't they? That's what that guy said. It's on the program too."

"B-But... We were g-going to meet at the entrance at four o' clock. If we attend that last p-presentation, won't we be late?"

I didn't think about it before, but it seems our program finishes later than Lilly's. Looks like every faculty here has made its own schedule for today without worrying about the others.

"Only a bit. The campus entrance isn't that far from here. If we return there now, we'll be sitting there twirling our thumbs for like 40 minutes."

I personally wouldn't mind that much. We have our study books with us, and there are some benches there.

"But... They might g-get worried."

"Only if they make it there before we do. The other faculty buildings are farther away from the entrance than ours is, and from what I saw earlier today, Lilly and her dad have a very slow walking pace. If we set a brisk pace for ourselves after we finish the program here, I bet we could still get to the meeting point before they do."

Naomi does have a point. While Lilly and her father are the punctual type, they do have a rather slow pace, and knowing them, both will probably try to take it easy for the sake of the other. While I'm not fond of the idea of attending yet another presentation in a probably crowded room, Naomi seems eager to attend it, so the best I can do is probably to go along with her suggestion as a way to thank her for coming along with me today and putting up with my nervousness without complaining even once.

"Well... O-okay then."

"Great. We'd better get a move on before they run out of seats."

We quickly leave the empty classroom, and I'm relieved to find out that the hallways are a lot emptier right now than they've been the whole day. As we reach the bottom of the stairway, Naomi points to a stream of people trinkling into a room through a set of double doors.

"That's where we need to be."

We hurriedly join the small crowd and make our way into the hall beyond the doorway. Upon passing through the doors though, I let out a horrified gasp and instinctively move behind Naomi as I find out why the hallways were so empty just now. The hall we've just entered is huge and filled almost completely with people already, leaving only the occasional empty seat here and there.

The first thought that enters my mind is how much of a mistake it was to come here. No matter how interesting this lecture is going to be, I don't think any of it will end up sticking in my mind.

"Uhh..."

Naomi turns around and looks at me with an uncertain expression.

"Erm..."

"I'll... be... okay."

I doubt Naomi believes me, but she nevertheless nods, and we walk up to the rows of seats that still have vacant spots. Naomi suddenly stops and points at one of the empty seats.

"I think this is a good spot for you."

It's a seat at the very end of one of the rows. Merely being surrounded by people on three rather than four sides might make the experience just a little less harrowing for me, but since it's only a single seat that means Naomi will be sitting somewhere else. I give Naomi an uncertain glance, but then nod and sit down after shoving my backpack under my seat. The person sitting next to me still appears to be in a conversation with his neighbor and didn't pay attention to me when I sat down next to him, so I pull up my collar a bit and pray he doesn't take a closer look at me.

Ugh, I hate crowds. Is this the place where I'll be getting the majority of my courses if I end up enrolling here?

I take a careful look over my shoulder to see where Naomi is sitting. It takes a bit of effort, but I eventually manage to spot her thanks to her bleached hairdo standing out among the mostly dark-haired crowd. She's sitting in the middle of one of the rows near the back of the hall, quite a distance away from me. It makes me feel even more isolated here.

I notice that the stream of people flowing into the hall has dried up, and one of the people standing near the doorway, a slightly older gentleman, closes the doors and activates the large screen on the back wall before walking up to the microphone.
06
"I would like to welcome you all for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit us today. We hope you have been finding your visit educational and enjoyable so far..."

I check my watch again. 25 more minutes to go. Just 25 more minutes. I catch the person sitting next to me taking a peek at my right hand and quickly cover it with my left.

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

"...and there are some who say that the rise of the internet will spell an end to newspapers and possibly even journalism. Let me say that one of these claims is an exaggeration and the other one is untrue. Newspaper readership is still extremely high in our country, newspapers will always continue to exist in some form or another and journalism maintains its role in society as it always has..."

20 more minutes to go. I notice that the person next to me is whispering to his neighbor. I wonder if they're talking about me.

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

"...news organisations will have to get used to no longer being the ones to have the scoop on images of unexpected events as random passersby will often use their cell phone to take a picture of these events as they witness them and upload it to their weblog. But there is more to news than a picture of an event as it takes place..."

15 more minutes. I wonder what Lilly and Hisao are doing right now. Are they already waiting for us? No, it's still too soon. I hope we can quickly get out of here when this lecture is over. Being in the room with so many other people is slowly getting to me. I don't recall feeling this way when Hisao and I went to see movies, but then again we'd usually try for the smaller theaters, and we'd always go and see movies that had been out for some time so we'd know in advance the theater wouldn't be filled to the brim. It helped that it was usually dark too. And that Hisao was nearby. I wish Naomi was sitting closer.

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

"...it is up to the reporter to provide the big picture of events through investigative journalism. A random witness may help the world see the where and when of an event, but the public will always turn to the true journalist for answers on questions that eyewitnesses cannot answer such as why and how..."

10 more minutes. I wonder if closing my eyes will make a difference. If I can't see the crowd all around me... No, the idea that someone could be staring at me without me being aware of it is even more maddening.

---

"...of course, there is no need to take my word for it. If you take a look at the statistics of the last decade, you can see that they follow the trend that was just discussed."

The man in front of the microphone stops speaking and uses his remote control to show a series of slides containing graphs and numbers. He slowly and quietly runs through the slides, pausing after each one to give the information time to sink in.

7 more minutes. I hope Hisao and Lilly had a good time. Maybe they have been inspired by today and their enthusiasm will find its way back to me. I think when we get back I'll just let Naomi recount today's events for us. She's been having a good time today, aside from having to put up with my nervousness. Yes, that's a good idea. I smile a bit to myself. If Naomi, Lilly and Hisao all had a good time and are enthusiastic about today, I'll surely feel a lot better as well by the time we're back at Yamaku. I could even...
07
Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the loud noise of a cell phone piercing the silence in the hall, and I can see the speaker turning his head towards his audience. A sense of foreboding sneaks into the pit of my stomach as I realize that that sound came from somewhere awfully close and that sensation is replaced by a feeling of pure dread when it dawns on me why.
08
THAT'S MY CELL PHONE THAT'S RINGING!

My phone! I've been so focussed on keeping my anxiety under control today that I completely forgot to turn it off. I can see the speaker sweeping the rows of seats with his gaze, annoyed that someone interrupted his lecture. I hastily reach down to open my backpack, but as I do so I suddenly become aware that my neighbor is looking at me. Not merely a quick glance, but he's LOOKING STRAIGHT AT ME. My hand instinctively flies up again to cover the scarring on my face.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

I can see one of the people sitting in front of me slowly turning around, and when the full realisation of what's happening right now hits me, I feel a sudden and painfully tight sensation in my chest as if my rib cage is rapidly shrinking and squeezing my heart and lungs until they're ready to pop.

I need to turn it off. I need to turn it off right now!

I frantically reach down with my free hand to open the backpack under my seat and get my phone out, but my hand movements have suddenly become jerky and shaky from the stress and I'm struggling to even get hold of the zipper.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

One by one, more heads are starting to turn in my general direction as the ringing sound mercilessly continues.

Whoever you are, stop it! Stop it already! What did I do to you? Stop it, stop it, PLEASE!

The pain in my chest is becoming nearly unbearable, and despite my frantic breathing, it's like the oxygen in the room is slowly disappearing. I realize that people may be noticing the scar tissue on my hand and I quickly switch hands, using my left hand to hide as much of my face as I can while desperately trying to open my backpack with my right hand.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

More and more people are starting to turn around, and I feel as if their gazes are piercing right through my hand, mercilessly taking in and appraising my damaged features.

Don't look at me please don't look at me quit looking at me STOP LOOKING AT ME!

I'm feverishly tugging at the zipper of my backpack in an attempt to get it open, but my shaking hands and the sudden stiffness in my fingers make that almost impossible. I might be able to open it if I use two hands, but I'm too frightened to move my other hand away from my scarred face. In a sudden act of despair I suddenly kick my backpack with the heel of my foot, aiming for where I believe my cell phone is located. A little voice in the back of my head, presumably the voice of my quickly dwindling rationality, asks me what the hell I'm doing to something that I usually consider valuable. It's true that I normally consider my phone, itself a present from Lilly and the attached phone strap a gift from Hisao, a valuable possession. But in the current situation that dreadful object is my worst enemy in the world. Just when I prepare for another frantic kick...

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrrii...

...the ringing suddenly stops. An almost unnatural silence follows as I realize that despite the fact that that cursed contraption is no longer ringing, I'm still at the center of attention right now. Despite the pain in my chest and my head, despite the feeling of terror that's nearly overwhelming me and despite the fact that I'm having real difficulty breathing, I sit completely still without moving a muscle, without blinking, without breathing, my hand still covering the right side of my face. I feel like a cornered rabbit being eyed by a predator who's been pursuing me and who is now considering whether I'm tasty enough to be ripped to pieces.

Continue the lecture continue the lecture please I'll never ask for anything else in my life just don't put me through this again.

I see the man holding the presentation looking down at his notes and extending his hand to the microphone and I prepare to say a silent prayer of relief, but before he can resume his lecture...
09
Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

...the infernal sound resumes, destroying what little hope I had left to get out of this in one piece. The tight, squeezing sensation in my chest immediately returns, worse than before.

More and more gazes are trained upon me and hear a few soft chuckles in the distance that set the hair of my neck on end. I squeeze my eyes shut, but can't prevent tears of fear from flowing down my cheeks.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

Ever since that house fire permanently disfigured me, I've been uncomfortable around crowds of people. Every time I had to get near one, I expected someone to call out 'Look at her face!' and then everyone would turn towards me and gasp in horror. Hisao, Lilly and Miss Yumi always said that that was never going to happen, yet it's exactly what's happening right now and it's a million times worse than it ever was in my imagination.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

And the most frightening part of all is that I can feel that this is going to get even worse. I can barely breathe, my heartbeat is both frantic and unsteady, and it's getting harder to think straight with every passing second. First fear about dying or passing out, followed by fear about not dying or passing out. I can feel a pressure building up from within, and the prospect of that pressure eventually getting released in one way or another in front of everyone here terrifies me more than anything else. And I know I won't be able to stop it when I reach that point.

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

I manage to suppress a crazed giggle with supreme effort. My mind is growing increasingly irrational and the sense of panic has driven it to a point where I feel that it's about ready to snap. I don't know what's going to happen, but something will happen if this keeps up. Maybe I'll faint and everyone here will gather around me to take a close look at me. Or maybe I'll go crazy and start screaming or laughing like a lunatic. Or maybe it'll be something even worse. That thought makes me even more frightened than I already am.

I have to get out of here I have to get out of here now.

I can faintly sense someone walking down the aisle and approaching me from behind. They've spotted me. Someone's getting closer, and he'll point me out to the rest and it'll all be over for me.

Stay away from me don't look at me get away from me!

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

The footsteps are getting even closer.

I have to get out of here I have to get out of here!

I struggle to regain control of my body and maintain what little grip on my sanity I still have.

I have to get out of here I have to get out of here!

Rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg - rrriiinngggggg rrrriiinnnngggg

LET ME OUT OF HERE!
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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