Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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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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Joined: Tue Jul 10, 2012 12:42 am

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
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:10 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 10:38 am, edited 1 time in total.
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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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.

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

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.

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

Chapter 43

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:07 am

Chapter 43
01
"Hmmm. No response this time either."

"Perhaps she is taking a restroom break right now."

"Perhaps. But since it's nearly four o' clock already, I'd be surprised if they're not already at our meeting point. The building they went to was rather close to the entrance if I recall correctly."

"Maybe we should head back to the entrance ourselves after all."

"It would be rude to show up late without letting the others know."

I absentmindedly pick my phone back up and dial Hisao's number this time. Maybe I'll have more luck with him.

"..."

"Hey Lilly."

"Hisao, good to hear from you. How was your day?"

"Tiring, but very interesting. They gave some pretty interesting workshops over here. I've just left the faculty building, so if I keep a steady pace I can be at our meeting spot in ten minutes. I hope you can forgive the slight tardiness."

"Ah... About that; the last lecture at the English faculty took longer than expected and we landed in the middle of rush hour here. I suggested to Father to take a little break in the building's cafeteria. Today was a rather busy day."

"Is your father alright?"

He's not exactly in peak condition yet, and he seemed a bit tired earlier, which is why I offered to take a break here rather than immediately take the rather long walk back to the entrance. I'd like him to save his strength. Of course, I can't tell Hisao that or Father will overhear and might feel that I'm being a busybody.

"Yes, he's fine. Hisao, would it be a problem for you to come over to the English faculty building and join us here?"

"Well, it's probably not that much further from here than the entrance, so I don't mind."

I smile.

"Much obliged. Father and I will be sure to treat you for your trouble."

"Okay, I'll be there in about ten minutes."

I hang up and turn to Father.

"Hisao will be here shortly."

"We'll still need to get in touch with Miss Ikezawa and Miss Inoue."

"Hmmm... Maybe I should wait a bit. It's strange that Hanako has her cell phone turned on and yet isn't responding to my calls."

"But we cannot simply keep them waiting at the front gate. It will still take them some time to get here. I assume you do not have Miss Inoue's number?"

"I'm afraid I don't. Hanako got to know her through the newspaper club. I've never really interacted with her much."

"Despite the fact that she's friends with Miss Ikezawa and she seems to admire your mother?"

I nod while absentmindedly dialing Hanako's number once more.

"I don't have the passion for writing and journalism that the three of them seem to share, or I'd probably have befriended her as well. It's not that I dislike her. She seems to be a kind-hearted person who's always cheerful and in high spirits, and Hanako seems to enjoy hanging out with her. It's just that I already have plenty of friends at school and one can only maintain so many friendships at the same time."

I smile as I hear the sound of Hanako's phone being picked up...

"Hanako?"
02
"Where the HELL ARE YOU?"

...only to nearly drop my phone in surprise as an angry voice on the other end of the line snarls at me.

"H-Hanako?"

"It's not Hanako, it's me."

It's Naomi. But what's gotten into her?

"Ah... What is the meaning of this?"

"I'm at the entrance and you guys aren't. So again... Where... ARE... you?"

What's going on? Why is Naomi answering Hanako's phone? And what is she so angry about?

"W-We're at the English faculty's cafeteria. I wanted to ask if you'd be willing to come over here and let us treat you to something to eat."

I hear what sounds like a desperate sigh on the other end.

"You called... just... for... that?"

"Y-Yes... What's going on?"

"Stay put. I'm on my way over to where you are."

"Why are you answering Hanako's phone? Where is she?"

"No idea."

An ominous feeling worms its way into the pit of my stomach at Naomi's words.

"No idea? What happened? Did you lose sight of her?"

"Something like that. Stay where you are. I'm on my way."

"We could head towards the entrance ourselves and meet up half-way."

"Not needed. You've already done enough for one day."

What's that supposed to mean?

"Naomi... Naomi?"

No more response. She must have hung up the phone. What happened? Naomi's tone was really hostile... venomous even. I can make neither heads nor tails of it.

"Is something wrong? You look very upset."

"I just called Hanako's number, yet Naomi was the one who picked up the phone. She said she has lost sight of Hanako and is heading this way. She sounded really... angry about something. I don't really understand what's going on."

"Hmmm... If Miss Ikezawa has gone missing yet she has left her phone with Miss Inoue, finding her here will be quite difficult."

I don't even want to think about that right now. I hope Hisao and Naomi are here soon.

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

"Hmmm... I think I see Mister Nakai near the entrance over there. Perhaps you should get up for a second, Lilly. You are almost certain to draw his attention that way."

"How are we supposed to tell Hisao that his girlfriend has gone missing?"

"Until we know the details, it may be best not to mention the matter at all. Undue worrying will only cause stress."

"Ah..."

I'm not sure if I'm completely comfortable with that, but since I don't really know what's going on either, all we'd be doing until Naomi gets here would be throwing speculations back and forth.

"Hey Lilly. Hello sir. "

"Hello Hisao."

"Good afternoon, Mister Nakai. Have you had a good time today?"

"Yeah, it was pretty interesting. They had a whole group of first-years who had a wide range of basic scientific experiments going that you could take part in like building a primitive electromagnet or creating different colors of fire. It's kind of a cheap way to reel people in, but it's pretty effective nevertheless. I've built up a pretty impressive list of experiments that are easy to do at the science club. It might help the guys attract more new members at the start of the next school year."

"It sounds like you had fun."

Hisao pauses.

"No nerd-related comeback this time?"

I smile awkwardly. Hanako and I often joke about how Hisao has gotten slightly nerdier since he founded the science club, and what he just said was indeed practically begging for a playful little jab, but after the talk I just had with Naomi I'm not in a teasing mood anymore.

"Maybe some other time."

"You didn't have fun today?"

"I did."

"One of the things Lilly and I attended today was a student panel reciting various excerpts from English poetry and literature. I believe the students participating were first-years as well. Perhaps the two of you will be in their place next year."

"I think I'd like that..."

I notice Hisao's voice trailing off as he finishes his sentence.

"Hisao, is something the matter?"

"I thought I just saw Naomi among those people near the entrance. Her hair's pretty easy to spot."

I guess this is it.

"Yeah, it's her alright. She looks pretty winded. Did she run all the way over here? Hey, where's Hanako?"

I hear someone running up to us followed by the sound of heavy breathing.

"Naomi, what on earth is going on? Where's Hanako?"

"Don't tell me you two got separated."

"I...that's..."

"Damnit, you know she doesn't handle crowded places well."

Hisao sounds agitated. He's probably as worried as I am right now. Naomi lets out a joyless laugh in response while trying to catch her breath.

"H-Hahaha... R-Really? You... learn s-something... new every day."

"What on earth is that supposed to mean? What happened?"

"Hmmm, you had better get seated and take a few moments to catch your breath, Miss Inoue. Then you can tell us what has happened."

I hear Naomi sit down next to me, and we anxiously wait until her ragged breathing slows down. She finally lets out a loud sigh as she puts something on the table that's probably a backpack.

"If you guys have any suggestions on how to find her, I'm all ears, because I'm fresh out of ideas."

"Miss Inoue, it would probably be better to start at the beginning. You and Miss Ikezawa lost sight of one another. Yet you are carrying her backpack. You did not just get separated in the middle of a crowd, did you?"

"...no."

Another silence.

"She... uh... We were still attending a lecture when her phone went off. She... probably forgot to turn it off. She kept it in her backpack, so she couldn't immediately take it out and turn it off either..."

Oh no! I didn't even think of the possibility of Hanako not having her phone turned off or Hanako's and Naomi's program taking longer than mine. How could I have been so stupid? I hear Hisao let out a pained groan.

"Are you saying that she became the center of attention, panicked and then ran off?"

"Something like that. I... uh... didn't even know it was her phone at first. Nobody's ever called her in my presence before, so I didn't know what her ringtone sounded like. When that second phone call came and I realized it was probably Hanako whose phone was ringing, I tried to make my way over to her, but she got up and ran away just before I got to her."

"Make your way over to her? Was that classroom so crowded you had to push your way past several people just to get to her?"

For a moment Naomi doesn't answer. When she finally speaks, her voice is little more than a whisper.

"It... wasn't a classroom. It... it was a lecture hall. And most seats were occupied too. Like... perhaps... around 150 people. Maybe 200. And...*sigh*I bet a lot of those were looking in Hanako's direction by the time she finally lost it."

200 PEOPLE? It feels like my blood suddenly freezes in my veins, and for a few seconds my reaction is to deny it in my mind. Surely she's exaggerating. This couldn't have happened. Because if it's true... If it's really true then... then I...

...then I did something truly unforgivable to my best friend.

"Shit."

But the sound of Hisao softly cursing under his breath hammers home the point that this is all too real. The thought of Hanako's terrified expression in the middle of a crowd that's becoming more and more aware of her presence with every passing second is enough to make my blood curdle, and for a moment I feel like I'm going to pass out.

"Oh my God..."

For several long seconds nobody knows what to say. Then Hisao speaks up with a baffled tone in his voice.

"You and Hanako attend a lecture in a large and crowded HALL, and you thought it was a good idea to take a seat... I don't know how far... AWAY FROM HER? What on earth were you thinking?"

"Hey, don't give me that! I thought I'd give her a seat near the edge of the room, and there weren't too many of those left! Besides, it wasn't me who called her... TWICE!"

"THAT'S NOT FAIR! I DIDN'T KNOW YOUR PROGRAM ENDED LATER! IF YOU KNEW THIS IN ADVANCE THEN WHY DIDN'T YOU LET US KNOW BEFOREHAND?"

"WE WOULD HAVE MADE IT TO THE ORIGINAL MEETING POINT IN TIME IF IT HADN'T BEEN FOR THIS SUDDEN CHANGE OF PLANS OF YOURS! WHAT THE HELL WAS UP WITH THAT ANYWAY? WAS IT REALLY TOO MUCH TO WALK FOR A FEW MORE MINUTES?"

"I WAS JUST TRYING TO...!"

"Lillian! Inoue! Nakai!"

We all fall silent as the stern and authoritive tone in Father's voice cuts our argument short.

"We are all worried here, but pointing fingers and making a public spectacle will not help us find Ikezawa. And people are looking at us right now."

"Sorry Father."

"Sorry..."

"Yeah, sorry."

I realize with some embarrassment that we've just been hysterically shouting at each other. People around here must have wondered what's going on.

"Let us first return to the entrance. It was our original meeting point. If she is, by any chance, searching for us at the moment then that place is where she will be looking for us."

I personally doubt that Hanako is currently actively looking for us, but Father does have a point. Sitting around here won't do much good.

"Okay then."

We get up and head out, going for the quickest pace I can manage. I find it a bit hard to keep up and hold tight to Father's arm, praying I won't end up bumping into people. Apparently though, we're still not going fast enough for everyone as Naomi speaks up after merely a few minutes.

"Say, would you guys mind if I went on ahead?"

Father lets out a soft 'hmmm'.

"Miss Inoue, do you remember where I parked the car this morning?"

"Uh, yeah. I think so."

"When you get to the entrance and Miss Ikezawa is not there, please stop by the car and look for her there as well. We should rule out as many possible locations as we can. We will keep Miss Ikezawa's phone here with us. If you find her, please call us on that number and let us know. If you cannot find her in the parking lot either, please return to the gate, and wait for us there."

"Sure. See you guys soon."

I can hear Naomi's footsteps accelerating and then moving away from us at a rapid pace. Hisao sighs.

"I'd be surprised if she's at the gate or in the parking lot. Those areas are probably the most crowded places at the moment. If anything, she'll avoid them."

"As her boyfriend it is probably fair to assume that you know Miss Ikezawa better than anyone else. Perhaps there are some insights into her way of thinking in a situation such as this that you can share with us. They may prove useful."

"If what happened is anywhere near as bad as Naomi said it was, I doubt she's thinking at all. At least not rationally."

"Certainly she does not act in a completely unpredictable manner whenever she feels seriously distressed?"

"There was a time in class where she just completely froze up. In other cases where she got distressed, she'd usually run off."

"And where would she run off to?"

"Preferably her own bedroom because she can lock the door. Otherwise, the room where we usually have lunch or her favorite corner in the library would probably be where she'd go."

"In other words, places with a sense of familiarity that are devoid of other people?"

"Yeah, although the familiarity-part probably doesn't apply here."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:20 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 43 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:07 am

"That leaves us with places where she does not expect other people to find her."

"On an unfamiliar campus this big, that could be anywhere..."

"What about restrooms? They would be suitable for hiding."

"She doesn't really have the habit of hiding in stalls when she's distressed. Maybe because she's afraid of imposing on others by occupying a stall that others could be using. Or maybe she's afraid of being teased as 'Hanako the toilet girl'."

"Like the bathroom-haunting ghost of the same name from the urban legend?"

"Yeah... Though maybe the restrooms are worth checking anyway just to be sure. Just to rule them out."

"It would be improper for either of us to do that checking, so Miss Inoue and Lilly will have to take that upon themselves."

I nod.

"We will if it comes to that."

"It might. We are nearing the gate, and Miss Inoue is waiting for us over there. Miss Ikezawa is nowhere to be seen."

So we'll be searching the campus for Hanako after all. God, I hope she's alright.

As we finally reach the campus' entrance gate, Hisao steps forward.

"No sign of her in the parking lot?"

I hear Naomi letting out a depressed sigh.

"No. Haven't seen her near here either. So... Now what? Search every square meter of the entire campus with just the four of us?"

"I would like to suggest a more refined approach. Can I ask you a question, Miss Inoue?"

"Uhuh?"

"Did you chase after Miss Ikezawa immediately after she fled from the lecture hall? Did you see in which direction she ran off to?"

"Sorry. She left all her things at her seat when she bolted from the room, and it took me precious seconds to gather them. Didn't want to leave them in that hall. When I made it out of there, she was already gone."

"I would like you and Lilly to check all restrooms at the journalism faculty. If she is still in the building, it is likely she will be hiding in one of them. If you find her, please notify us at once and do whatever you can to put her at ease. If you cannot find her in the faculty building, please return to the gate and wait there."

"Well... Okay."

"Mister Nakai, you would not happen to have a photo of Miss Ikezawa in your wallet, would you?"

"I do, but... We're not going to walk around showing random people her picture, are we? Hanako would hate that. She's extremely sensitive about her appearance."

"Not random people. A campus this large usually has some security staff on duty, especially during an event such as this one. We will ask at the journalism faculty where their office is located and ask them to assist us in a search of the campus. Maybe a description of her will suffice, and they will not even ask us for a photo."

"Asking security guards to go and look for her...?"

Hisao doesn't sound completely convinced yet.

"Yes. They know this place much better than we do and can conduct a search with a much greater degree of efficiency."

"If a stranger approaches her, she'll certainly just run off again. And then what?"

"Then we will ask them to keep their distance and merely notify us of her location without approaching her."

Naomi grumbles softly.

"This is kinda starting to sound like a manhunt."

"We have less than two hours before it will be completely dark outside. I believe it is important that we find her quickly."

I give a determined nod.

"I agree with Father. If this helps us find Hanako before it gets dark, we should consider it."

"So... Will the two of us be heading to wherever the security staff is located?"

"Yes. If Miss Ikezawa is found and still in a state of distress, you will probably be the person most suitable to calm her down."

"I just hope they'll take us seriously when I tell them we need help in finding a lost 18-year old girl."

"I will be happy to take the task of explaining the situation off your hands. I assure you they will not turn us down. Shall we go?"

"...Alright."

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

"I just checked, and it looks like one stall's occupied."

I nod and gently grab Naomi's sleeve so she can lead me into the restroom. This'll be the third restroom on the ground floor we'll be searching. We enter, and Naomi carefully positions me near the door of the locked stall. I manage to concentrate enough to pick up the faint sound of breathing on the other side of the door. I take a deep breath and softly call out Hanako's name.

"Hanako... Are you there?"

No reply.

"Hanako?"

I listen closely once again, but I fail to notice any changes in the breathing on the other side of the door. If Hanako had been here, I'm pretty sure I would have picked up a gasp or an acceleration in the breathing pattern. Sensing that Naomi's eyeing me, I shake my head and extend my hand. I feel how she puts my hand on her arm, and we slowly walk back out.

"Nothing huh?"

"If it had been her, I'm sure I would have picked up a reaction of some sort."

"There's one more restroom on this level. I'm not sure..."

Triiiiiiiiiiiinggggg

"Whoa!"

Naomi gives a cry of surprise and I can feel her flinch as my cell phone suddenly springs to life. I hurriedly take it out of my backpack. I hear Naomi grumble softly.

"I think I've heard enough cell phones for one day."

"G-Good afternoon. Lilly Satou speaking."

"Lilly."

"Yes, Father?"

"We have found a few people who are willing to help us look. I assume you have not run into Miss Ikezawa yet?"

"That's a relief. We haven't found any sign of her at the faculty."

"If I were Miss Ikezawa, I would try to get out of the building if there were no obvious safe places in the direct vicinity. It is unlikely for her to have tried and hide on one of the higher floors."

That's probably what Naomi was about to say too.

"I think so too. She'd try to make it outside, but the entrance gate might have been too crowded for her to approach."

"Could you put Miss Inoue on the phone for just a second?"

"Of course."

I hand my phone over to Naomi and lean in close so I can still hear Father's voice.

"Yes?"

"Miss Inoue, our search will have the journalism faculty as its starting point and spread out from there. Did you and Miss Ikezawa head straight from the gate to the faculty building this morning or did you go anywhere else?"

"No. We figured we'd have time to explore the campus for a bit afterwards. We didn't want to be late."

"How about during lunch? The cafeteria at the English faculty was rather crowded, and perhaps the same was true here. Did you and Miss Ikezawa..."

"THE SPORTS FIELD!"

My ears ring as Naomi unexpectedly shouts into my phone.

"Hanako wanted to avoid the crowds at the cafeteria, so we went out and had lunch in quiet spot near the running track some distance away from the faculty building! We ate at a bench in sight of the bleachers!"

"Good call, Miss Inoue. Are there any other places outside of the faculty that you have visited today?"

"No, but I have a hunch that she is where we had our lunch break. Maybe we should go over there too."

"The security staff will likely be there before you, so it is probably better for the two of you to finish your search in your current location and then head back to the gate as we agreed."

"...okay then."

"Good. We will hopefully see you soon."

I hear a short beep as Father hangs up the phone. Naomi puts the phone back into my hand.

"I've been an idiot for not thinking of that place sooner. Let's hope she's there. She has to be there."

"I hope so too."

"Wanna go back to the gate?"

"Let's check out the remaining restroom and then go back."

"Right."

--------------------------------------
03
Our search of the journalism faculty having returned no results, Naomi and I return to the gate and sit down on one of the benches. The walking across the campus has left me tired, but my mind feels even more exausted than my body. The temperature today wasn't that bad for a day in November, but now that the afternoon is coming to an end it's rapidly getting colder, and I shiver despite my fairly thick coat.

"It's getting kinda chilly, isn't it?"

I nod at Naomi but don't reply.

"I really hope she's at the sports field. The sun is already starting to set..."

What if she isn't there? What if we can't find her, and it gets dark? Is she going to seek shelter eventually? What if she stays out here all night and gets hypothermia? What if... No, don't think like this. Don't even start thinking like this. She'll be fine. Please let her be fine.

"Erm..."

I sigh and rub my temples. This wasn't so bad while we were busy walking around the faculty building, but now that we're just sitting and waiting, I have nothing to do except be worried sick about Hanako.

"Hey, you alright?"

"I'm okay."

"I... uh... just wanted to say... uh..."

I hear her shuffle on the bench a bit.

"Sorry about shouting before. You were right. I wasn't being fair. I was taking my stress out on you. We could have phoned you during lunch break that our program ended at four. We just didn't think of it. We thought we'd be able to make it in time."

I never really held Naomi's angry outburst against her. She's probably as worried about Hanako as I am. Still, I appreciate her gesture.

"No, you were right to be angry. I... really did... mess up. I... put Hanako through something horrible and I... I'll take full responsibility for that."

"I messed up too. I should have tried staying closer to her. I should have reacted sooner when that phone started ringing. Hanako never even really wanted to attend that last lecture to begin with. She simply did it to accommodate me, I think. I should have done as she said and skipped the damn thing. I should have taken the hint when we entered that hall, and I saw that look on her face instead of listening to a reassurance that wasn't even remotely convincing. And I couldn't even follow her quickly enough to find out where the hell she went. Urg... And I could hear some assholes softly laughing at the whole thing. If I had known running after Hanako was useless, I would have stayed and given them a few pokes with my injection pen. I have a really funny anticonvulsant in there. Give 'em something to laugh about."

"I occasionally laugh when I'm nervous or uncomfortable. Perhaps the same was true for them."

"Whatever. The gist of it is that I screwed up just as badly, if not more. Hanako's probably sorry she asked me to come along."

That's news to me. I was under the assumption that Hanako simply spoke to Naomi about today during their outing last Friday and that Naomi invited herself along.

"She asked you to come along?"

"Yeah, I don't think I would have attended today's events otherwise. I don't like travelling on my own. I guess... she was hoping things would be less stressful for her with someone else around. So much for that assumption."

"I... am still happy you came along. I didn't want to offend Hanako by worrying about her. She has made some truly remarkable progress over the last few months, after all. But still, someone else coming along so she wouldn't attend today's events all on her own was a relief, and I think Hanako really appreciated it."

"I guess so... At least before I screwed up."

"I don't think you did anything wrong by wanting to attend the full program. That's what we came here for after all."

"Yeah... So erm... No hard feelings?"

"No hard feelings."

At least on my part. I'm not sure how Hanako will look back on this. Will she resent us for the part we played in this? No, that's very unlikely. But...

"You know, ever since I met your really awesome mom, I've been wondering what kind of person she'd be married to. When I met your dad this morning, I was... I dunno... Maybe a little underwhelmed. I expected him to be more like her. But seeing how quickly he jumped in to get this mess under control, maybe there's more to him than meets the eye."

Despite the current situation, I manage to let out a proud little smile. I too have been relieved and pleasantly surprised by Father helping us out like this. He's been struggling, emotionally more than physically, ever since he lost his status as CEO and position as head of the Satou clan. Even though he's still officially a board member, Akira mentioned to me that in practice that didn't really mean much since the other three members were many years his senior, and because of that, each of them had much more clout than he did.

He is happy to be back in his homeland, but at the same time Mother says that he feels being watched whenever he goes outside for a walk during the weekdays, and as a result he spends most of his time indoors, sleeping in bed or reading in his study. Whenever he goes outside, he drives his car to a part of town where people don't know him and takes a walk there or visits a library. Mother assured him that she didn't think less of him now, and neither did she care what others might think of him. But I'm not sure if her reassurance has made a large difference. Ironically enough, today was supposed to be an inspirational event for him as well. This day may actually have been a success for him from that point of view.

"I'm certainly glad that he's here right now and that it's not just the three of us."

"Heh, speak of the devil... I think I see him coming back. At least I think it's him."

"What about Hisao? And Hanako?"

"No, it's just him. I hope he hasn't lost sight of Nakai."

"No, I don't think that's what happened."

I'm pretty sure he would have called me if they got separated for some reason.

"Gee, he looks a little winded. I guess we'd better give him some room to take a load off."

We both move to the outside of the bench a bit so Father will have room to sit down in between us.

"Lilly... Miss Inoue."

"Father, are you alright?"

"Quite well, thank you."

I notice that his breathing is slightly quicker and more uneven than usual, but probably not to a degree that justifies worrying about him.

"Father... Hanako, did you...?"

"We have managed to... locate Miss Ikezawa."

I breathe a sigh of relief and hear Naomi do the same.

"Thank God."

"Was she there? Where I said she'd be?"

"Yes and no. She was not at the bench you mentioned to us, but they did an extensive search of that particular area and found her hiding behind the small building near the bleachers that houses the distribution substation powering the floodlights. Mister Nakai is currently keeping her company."
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Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 43 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:08 am

"So... Now what?"

"Now we wait until she is ready to leave. We may have to wait until it is dark, and there are no more people walking around the campus."

"Okay..."

"You can wait in the car if you like, Lilly. There is a bit of a chilly wind blowing here."

"I don't mind waiting here."

"Are you not cold?"

"..."

It is chilly out here, but I'm not going to take shelter in the car as long as Hanako is still out there in the cold.

Father lets out an exasperated sigh at my lack of reaction.

"Perhaps the two of you are willing to do me a favor?"

"A favor?"

"The original plan was to stop by a restaurant somewhere on our way back and treat the four of you to dinner. With things as they currently are, I believe it to be best if we head straight back to Yamaku when Miss Ikezawa returns."

"I believe so too."

"Good. Since it might be rather late before we are back, it would be a good idea to purchase some food in one of the cafeterias here to eat during the trip back. It does not have to be a 4-star meal, but it should get us back to Yamaku without going hungry."

I turn to Naomi.

"Would you please come along and get some food with me?"

"Sure."

"Hold out your hand, please."

I do so and feel several banknotes being pressed into my hand.

"Please be sure to buy something that can be eaten on the road with a minimum of fuss and preferably something that does not need to be warm to taste good."

"Of course, Father."

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

"You think we have enough riceballs?"

"Yes. Between them and the sandwiches we should be well stocked for the trip back to Yamaku."

Fortunately for us, the cafeteria in the nearest faculty building was still open so Naomi and I took the opportunity to buy a bag full of snacks. Now we're simply hanging around near the building's entrance. Father said that he'd call me if he received word from Hisao that he and Hanako are on their way, so there's little for us to do right now. I wish there were other ways to keep busy right now, because I could really, really use the distraction, but I just know I won't be able to put my mind to studying right now, so there's no point in taking out one of my study books.

"Hey Lilly... I mean, Satou?"

"Lilly is fine."

"Ah... Can I ask you something?"

I turn towards Naomi who's sitting next to me. She's been unusually quiet over the last ten minutes or so.

"What would you like to know?"

"If you had been in my place... What would you have done?"

"I don't understand."

"Imagine you'd ask any of my classmates what would be most likely to end in disaster: sending me into a nightclub full of strobe lights or sending Hanako into a lecture hall full of people. Everybody would agree on the latter without question. I mean... She used to break down and run out when one or two people were eyeing her for too long in class. I kinda feel like I really should have known better."

"I don't think you necessarily did anything wrong."

"You don't think I necessarily did anything wrong?"

"Hanako may have been reluctant to follow you into that hall, but she still did so of her own free will. Maybe you overestimated her this time. But it's probably still better than if you had done the opposite. Hanako often worries that others look down on her, and being overprotective of her merely confirms her anxieties about that."

I found that out the hard way myself. From the way Naomi seems to interact with Hanako, she doesn't run much risk of Hanako jumping to those particular conclusions about her.

"I never really thought about that much..."

"I think your friendship has helped Hanako grow a lot over the last four months. I never imagined she'd do things like join a club, hold writing sessions in her room with others, interview teachers or go out with clubmates. You're probably the first friend she's had who challenges her like that."

"Heh, says the person who convinced Hanako to accompany her to the other side of the world?"

"Aside from that I think my friendship mostly consisted of offering her comfort and company."

"She didn't really have any of that at the time you two met, so I think those are still really important to her. I think she was more willing to move beyond her comfort zone later on exactly because she knew she'd always have you to fall back on."

"...maybe."

"I've always wondered a little bit why they didn't put Hanako in your class to begin with. The two of you might have met sooner, and maybe she'd have made some more friends sooner too."

"If the school had done that it might have backfired. Hanako might have interpreted it as a sign that they wanted to spare the rest of the student body the sight of her scars. Besides, not all of the students in my class are completely blind and even those who completely lack eyesight know what most of their classmates look like. Hanako's scars wouldn't have remained hidden for very long."

"Oh... Okay."

"I also think that the school believed it to be best for her self esteem if she made some friends in class who could see her scars and still wanted to spend time with her. People who were willing to give her a chance to make a new start."

I hear Naomi snorting softly.

"You sure make it sound easy. Do you really think people didn't try?"

"I didn't mean to imply that."

"Because people tried. A lot of people tried. I tried. Natsume tried. Hakamichi and Mikado tried. Even Kawana, Suzuki and Kapur tried. It just didn't work."

I've never had that much contact with the students of Shizune's class, so some of the names Naomi brings up barely ring a bell. I don't really know much about Hanako's time in class before the two of us met. By the time I befriended Hanako, my relationship with Shizune was already turning sour so I couldn't ask her. I wonder about Naomi's perspective on all of this.

"How did the class see Hanako?"

"Most of us got to know the rest through the introduction activities the first week, but Hanako skipped all of those. When she first appeared in class, people were curious about her. But when we approached her, she just panicked, ran off and didn't return for the rest of the day. We never really learned much about her, but some things started falling into place eventually."

"Falling into place?"

"She had this habit of arriving late or leaving early. Sometimes even skipping class altogether or randomly walking out. The teachers ignored it every single time. Hakamichi asked about it once and was told that every student has special needs. So we figured that there was some kind of arrangement with the school in place, meaning that the real reason she was attending here probably had more to do with her behavior than with her scars needing constant medical attention. Eventually words like 'trauma case' started being dropped."

Trauma case. I cringe visibly at the harsh ring of that description of Hanako.

"Hanako's had a very difficult life prior to her arrival at Yamaku."

"Yeah, that was kind of obvious from the start. There are many people in school who can attest that being maimed in an accident can really do a number on you. And I know all too well that others aren't always accommodating or even understanding of your circumstances. Heck, there were several people at my middle school who thought I was a freak. So most people in class tried not to hold her behavior against her. But... other than not rocking the boat there wasn't really much else we could do."

"Not rocking the boat?"

"If you tried holding an actual conversation with her, she'd often clam up or sometimes even run off. So best thing to do was only have some limited interaction with her if absolutely necessary and otherwise pretend she wasn't there. I really didn't like it either, but as long as people didn't interact with her she at least came to class on a regular basis. Nobody wanted to be responsible for her getting low grades. I mean, you could tell she had enough problems as things were."

"How depressing..."

"I don't think people cared that much about what she looked like. We're all in the same boat after all. Heck, in my opinion she's easier on the eyes than many of the boys attending our school. And if you spend some time really interacting with her, you kind of stop paying attention to the burns. But she wasn't exactly generous with the opportunities for interaction, even after she met and befriended you."

I suppose my friendship didn't really do much to take away Hanako's conviction that people saw her as inferior because of her scars. I wonder if perhaps I should have done more to encourage Hanako to have contact with others as well.

"Everybody has their own pace."

This causes Naomi to chuckle briefly.

"It sure is an uneven pace though. For over two years she's like a ghost who's present but doesn't interact with the rest in any way. Then some random new guy transfers in and BOOM... Everything changes. Heh, not that I'm complaining. I got a new friend out of it after all."

"You two are certainly an interesting combination."

"I hear that all the time, but we actually work together very well. I'm good at talking, and she's good at listening. That's actually often a pretty good combination. At the writing club I'm usually the one to throw the ideas around, and she usually writes them down, develops them and fills in the blanks. We recently followed your mom's advice and did a joint interview with one of the teachers for that club column with me asking the questions and keeping the teacher talking and Hanako observing and taking notes. As long as the attention isn't squarely focussed on her, she's really good at that. She has a knack for reading between the lines and filling in the blanks."

That is certainly true, although the same tendency can be a double-edged sword as it has caused Hanako to jump to the wrong conclusions about people in the past due to her low self esteem coloring her vision.

"It's good to hear that the two of you work together so well. She seems to enjoy spending time with you, so I assume that there's a personal click as well."

"In a way. She's still not exactly open with me, and when we interact, it's mostly me talking and her listening. We usually keep to the safe subjects like the clubs, and I like to share new gossip with her since she's not very likely to repeat it to other people. Jun and I are still trying to convince her that being in a relationship doesn’t mean she can’t participate in our discussions about boys. Still, I'm happy we finally got to know each other a bit. I've been noticing things about her since she joined our club. Like her approaching Mutou and doing an interview so her boyfriend's club can get some new members. Or taking your mom to our club to give a motivational speech. Or letting me sleep in her room whenever I have an episode. Or her and Jun keeping me company the day after while I'm bedridden. The girl obviously has a big heart underneath that shy exterior of hers, and it's only fair I make an effort to be a friend to her because I honestly believe she deserves more of them."

Despite the gravity of the current situation, Naomi's words make me smile.

"I couldn't agree more on that."

A silence. Seems like we're running out of things to say. Maybe we should return to the campus entrance. Father must be wondering what's taking us so long.

"Shall we go back to the gate? I don't want Father to get worried."

"Fine with me. It's already getting pretty dark, so hopefully we won't have to wait too long for Hanako to make her way back to us."

We get up and walk back to where we left Father with me once again holding onto Naomi's sleeve for navigation. Just when we get close to where I think the bench where we were sitting before is located, Naomi suddenly stops.

"Is something wrong? Is Father still sitting there?"

"He's standing at the entrance gate, and he's beckoning us. I wonder if he's heard something already."

We quickly make our way over to where Father is waiting for us.

"Lilly. Miss Inoue. Well timed. I was about to drop the two of you a call."

"Father. Have you heard from Hisao already?"

"I have. He and Miss Ikezawa are on their way over here. I am heading for the car in order to park it as close to the entrance as I can. I believe it to be best if the two of you join me."

"We will."

I feel a sense of relief as we follow Father to the car. With luck, Hanako and Hisao will soon be with us. I'm not sure what I could possibly say to Hanako to properly apologize to her. It's probably best to first find out how she feels before I start trying to make this up to her.

"Father... Did Hisao say how Hanako is doing?"

"I am afraid he did not. Let us worry about that later."

We get into the car, and Father drives it up to the entrance gate. I get the impression that the parking lot is almost completely empty already, for Father is able to return us to the school gate while barely having to make any turns. A few minutes of silence later, I hear Naomi let out a soft cry.

"There they are. Over there. In the distance."

"Yes, they have finally made it here."

"Can you see how Hanako is doing?"
04
No immediate reply. But then I hear a barely audible 'geez...' from Naomi that makes my heart immediately skip a beat.

"Naomi? What's wrong? What do you see?"

"Erm..."

Naomi starts mumbling something but is then interrupted by a short cough coming from my left.

"Inoue, could you please assist Mister Nakai?"

"Uh... Sure."

I hear the car door opening, and I'm gripped by a sudden sense of frustration as I realize I'm being left out. What was it that Naomi was about to say? Does Father really think he's doing me a favor this way?

"Hey... Are you okay, Hanako? You're not... hurting, are you? That looks..."

"..."

But my irritation quickly vanishes as I hear the worried tone in Naomi's voice.

"Naomi, could you take my backpack from me?"

"Y-Yeah sure."

I hear shuffling on the rear seats and eventually I hear the car door slam shut. As it does, seat belts start clicking shut and Father starts the engine.

"Now that we are all here, it is time to return to Yamaku."

"Hey, the two of us just did a little shopping, and we got stuff to eat on our way back. Hope you guys don't mind sandwiches and riceballs."

"That sounds good. I'm kinda hungry. Wanna have one as well, Hanako?"

"..."

When Naomi first spotted Hanako and Hisao, I was relieved. But that relief is quickly starting to turn into concern as Hanako barely seems to be responding to us. As Father steers the car off the parking lot, I gather all my courage, turn around and whisper to my best friend.

"Hanako?"

There is no response.

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:22 pm, edited 2 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 43 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:08 am

The food at the Shanghai was good as usual, but the atmosphere has been gloomy. We went here to get a quick meal after dropping Hanako off at the dorm, and now I can hear Hisao and Naomi getting up.

"Mister Satou, thank you for the meal. I hope you don't mind if I leave already."

"I think I'm going too. Thanks for everything. And say hello to your wife for me."

"Are you sure you do not want me to drive you back to school? It is still quite the walk uphill from here."

"That's okay. We walk that road all the time during the week and usually with shopping bags to boot. Besides, some fresh night air will probably feel good right now. You and Lilly surely like to have a little bit of time for yourself too."

"In that case I wish the two of you a safe return and a good night."

I turn my head towards Hisao and do my best to give him my most reassuring smile.

"Try not to worry too much about Hanako, okay? I'm sure she'll be fine once she has recovered a bit."

A short pause.

"...The same goes for you Lilly."

"I will try to keep that in mind."

Hisao and Naomi say their goodbyes, and I hear them leave the room. After the sound of their footsteps has faded away, Father softly clears his throat.

"Perhaps some fresh air will do us good as well. Unless you are still hungry."

I softly nod my head. Father walks up to the counter, pays our bill and we walk out.

"I am afraid that I am not very familiar with this town."

"I know of a place that's probably nice and quiet right now. It's not very far from here."

"Lead the way then."

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

"Here it is. It sounds quiet enough right now, and I think this area of the park smells nice."

I sit down on the nearby park bench and hear Father taking a seat next to me.

"The odor is a bit hard for me to judge, but I can attest that it is quiet around here. There is not another person in sight. It is a nice place, although I would probably be able to appreciate the area more during the daytime."

"This is a bit of a special place. This is the place where... H-Hanako and Hisao... c-confessed to one another."
05
My voice starts breaking as Hanako's name leaves my lips. I thought I'd be relieved when Hisao and Hanako made it back to us. I was hoping Hanako'd be okay after Hisao calmed her down. But when Hanako finally returned, it became obvious almost immediately that she was far from okay. She must have been hungry as well, but despite several offers she hasn't taken a single bite. Nor has she spoken a single word during the whole journey back. Only when we arrived back at Yamaku and she was about to enter her room, she turned to us and said four barely audible words.

("I will be fine.")

Nobody believed it.

The atmosphere at the Shanghai was quite heavy because of it with even Naomi barely saying anything. And throughout it all, I've been struggling to maintain a reassuring and composed smile in front of the others. Eventually, my jaw started hurting, and my head started pounding, so I was relieved to finally get out of there. And now, with nobody but Father nearby, I hold my head in my hands and let my shoulders slump, trying to keep my tears in check.

"What have I done?"

"You have merely made a small mistake with large consequences, just like the others."

"The others?"

"Miss Inoue made the mistake of having Miss Ikezawa accompany her to that lecture and not staying close to her. Miss Ikezawa herself made the mistake of not turning off her phone, and you made the mistake of phoning her without considering the possibility of them still attending a session. If any of you three had acted differently, what happened today would not have happened."

"Even so..."

"Try not to take all responsibility for today on your own shoulders. Put some of it on mine if you like."

"Yours?"

"You seemed rather insistent on taking a break at the English faculty this afternoon rather than heading straight back to the campus entrance. You did not appear to be very tired yourself, so I am curious for whose benefit that was."

"I was..."

I start to speak, but then think better of it. I don't have any energy left to put on a convincing act, and I suspect that Father has already found me out anyway."

"I'm sorry, Father."

"There is nothing wrong with being protective of others, Lilly. But it is not always a positive trait."

"Father..."

I suppose he's right. I know that my tendency of being overprotective isn't exactly a virtue. But he hardly set the good example today. I wonder if I should bring it up. I don't feel like it's my place to scold or lecture him. He is my father after all. On the other hand, he probably didn't realize how much he offended me. Maybe I should speak up.

"When Hisao and Hanako approached the car a few hours ago, Naomi seemed shocked by something, but she didn't say what it was. I had the impression that you... discouraged her... from sharing her impression with me. I would have... really appreciated... being let in on the fact that Hanako injured herself."

"How did you find that out?"

"I picked up the faint smell of antiseptic in the car while we were driving back. I also paid close attention to the sound of her footsteps, and it sounded like she was limping slightly."

"Impressive."

"I probably would have found out eventually. I don't understand what's wrong about having Naomi tell me this immediately."

"It is one thing to beat oneself over the head over what happened today, but it is another to ask others to provide you with a cudgel."

So he feels that I was burdening Naomi by putting her into the role of bearer of bad news.

"It is more a matter of principle. If I was able to see, I would have been able to see Hanako's situation for myself. But since I lack eyesight, I often rely on others to describe a situation for me, whether it's a good or a bad one. If others are denied the opportunity to act as my eyes, it feels as if my blindness is being taken advantage of. And that feels... bad to me."

That's probably as polite as I can phrase it. For nearly a minute, Father doesn't respond. Then he lets out a soft sigh.

"When Miss Ikezawa was found, she was sitting against the side of the building in what seemed to be a fetal position. We immediately noticed a small hole in her pants near one of the knees and a wound underneath as well as some grazes on her hands. I think it is safe to assume that she tripped during her flight from the building and took a rather nasty fall."

"Oh no..."

"I had the guard who found her go and fetch us a few supplies so Mister Nakai could clean the wounds and put a gauze on her knee. "

He sighs softly.

"When we reached the spot where she was hiding, Mister Nakai approached her, sat down next to her and embraced her. But she just kept staring straight ahead as if he was not even there. I remained with Mister Nakai until the guard came back with the medical supplies and during that whole time I do not recall her moving even once. It was a very... unsettling sight."

I notice that for just a moment his voice trembles slightly. How bad could it have been if even Father was rattled by it? How did this day, that was supposed to be so inspirational, become such a nightmare? The idea of Hanako sitting there, nearly catatonic and covered in grazes, breaks the last bit of restraint I have left, and tears of grief and guilt start flowing down my cheeks.

"Oh, H-Hanako. I'm s-so s-sorry..."

I can't recall the last time I've felt this miserable. My mind is swirling with all kinds of emotions - all of them bad.

I feel anger at myself and at the situation. Hanako's already been through so much. She's already endured enough misery for a lifetime and didn't deserve being put through this.

I also feel a maddening sense of helplessness and desperation. I'll apologize to her tomorrow, but I know in advance that that's not going to change much. I want to do more, but I can't think of anything.

And more than anything else, I'm really worried. Hanako was doing so well lately. She still wasn't extremely outgoing, but she was slowly but steadily rediscovering how to enjoy life again after nearly a decade of focussing completely on survival. Her grades were steadily climbing, too, and my impression was that she'd easily be able to handle her entrance exams as long as she kept studying hard for it. But how much motivation will she have left now? Will she have recovered from today's events in time for the mock exams later this week? What if she fails them and is forced to take all those extra classes - because of me? What would that do to her? What if this has an impact on her performance in the actual exams? The national tests are less than two months away. What if she fails her exams? What will she do then? Where will she go? No... Don't think like that. Don't even start thinking like that. Just... keep it together. Stop... worrying... already.

"Lilly?"

"I've f-failed her so b-badly. How will I even f-face her after t-today?"

I feel embarrassed about Father having to see me like this, but it took all my strength to stay composed in front of Hisao and Naomi, and if I keep this bottled up inside for any longer, I'll probably end up breaking down in the dorms. At least right now there's nobody around but him and me... I think. The only sounds I hear right now are the whistling of the wind through the nearby trees and the sound of my own crying.
06
Just when I start worrying about how extremely uncomfortable this is probably making Father, I feel him take my hand and push something against my palm. As I take it from him, I can feel that it's something light and soft.

"It is... ah... a handkerchief to... ah..."

Despite my depressed mood, I can't resist a giggle at Father's awkwardness.

"I could tell."

Even my gloomy mood cannot prevent a smile from crossing my face for a moment, both at the unexpected sweetness and the endearing awkwardness of his gesture. I use his handkerchief to dry my tears, keeping it with me afterwards in case I tear up again later. As the stream of tears dries up, I let out a loud and tired sigh.

"Thank you."

"Think nothing of it."

"I'm sorry for you having to see me like this."

"Not at all. Best to let it out now, so you can be strong and supportive in front of Miss Ikezawa later."

"I... would like to do whatever I can to help Hanako, but I'm not really sure what I can do."

"I was under the impression that supporting people who are going through a difficult time is like a second nature to you, and that you do not need to go in with a specific plan in mind. All you would need to do would simply be yourself."

"Hanako has an appointment with her therapist tomorrow. Knowing her, she might end up skipping it. If she does, maybe I should go. Just to let the school know what happened. Maybe I can ask them to extend Hanako some leniency with the mock exams this week."

"That sounds like a good start."

I absentmindedly nod my head as Father continues.

"Perhaps we can buy her a new set of pants to replace the ones that were damaged. I am sure your mother would be happy to obtain some that resemble the ones she was wearing today."

"I would like to pay for them myself if that's okay. I know what size Hanako wears. I will contact Mother about it tomorrow."

"Very well."

"But... I fear that it will take more than a new pair of pants to resolve this."

"Perhaps it would be best not to expect a magic fix to exist and to simply do whatever little things you can for her - as you did for me a few months earlier."

"...Yes."

Having calmed down a bit, I neatly fold Father's handkerchief and put it away.

"Father... Thank you so much. I'd like you to know that I really appreciate this."

He merely chuckles modestly.

"That is an unusual amount of gratitude for a mere handkerchief."

I shake my head with a sad smile.

"Not just the handkerchief, but everything else today as well. I'm really happy you came along with us today."

"Do not worry about it."

He dismisses my compliment as usual, but my gratitude is completely sincere. I'm not even sure if we would have found Hanako in time if it hadn't been for Father keeping a level head, and now he's here keeping me company too. He's been in a somber and apathic mood since Grandfather adopted Mister Kojima as his heir, and me asking him to come along today was mostly an effort on my part to get him out of the house. Yet when Hisao, Naomi and I were at a loss on what to do, he took charge and quickly put forth a plan of action. His voice even sounded more alive than before too. Perhaps an event like this was necessary to shake him out of the rut he was in. If that is so, then at least something positive happened today.

"I meant what I just said. I am very proud of you. I was surprised how well you handled the effort to find Hanako."

Father merely mumbles something under his breath that even I would have missed if it hadn't been for the fact that I taught myself over the last few months to pay close attention to him whenever he lowers his voice. I turn to him and give him an inquisitive smile.

"...Practice makes perfect?"

"Never mind."

"I don't remember getting lost myself very often. Mother, Grandmother or Akira would usually keep an eye on me at all times."

"That they did."

"Hmmm... Akira then?"

Father pauses for a moment and then sighs.

"This was mostly before you were born, but your sister had the unfortunate tendency to run off on her own whenever we went into town or on a trip, and it was often up to me to track her down. Before long, we would start making mental notes of toy stores, pet stores and video game stores we came across because those were often the places we suspected she would walk off to if we put ourselves in her shoes."

So Father applied the same mindset today while we were trying to track down Hanako. I grin at the thought of Akira sneaking off while our parents weren't looking, but Father didn't sound particularly amused just now.

"That must have been troublesome at times."

He lets out a dejected sigh.

"Your sister was always a bit of a rebel. We used to tell her that she was being a burden on others by acting the way she did, but I do not think our words ever truly stuck."

"Was it really that much of a problem?"

"There were other things too. Akira was a bit of a tomboy even when she was young and played with boys more often than with girls. Things got rough sometimes, and there were times when we heard about her giving some boy a black eye. She would insist things merely got out of hand a bit, but we as parents would be the ones who would get the blame, particularly your mother. We would spend a week or so apologizing to that boy's parents, and things would quiet down, only for something similar to happen again a month or two later."

I personally wonder if those occurrances were really just children playing and accidentally going a bit too far or if Akira was perhaps being picked on and stood up for herself.

"Akira can be a handful, but she has a softer side as well, Father. Even though there was a rather large age gap between us, she has always been very kind and attentive towards me, and she'd always play with me if I was bored or lonely, even if she had homework to finish. I don't think I could have wished for a more loving sister at the time, and I believe she will be a wonderful mother herself someday. She may not be the most refined person in the world, but she's responsible when it counts."

"...Perhaps."

"Definitely."

"The bond between you two and the good influence you had on Akira when the two of you were together did not escape our attention. We tried to encourage contact between the two of you as much as possible."

I'm suddenly reminded of how Akira used to complain about how quick our parents were in letting her look after me instead of doing it themselves. With a surprised expression, I turn in Father's direction.

"Are you saying that letting Akira look after me was for her benefit instead of mine or yours?"

"Scolding Akira had little effect, but you never failed to bring out her gentler side. We had been hoping that some of that would eventually rub off on her permanently, but perhaps that was not a realistic expectation after all."

I don't think so either. Akira's kind, up-beat and a wonderful person to be around. Those traits are just as much part of her as her laid-back and informal attitude. They simply make her who she is.

"Father, how do you... feel about Akira?"

"Hmmm?"

"I mean... You two may not be on the best of terms, but... she..."

"Hmmm."

She's still your daughter.

A long silence. Does he lack an opinion or is he simply reluctant to share it with me?

"I think... it is good that Akira stayed behind in Scotland."

I cringe at those unexpectedly blunt words. Is he happy to be rid of Akira?

"But Father..."

He softly scrapes his throat as an indication that there's more he'd like to say.

"Your mother once told me that she believed that Akira was really a Scot at heart. Despite our efforts to give her a traditional upbringing and education, there were some traits of hers - traits like a strong sense of individualism, a strong yearning for independence and a sense of straightforwardness - that are not good or bad qualities in and of themselves, but become good or bad depending on one's surroundings. I think that in her current environment, those traits probably serve her well, while they used to be a cause of severe worry for us when she was still living here. Perhaps - this was how things were meant to play out all along."

"Is this how you and Mother feel about it?"

"Yes. We have felt this way even before it became clear that your attempts at convincing her to also return to Japan were not going to be succesful. Perhaps she will be happier there than she would be here. It would make sense to give her the opportunity to find out for herself."

I remember having spent a lot of effort trying to talk Akira into moving back to Japan as well after it became clear that our parents would be moving. Maybe more effort than I should have made. I remember being frustrated when Mother and Father failed to support my efforts. It appears that I might have been so fixated on reuniting our family again once and for all that I completely lost sight of how Akira must have felt, essentially causing me to follow in our parents' footsteps. I make a mental note to apologize to my sister the next time I speak to her even though I doubt she was ever upset with me about this.

"I think... you're right. To be honest, when you said it was good that Akira stayed behind, I was worried for a moment that you admitted to hating her."

"That girl has made us worry about her on many occasions and could probably use a healthy dose of parental respect, but... hating her would be... very difficult for me to do."

"What do you mean?"

"I am afraid that it is not something rational, so I cannot truly explain it. But..."

Another long silence.

"Akira is probably more like your mother than any other person I know. Could you truly hate someone who is similar in so many ways to the person you ended up marrying?"

It takes me a second to grasp the significance of Father's words. Over the last several months, I've slowly grown accustomed to Mother's energetic and up-beat behavior. Even though she's living in Japan again now, her way of acting hasn't changed although she usually adopts a much more reserved and formal posture when we go for a walk around the neighborhood. There have been several times when I considered the possibility that the mother I remembered from my childhood never really existed to begin with, but this is the first time one of my parents actually comes out and confirms it.

"Father... Was Mother ever... ashamed of who she was?"

Father lets out a soft chuckle at that. I guess we can rule out that possibility.

"Your mother realized it was important to set the good example, Lilly."

"The good example?"

Is it right to put up such a radical facade just to set the good example? I get the importance of always showing your best side in front of other people, but someone should be able to be herself in front of her family and closest friends, shouldn't she? I mean, I sometimes have trouble showing others the real me, but this is just...

"Lilly, do you get along with your mother?"

It took me some time to completely get used to Mother's casual attitude, but thinking back on it, I think she grew on me faster than I expected. And after hearing what Father just said, I also realize why. Mother and Akira really do act similar in many ways, and since Akira has been somewhat like a mother figure to me for several years, hearing my actual mother act this informal towards me doesn't feel quite as jarring as I would have thought at first. In fact, there's something strangely familiar and comfortable about it. Mother may not be acting as proper and refined now as I remember her, but she's still kind and loving in her own way. That aspect of her hasn't changed.

"I do, Father."

"Then perhaps it is best not to worry about the matter and focus on the more pressing issues."

"...Hanako."

He coughs curtly.

"And your own exams. Try not to forget about those."

"That too."

"Since you have mock exams this week and it is already ten o' clock, it may be a good idea to return to the car."

"That late already?"

"Yes, today has been a long day. And your mother will probably not let me sleep until I have told her all that has happened."

We walk back to the car, and Father drives us back to school. He's probably eager to get home himself, so I say my farewells at the school gate.

"Very well then. Try your best, and study as hard as you can these last few days. Your mother and I will probably call you before the mock exams start."

"Yes. I'm eager to hear how Mother's last few days in Scotland have been."

"Do not forget to keep your chin up, Lilly. Remember that a proper lady does not mope in public. *mumble* Nor does she scream at others in the middle of a crowded place. Do not embarrass me like that again."

I feel a bit flustered by his scolding, even though he doesn't sound extremely upset with me.

"I'll... ah... remember that, Father. I'm sorry."

"Please hold out your hand."

I do so, slightly puzzled. Moments later, I feel something light being dropped into it.

"For good luck this week."

Curiously, I examine what I just got with my finger.

"Oh."

"It is... ah... a restaurant bill."

I chuckle.

"Thank you, Father."

"Good night. And give Miss Ikezawa my regards."

"I will."

And with that, we part ways. It's probably best if I try and get some sleep as soon as I can, so I can get up early tomorrow. Promising myself to check on Hanako first thing in the morning, I drop Father's little paper crane into my bag, take out my cane and walk back to the dorms.

Please be okay, Hanako.
07
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:27 pm, edited 1 time 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 44

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:09 am

Chapter 44
01
"H-Hanako..."

I'm lying on my right side, my hips thrusting away and my breathing getting more frantic by the second. In front of me, lying in a similar position, is my girlfriend, her body pressed firmly against mine.

It's been a week since we went to that open house day, and a lot has happened since then. Hanako's panic attack, our coordinated effort to locate her on an unfamiliar campus, the silent journey back home, the cramming for the mock exams the days afterwards and finally, last Wednesday and Thursday, the mock exams themselves. I found them tougher than I anticipated, though worry about Hanako may have played a role as well, and between Hanako, Lilly and myself, we went out of our way to avoid bringing the subject up during the days afterwards. Hanako's been silent and somewhat withdrawn this week, probably not a surprise after the traumatizing experience she went through. So this evening, I took her along to my room where I spent some time cuddling with her before we decided to make love.

I can last a pretty long time when we do it in this position, and things have gone nice and slow this evening, but I nevertheless have my limit, and I whisper my girlfriend's name to let her know that I'm rapidly approaching it. I'm barely aware of anything around me except for the feeling of her soft breast in my right hand, the feeling of her shoulders pressing against my chest, the feeling of her buttocks rubbing against my abdomen and finally that wonderfully tight sensation down below. Yet despite the wave of pleasure I'm currently riding partially clouding my mind, I can still tell that Hanako herself isn't ready yet.

Using all my willpower, I manage to slow my thrusting down a bit, hoping to give her an opportunity to catch up with me. Noticing the change of pace, she turns her head a bit and gives me an unsure look. I send a smile her way in return.

"We c-can t-take as long as you l-like, Hanako."

But she merely shakes her head, and before I realize what's happening, she has started rocking her hips herself and reaches down with her hand to stroke the place where we're joined before moving downward between my legs and softly cradling and caressing the two sensitive bits down there, sending a wave of intense pleasure up my spine and causing any hope I had of postponing my climax to fly out the window.

"H-Hanako... ugh!"

I let out a grunt as every muscle in my lower region seems to contract at once, and I nearly double over from the sensation. After several seconds of ecstasy, my body slowly starts settling down, and I open my eyes to find that my girlfriend's looking over her shoulder and straight at me. I wait until my heartbeat has steadied itself and then nod at Hanako as a sign that I'm alright - a habit we've adopted during our many lovemaking sessions over the last few months. She nods back, and a tiny smile appears on her face. It's probably the first time I've seen her smile since that disasterous trip to Kasshoku, although even now her smile has a sad quality to it. Seeing that is enough to make me fight off the drowsiness that started overtaking me and hug her tightly.

"No fair taking advantage of my weak spots so suddenly."

"Was it... g-good?"

"Yeah, it felt great. I could have slowed down and lasted longer though. Then you could have..."

"It's okay... r-really."

That wistful smile again. I want to ease that sadness that still seems to linger in her mind. Without a second thought, I start exploring her body with my hands.

"H-Hisao... shouldn't you... c-clean up first?"

"Later. Just relax and let me tend to you."

She seems unsure for a moment or two but then nods, closes her eyes and leans back into me. Hanako targetted my weak spots just now, but fortunately I've come to know hers as well. I press myself against her and start fondling her breasts with the hand of the arm I've wrapped around her. At the same time, my other hand slides between her legs and starts patting and rubbing her most intimate place. As my hands are caressing her, I move my left foot and gently rub the side of her feet with it. Finally, I lean in and start kissing the side of her neck and the spot just underneath her left ear.

I know from experience that Hanako enjoys each individual action immensely already, but it's the use of all of them at the same time that usually proves too much for her to bear for longer than a minute. I want to wipe that wistfulness off her face and replace it with bliss. I want to please her, comfort her and make her forget. Make her forget the stress and anxiety and somber mood she's experienced this week.

For a long time, neither of us says a word, and the only sound in the room is the wet sound caused by the movements of my left hand. It's difficult for me to determine how long I've been going at this since we're both facing away from my alarm clock, but I do start noticing that Hanako isn't reacting quite as strongly to my caresses as usual.

"Hanako, is this... the way you like it?"

"Y-Yes."

I'm getting the impression from the pace of her breathing and lack of body movement that what I'm currently doing isn't enough, so I increase the pressure a bit and am rewarded with a short gasp. Encouraged by her reaction, I continue, my movements a little bit more forceful than before. Her breathing does seem to be a little heavier than before, but it doesn't seem to be speeding up as much like it would usually do. I do get a little moan in response. My hand is getting a bit tired from this longer-than-average session, but I can't afford to stop until Hanako's satisfied.

"Hanako...?"

I whisper my girlfriend's name, intending to ask her if I'm doing this correctly or if she wants me to do it differently, but before I can finish the question, Hanako's breathing suddenly picks up and grows more shallow. It sounds like she's finally getting there. I eagerly continue my frantic rubbing, and now Hanako starts letting out soft moans.

"Ah.... ah..."

"Just let it all out, Hanako."

"Hmmm... ah... ahn..."

Hanako's voice is getting high-pitched.

"H-Hisao... ah... mmmm..."

I think she's almost there.

"C-coming!"

Hanako's body shakes uncontrollably, and then she lets out a shriek.

I keep stimulating her until she finally lies still and lets out a long sigh. With this behind us, I reach for my nightstand, take a tissue and gently wipe her and myself clean. We usually lie on top of a towel while doing the deed in order to avoid making too big a mess in bed, so the cleaning doesn't take very long. I put the used tissue back on the nightstand, lie down next to Hanako and wrap my blanket around the two of us.

I take Hanako in my arms and hold her closely. Actual pillow talk is rare with us. Hanako isn't really more of a talker after the act than she is in any other situation, but we usually make do with the exchange of non-verbal signs of affection before we drift off to sleep.

"..."
02
Something feels different this time though, but I'm having trouble putting my finger on it. It started as a strange feeling in my gut while I was cleaning myself. A feeling that something is off.

Hanako is lying really still. I don't think she's asleep yet although her breathing has already returned to a steady pattern.

Her breathing...

I think that's what felt off just now. It usually takes her way longer to catch her breath after...

"Hanako..."

A little voice in the back of my head asks me if I'm really willing to start digging around in this particular mud pit, but I dismiss it. I don't think I'll get much sleep if I stick my head in the sand now.

"Y-Yes?"

"Ummm...I'm not sure how to ask this, but... just now... was that... you didn't just... did you...?"

A silence. An extremely long and awkward silence. I honestly don't think I have the nerve to repeat or rephrase the question, but just when I'm about to brush the whole matter aside, Hanako answers in a barely audible voice.

"S-Sorry..."

Crap!

That one little word hits me like a sucker punch to the nuts, and I suddenly feel extremely embarrassed, almost as if someone, somewhere, is laughing very hard at me right now.

"It's... okay, Hanako. Just... please don't ever do that again."

"Sorry."

"If I'm not doing something right, there's no problem in letting me know."

"S-Sorry."

"Hanako?"
03
"I'm s-so s-s-sorry."

My wounded pride is quickly forgotten as Hanako starts shaking again, but this time it's because she's broken down crying.

"Hey, no need to cry. I'm not angry."

I kiss her cheek, leaving the salty taste of her tears in my mouth, and run my hand through her hair.

"Hanako... if you... want to get something off your chest, you know you can share it with me, right? It might make you feel a little better."

It might make me feel a little better too. I'm starting to get the impression that there's more to this than just Hanako feeling ashamed of what just happened, and I don't feel comfortable going to sleep without having an idea of what it is.

Eventually, I hear Hanako taking a deep breath.

"H-Hisao, you d-didn't do anything wrong. I r-really should h-have enjoyed it... like I usually do. But I... just... couldn't. I couldn't... get into it. Eventually... it started to... feel a little uncomfortable..."

So she simply wanted it to stop without hurting my feelings. I really should have picked up on the fact that it was getting unpleasant for her. I guess I still have a lot to learn as well.

"Sorry, I should have been able to pick up on that. Maybe we should... put off this kind of thing until you feel better again."

"Ummm... Hisao?"

"Yes?"

"I could... still make you f-feel good... in any way you l-like."

Part of me would absolutely welcome that, but another part feels guilty about the idea of me getting off without Hanako. Ever since the first time we started pleasuring each other, we've done it on a strict give-and-take basis, and even when we started having intercourse, we always tried to make certain that neither of us was missing out in any way. The idea of this part of our relationship turning into a one-way deal for who-knows how long feels extremely off-putting to me.

"I appreciate that Hanako, but I don't mind waiting until you feel a little better again."

She responds with a little sigh, but doesn't say anything.

"You just said you couldn't get into it. I suppose that means you've got a lot on your mind right now, doesn't it?"

I feel her giving a little nod.

"The mock exams?"

A little sigh.

"Or what happened at Kasshoku University?"

"H-Hisao..."

"Yes, Hanako?"

"Ummm..."

For several minutes she doesn't say anything.

"Hisao... what d-do you think of... the last four months here?"

I smile.

"Aside from that episode that landed me in the hospital for a week, I'd say it was the best time of my high school days. Middle school days too. I feel I've come a long way from the way I was when I first came to live here."

"I... used to t-think the same thing about m-myself. But... I... r-realized this week that I... m-might have b-been wrong."

"What do you mean, Hanako?"

"I w-wasn't feeling uneasy j-just when Naomi and I entered... t-that place..."

I suppose she's talking about the lecture hall.

"I was already a n-nervous wreck from the m-moment we s-split up that d-day. I h-had to eat lunch outside, j-just to be able to g-go on. And w-while we were... in t-there... I was c-counting down the minutes."

"Everyone here at Yamaku can attest that you've made a lot of progress lately, but it would have been a stretch if you hadn't been nervous upon checking out a new school."

"Everyone h-here at Yamaku..."

"That's right."

"When I... f-finally started f-functioning here a little, I thought... it meant something, but... when w-we visited K-Kasshoku, I s-started regressing... almost immediately. And I realized..."

She lets out a soft sniffle.

"I only l-learned to f-function and adapt h-here... at t-this specific school. I n-never really g-got better."

"I don't think that's true."

"N-No matter how well I d-do here... after graduation I'll once again... b-be the same *sniff* p-person I used to be."

"Hanako..."

"Every t-time I t-try to think of my life after graduation... after leaving here... I feel t-terrified. I c-can't f-function out there, Hisao. And n-now I f-feel like someone t-told me I only h-have a few m-months left to live. It f-feels like my time is running out."

"But..."

"I know I'm s-supposed to m-move on. I know I'm s-supposed to g-get over myself and study and p-pass my exams and g-go to university w-with you and Lilly and Naomi. But... every t-time I t-think of how little time we have left here... I start panicking."

I feel the soft sensation of tears dripping on my chest as Hanako continues.

"Nothing has changed. *sob* Nothing at all. I think I... truly... am... b-broken beyond... repair."

"Oh, Hanako..."

--------------------------------------
04
"Hicchan? Hey, Hicchan!"

"Huh? What?"

My thoughts are interrupted by a series of taps on the shoulder from my pink-haired neighbor in class who must have seen me yawning.

"You're looking really tired. You didn't sleep well last night?"

"Not really."

"That's probably true for most of us, Hicchan. I had trouble sleeping last night too."

For probably the first time since she entered class, I turn my head and look at Misha. She has certainly seen better days from the looks of it. Her wacky pink curls look kind of shoddily done this morning, and her eyes look tired as well.

Today is the day we'll be getting the results of the mock exams from last week, and we'll find out who gets to do the rest of their studying at the pace of their liking and who will get shoved into the supplementary program. I get that Misha's worried, since her grades haven't exactly been stellar. The mock exam results aren't the foremost thing on my mind though. What's really bugging me is the fact that Hanako hasn't shown up to class yet. I've been staring at the doorway for as long as I've been here, but I'm getting more and more certain that she's going to skip class again today.

Between the summer break and that trip to Kasshoku, Hanako's attendance record was almost perfect. Too bad it didn't last. I wasn't really surprised when she didn't show up in class the day after that open house day. But she didn't show up the day after either. Fortunately she was there on Wednesday and Thursday to take part in the mock exams, only to vanish on Friday again. I wonder if she's skipping class again today to avoid the mock exam results.

Mutou comes in, we bow, and I can almost hear a collective sigh echoeing through the classroom as he sits down and takes out a stack of papers that he slaps on his desk in a for him unusually dramatic fashion.

This is it then. I'm not sure how I did, but I don't think I did horribly. I probably would have done better if Hanako hadn't been on my mind so much. Even now, as Mutou starts the expected lecture about what to expect if your results are insufficient, I find my thoughts drifting back to Hanako.

She had an emotional breakdown last night while we were in bed together, and nothing I said seemed to get through to her. In the end, there was little I could do except hold her as she cried herself to sleep. I felt really helpless that moment, and if that wasn't bad enough, Hanako's sleep seemed to be rather restless as well. I don't think her dreams were very pleasant. All in all, neither of us really had a good night's sleep. I still managed to drag myself out of bed this morning to engage in my daily run, wanting to get in as much exercise as possible before I get so busy with cramming for the actual exams that I'll have to start skipping it. When I got back from the track, I noticed Hanako was no longer in my room and expected to see her in class. It wasn't until I got to class and noticed she wasn't there that I started wondering whether it might have been a better idea to ditch practice and keep an eye on her.

My worries about Hanako are briefly moved to the backburner when Mutou walks past my desk and puts a small pile of answer sheets on top of it. Apprehensively, I thumb to the last sheet where a series of numbers penned in red lay out the verdict.

Sixty five.

I did worse than I thought. Even science and math are a bit below my usual level.

I might still get away with supplementary courses in only one or two subjects. Thank heavens for small favors. I'm going to need to get my house in order though. If I don't do better on the actual exams, I'm certain to get into trouble.

"Waha~ oh man..."

I turn to Misha, whose laugh seemed a lot more like a nervous tic than a sign of amusement.

"Bad news?"

She pouts.

"I'm probably going to have a few busy weeks ahead of me. How did you do, Hicchan?"

"Not nearly as well as I hoped. It's not outright bad, but I'll have to do better than this on the actual exams. How did Shizune do?"

"She's not one to celebrate unless she achieves a perfect score, but I don't think she'll need to worry. Aren't you curious about how Hanako did, Hicchan?"

I shoot a quick glance in the direction of Hanako's seat and spot Naomi, who's examining her own answer sheet with an uneasy expression. She catches me and we exchange a quiet, but knowing look.

"Yeah, and I'm probably not the only one."

My gaze shifts back to Mutou, who has completed his round through the class and is now putting one stack of answer sheets back in his briefcase. I strongly suspect that I know whom it belongs to. I wonder if Mutou would allow me to give it to Hanako.

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:30 pm, edited 3 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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Chapter 44 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:09 am

"Nakai, class 3-3. Can I speak to Mister Mutou, please?"

I make a polite bow and then try to look past the teacher who answered the door.

"Mutou's here alright, but it looks like he's still busy."

The teacher moves aside, and as I peer into the staff room, I spot my homeroom teacher talking to one of his colleagues; a short old lady wearing a black skirt and a violet shawl. Hanako's therapist. I'm betting my life that I know what, or who, their discussion is currently about. Just when I'm about to leave and come back later, Mutou spots me from the corner of his eye and - after a brief nod from his discussion partner - walks up to the doorway with Miss Takawa in tow.

"Good afternoon, Nakai. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"Good afternoon, sir. Seeing that Hanako wasn't in class today, would it be a problem if I took along her answer sheets? I plan to check up on her later today, and I'll be sure to give them to her."

"I appreciate the gesture, Nakai, but I would prefer to give her back the results myself. If you want to help out, perhaps you can convince her to come and see me about them tomorrow."

Miss Takawa gives me a grandmotherly smile.

"If she prefers, she can also come to me to hear about and discuss the results."

Discuss the results? If Hanako merely performed below average, would she get an invitation from her therapist to 'discuss the results'?

"That doesn't sound good."

The old lady frowns for a moment, probably realizing I'm fishing for more details, but then shrugs her shoulders to dismiss the matter and gives me an innocent smile.

"Let's not dwell on that. By the way, Mister Nakai, how did you fare in your tests last week?"

I immediately feel a sharp glare from Mutou drilling into my skull. I'm not sure if the old therapist knows about today's sub-par grade on my part, but if she does then this is one nasty way to redirect the conversation.

"Uh... I probably could have done a little better."

Judging from his narrowing eyes, Mutou isn't particularly happy with my modest assessment of today's results.

"Could have done a little better, Nakai? That's putting it very lightly. I was hoping you at least had the courtesy to be as disappointed in the results as I was."

"I'm sorry to have disappointed you, sir."

"You will need to step up your game, Nakai."

"I understand, sir. I'll be sure to do better on the actual exams."

"I hope so. How will I motivate the rest of the science club if its president and inspirational figure cannot even get into his chosen university?"

I'm getting the impression that he's taking this way too personally.

"If I'm allowed to say something in my defense; I feel that I studied enough over the last several weeks to get a solid grasp on things. It's just that..."

I think for a moment. I'm not sure if Mutou knows what happened to Hanako. He must have noticed that something was up. Everybody else in class did. After all, Hanako skipped class for the first time in months last week.

"...something came up that made it more difficult to keep my mind on the exams."

Miss Takawa nods gravely.

"The school knows about the event with Miss Ikezawa. Miss Satou was so kind as to visit me last Monday and let me in on what happened."

"Then surely you understand how this could have had an impact."

Mutou rubs his chin.

"Do you think this is going to impact your performance at the actual exam in January, Nakai?"

That's a little less than two months away. I'm really hoping that Hanako will have bounced back by then. But I know that Mutou isn't waiting for a 'perhaps' from me.

"No sir, I'll make sure that it won't."

"I hope you can live up to that promise. Based on your previous grades, the school's willing to give you the benefit of the doubt and will not expect you to take the supplementary lessons you'd usually be expected to take."

That's an unexpected surprise, but also a real relief. I really prefer being able to study at my own pace to being forced into one of those stressful cramming classes.

"Thanks. I really appreciate that. Does that mean Hanako will get a break too?"

Mutou doesn't immediately answer and looks at Miss Takawa instead. The old therapist looks deep in thought for a moment and then slowly shakes her head.

"I think it would be best for Miss Ikezawa to attend the supplementary lessons that are on offer in the upcoming weeks."

What the heck? Why arrange an exemption for just one of us?

"Are you really going to punish her for something that's not her fault?"

"We're not blaming anybody here, Mister Nakai."

Mutou shakes his head with a hint of disapproval at my remark.

"And we prefer to see supplementary lessons as opportunities rather than punishment."

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

"Hanako?"

Lilly's voice greets me from the other side as I knock on her bedroom door.

"Lilly, it's me."

The door opens and Lilly, already in her pajamas, carefully walks out.

"Hisao. Nice of you to stop by."

"So Hanako isn't in there with you? I came to see her, but found her door locked. I was hoping she'd be with you."

Lilly sadly shakes her head.

"I suspect she's in her own room. I heard a few sounds on the other side of the wall a little while back."

"I'm going to cross my fingers that she'll feel like seeing us then. You'll come along, won't you?"

"I will."

We walk up to the door to Hanako's dorm room and I give a few sharp knocks on the door while softly calling out Hanako's name. For a little while there seems to be no response, but then I suddenly see Lilly tilt her head, and moments later the door opens just enough for Hanako to peek through the gap and for me to look back at her. An awkward silence, and then the door is opened further, allowing us to go inside.
05
I'm not really sure what Hanako has been doing before we knocked on her door. There's no book on her nightstand nor are there any notes or study books on her desk. She's already wearing her nightgown, and she looks smaller than ever in it. It must be her slumped shoulders. She looks tired, even though it's not very late yet. I take a seat on her desk chair and Lilly sits down next to her on the bed. Hanako's currently staring at me as if she's asking why we're here. It's probably best to go ahead and not allow the heavy atmosphere to get even worse.

"Um... We wanted to check on you because you weren't in class today. Just to see if you're not ill or something."

"T-Thanks, but... I'm o-okay."

"I asked Mutou if I could pass your answer sheets onto you, but he wouldn't allow that. I was told they wanted you to approach him or Miss Takawa yourself for the results of the mock exams."

Lilly looks surprised at my words.

"Miss Takawa?"

"Yeah, I spoke with Mutou in the staff room, and she was nearby and joined the discussion. She said Hanako could approach either of them to discuss her exam results."

Lilly looks a bit troubled at my words. She's probably thinking the same thing I was. If Hanako obtained good grades, I probably would have gotten that answer sheet, and there wouldn't be any need for her to 'discuss the results' with a staff member. Hanako, on the other hand, merely nods blankly.

"I'll... g-go and talk to one of them."

"Okay."

Hanako fidgets with the sleeves of her nightgown a bit and then looks up at me.

"H-How did you do?"

I was hoping she wasn't going to ask that question, but in hindsight that was an unrealistic expectation to begin with. I suppose there's really no way around it. I take a deep breath and try to keep my tone as neutral as possible.

"I probably could have done better. I ended up scoring a sixty five."

"S-S-Sixty five?"

Hanako's eyes grow the size of small saucers as she hears my grade. Then she shoots an unsure look at Lilly.

"L-Lilly?"

Lilly looks really helpless before softly answering.

"Sixty one. I'm not looking forward to my parents' phone call tonight. I just hope they can understand..."

She suddenly falls silent for a moment and then smiles sadly.

"...that I still have quite a bit of studying left to do."

While her own grades were the subject of discussion, Hanako's face merely had a blank expression, but that changed when Lilly's and my grades were brought up. Now her face shows a devastated mixture of guilt and panic.

"Are y-you f-forced to f-follow s-supplementary lessons now?"

"No, I'm not. Mutou said they decided to give me exemption from them."

Lilly looks surprised to hear this.

"Miss Miyagi told me the same thing today."

She smiles awkwardly.

"I suppose we're... in luck."

Hanako looks a little uncertain, but then slowly nods her head. I scratch my head as I remember something.

"Unfortunately, Mutou didn't say anything about exempting you, Hanako. I'm sorry."

"That's... okay."

Lilly turns to Hanako with a worried look on her face.

"Hanako, what are you going to do?"

"I'll t-talk to Mutou tomorrow and... do the s-supplementary lessons. So... p-please don't worry about me. Okay?"

"Okay."

"Yeah, okay. Just... don't neglect yourself, Hanako."

"I w-won't."

We make a bit of small-talk, but it seems more for show than anything else. Eventually, a yawn from Hanako informs us that it's time to leave, and after a quick 'keep your chin up', we return to the hallway outside. But just before Hanako closes the door behind us, she gives us one more crushed look.

"H-Hisao... Lilly..."

"Yes, Hanako?"

"I'm... s-so... extremely... s-sorry..."

Then the door closes. I turn to Lilly, who has an agonized expression on her face.

"I guess that confirms that she spotted the elephant in the room all along, despite our efforts to sweep the issue under the rug."

In retrospect we really did go out of our way to avoid mentioning the obvious. Maybe a little bit too much. Of course Hanako was skipping class today to avoid the mock exams' results, whatever they are for her. She didn't even seem shocked by the suggestion that she might have done badly. She probably knew all along. And of course all three of us did worse than expected on the tests last week due to how rattled we still were by the lecture hall incident. We know it, Lilly's parents know it, and even the school acknowledged it today. Why else would Lilly and I have been let off the hook like this?

Lilly sadly nods at my words.

"That seems to be the case."

I hope Hanako didn't feel like we were insulting her intelligence by so blatantly avoiding mention of the role the incident of last week and its effect on our performance.

"Do you think we should have brought up the role that the Kasshoku incident played in all of this or would that merely have rubbed salt in her wounds?"

Lilly lets out a depressed sigh.

"She seems to believe that all of this is her fault. But... It's not, Hisao."

She seems almost desperate to convince me. It's really painful to see Hanako and Lilly both agonizing over this. As Lilly opens the door of her own room and prepares to go inside, I briefly put a hand on her shoulder.

"Lilly... Just remember: it's not really your fault either..."
06
Last edited by Guest Poster on Fri Sep 19, 2014 12:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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