Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

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

Chapter 41 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:06 am

06
"Thank you, Kawana. You can tell your friend that he took a good picture."

Mutou nods at Misaki who came to show him a copy of the class photo she printed out. About 20 minutes ago, we took the class photo Naomi proposed this morning. Misaki Kawana, the girl who sits in front of Natsume during class and who is a member of the photography club, took a friend from her club along who was willing to operate the camera and quickly dropped by the copyshop afterwards to print out a preview for our teacher.

"Should we send the picture to the student council, teacher?"

"Yes, they're the ones who'll be in charge of the tasking people to put the yearbooks together."

"We'll do that then. Have a nice day, sir."

Misaki makes a stiff bow and leaves the room. Now it's just Mutou and me. After the photo shoot, Mutou approached me and asked if he could speak to me after class. I wonder what it's about. I really hope it's nothing bad.

"Go ahead and take a look."

He hands me the printout, and I look it over. A smile appears on my face. I think it looks pretty good. I'm standing next to Hisao of course, and I'm turned slightly towards him so my right side is less visible. We're standing fairly close to each other, so I'd like to think that people who pay close attention to the photo can deduce that we're a couple. Then again, this might just be wishful thinking on my part.

"It appears you approve of it."

My gaze shifts back to Mutou, who appears to have been observing me while I was looking at the picture.

"It's a... nice photo, I think."

Mutou nods and takes the printout back.

"If I recall correctly, this is the first time you've taken part in this sort of thing."

I nod.

"I've been... thinking l-lately that... maybe... it's okay if people... look back on that photo in the yearbook and remember... that I was part of this class too."

"I think that would be more than fine and not just with me. I suspect that you were the reason for Inoue to make that suggestion about having another photo taken and not Nakai."

"P-Probably."

He smirks.

"I must admit that I find you and Inoue an odd pairing."

I've heard that before. And in truth, I do still have difficulty dealing with Naomi's occasional antics from time to time, like that smacking kiss earlier this morning. And yet for each impulsive thing she does, there's usually another sweet and kind action to make up for it, like lending me that camera for my vacation or suggesting that class photo to Mutou. I also learned from Natsume that part of Naomi's restlessness is a mild side effect of the medication she's taking, so I do my best to take Naomi's personality quirks in stride and focus on the good parts.

"She can be... quirky, but she means really well."

Mutou nods curtly.

"It's good to see you making some more friends. How are you doing these days? In a general sense, that is."

The last few months have been very good to me. In addition to still being in a relationship, I've managed to strengthen my friendship with Lilly. I was initially worried that Lilly and I would start drifting apart now that her parents are living in Japan again and we do see each other slightly less now that Lilly spends each Sunday at her parents' home, and I attend meetings of the writing club several evenings per week. But while Lilly keeps the Sundays open for her parents, she keeps the Saturdays open for me, and over the last few months we've gone on several 'girl dates' together, just like the ones I took her on when she was still in the process of deciding whether to move to Scotland or not.

In addition, I've started to enjoy the little meetings of our writing club, and even when we don't end up writing a lot, I still feel it was at least good hanging out. I never really talk a lot during those sessions, but they're still rather fun to attend. I'm slowly warming up to my fellow newspaper club members, too, and we recently started exchanging greetings whenever we run into one another in the hallways. After nearly three years, I'm slowly starting to become part of this school and its student body, and I've found myself feeling sincerely sorry that it'll all end at the start of next spring. I never expected to ever feel this way again after my accident, but surprisingly enough I'm feeling rather happy with my life right now.

"I'm doing... fairly well... at the moment."

Mutou waits for a moment to give me the chance to say more, but when I remain silent he continues.

"Your Japanese teacher informed me of the prize you and Inoue won. He was quite pleased. He said you have potential."

I blush a bit. Seems like news spreads quite quickly around here.

"Of course, potential in itself is hardly enough to land a good job. A good education will be vital in order to build on and refine that potential. I heard that you've been considering your options and that you've picked two universities to potentially attend."

I meekly nod. Naomi and I both plan to study Journalism and Media after graduation. Mister Hoshino said that he was certain that we'd get plenty of opportunities there to take creative writing courses if we were interested.

"He looked through your application forms and was puzzled by what he saw. Your first choice of university is Kasshoku University, a large and well-regarded university, but your second choice is a school that most students of your capabilities wouldn't consider unless they had no other options. He wanted me to present you a list of alternatives he deemed more fitting to your level."

"Ummm...."

"I looked at your picks myself, and I picked something up that I believe Hoshino overlooked. Both schools of your choice are located in Chiba. And that happens to be the very city Nakai's school of choice is located in. In fact, you two are aiming to attend the same university after graduation, although you're shooting for different faculties."

Looks like he found me out. I embarrassedly nod my head. Hisao was the first person to take interest in Kasshoku, and while its science program is supposedly well-regarded, this choice was also one of practicality as the university is located in the same city his parental home is located in, meaning he can move back in with his parents to cut down on living costs. Lilly and I looked up the university as well and found that it'd also be able to suit our educational needs, so we both decided to try and get in there as well. Neither Hisao nor Lilly has put forth a second option, but since both are really good at the subject they'll be studying I don't think they'll have that much trouble making it in as long as they can pass the national test.

"If you make it into the same university as he does, there won't be a problem, but if you end up going to that second school you're planning to apply for, I believe you'll be doing yourself a serious disservice."

"Ummm..."

"As your homeroom teacher, I can understand your reasoning here. But as a teacher, I still feel compelled to point out that the choice of whether and where to continue studying after high school is one of the most important decisions of one's life. It's a decision with very long-term consequences. More so than anything else right now."

I'm getting a vague feeling of what he's trying to say without actually saying it. I'm in a relationship right now, but not every high school relationship lasts all the way until marriage. I don't want to think about it too deeply, but what if I picked a university of lower calibre so I could stay around Hisao and he ends up breaking up with me at some point? But if I went off to study in another city, would our relationship even last? I'm not so sure how well either of us would do in a long distance relationship.

"Think of it this way, Ikezawa. The decision of many companies to hire you will depend for a large part on whether you've attended a reputable university. The other factor involves interviewing skills. As it is, someone else may be better at sweet-talking his way through a job interview, but if you have better credentials than the competition you'll still have a good chance of being hired. You should see this as an opportunity to even the odds in your favor. Here at this school we make it a point to push all our students to try for the very best universities they can possibly get into in order to compensate for possible disadvantages they might have on the job market later. It is always better to attend a reputable university and appear slightly overqualified for the job of your choice later than to be passed up again and again."

That's not a bad point. One of the selling points of attending a prestigious university used to be that it came with an almost guaranteed job offer afterwards. That's not really the case any longer, but the name of one's university still carries an extreme amount of weight. And if there's one thing I don’t have faith in, it's my ability to not bungle up a job interview, so I guess I really don't have much choice except to try and compensate in the credentials department as much as I can.

"So... Another alternative option then?"

"If you're going to pick alternatives then they should at least be serious considerations. They'll have additional entrance exams, but you'll be studying the same material for all the ones you partake in, so it shouldn't cost you extra time to prepare. I have a few pamphlets in my desk, so if you have time, we can go over them and get this out of the way before the afternoon is over. I know of a few universities that hold entrance exams on a day you won't already be taking one."

"O-Okay then."

He gives me an awkward smile that is meant to be reassuring, but I think his smile is a bit weird. If anything, it makes me slightly nervous.

"It's good to keep in mind that if everything goes well, your second choice won't matter much in practice. Hoshino believes you have what it takes to make it in as long as you study hard enough and I have no reason to doubt his assessment. Your grades have really picked up over the last few months. Particularly your Japanese. I wonder if that's because of your social life is improving or if it's simply because you seem to have a clear idea of what you want after you graduate here."

"M-Maybe both. But... it also helped that I have one tutor who wants to b-become an English teacher and another who is planning to teach science."

A proud expression appears on my homeroom teacher's face.

"So... Nakai has made a definite decision?"

"For now..."

Lilly's opinions about teaching may have influenced him to some degree, but the deciding factor has undoubtedly been the fact that he's already been acting as a science teacher to some degree over the last several months. Not just to Lilly and me, but also to his fellow clubmates.

The science club currently counts eight members, which is quite impressive considering the fact that it was just Hisao, Mutou and Kenji before the summer break. The majority of the new members are junior students since most third years at this school have either already joined a club or have no intention of becoming part of one regardless of what it is about. As club president and Mutou's star pupil, Hisao's dutifully taken it upon himself to help his fellow club members out whenever a subject gave them trouble. He usually did these tutoring sessions during club hours, but there were also times when he'd drop by a member's room to help them get a better grasp on the material.

Lilly and I were very impressed when we learned how serious Hisao was taking this task, sometimes even dropping by the computer lab or library to read up on a subject some more in order to better help his fellow club members. That was also the time when Lilly first started putting the idea of teaching science as a career into Hisao's head. And despite the fact that Hisao first took to his new activities in an attempt to compensate for his mentor's confusing lectures, Mutou seems to have taken Hisao's career aspirations as a personal compliment and has been all too happy to encourage his protegee's plans for the future.

"Too many students simply go to university because they feel that it's expected of them, not because they want to develop themselves and hone their specific interests into talent. But the best students know that passion, ambition and a clear goal give all their efforts meaning and are a better source of motivation than a mere desire to go with the flow of society."

I really managed to get him going. I don't think this is really meant to be a discussion, so I obediently nod my head.

"Speaking of motivation, have the two of you considered visiting the open house day this weekend?"

"Open house day...?"

He probably said something about it, but I'm not exactly sure when. Was it this morning while Natsume was interrogating Naomi and me? Mutou sees the blank expression on my face and shakes his head.

"I brought it up during homeroom classes two weeks ago. Kasshoku University is organizing an open house day for high school students who are thinking about enrolling there. They're probably hoping to get a few more last-minute applications before the Center Test starts in January. The event takes place this upcoming Sunday."

Now I remember. Hisao and I did take note of that, but never made an actual decision on whether to go or not.

"We're... not sure yet."

"If you're serious about enrolling there, being able to take a brief look around and get a feel for the place may just provide you with an additional boost of motivation. You will both need to study hard to pass your exams, and every bit of motivation should be welcomed."

"We'll... consider it."

"Very well. Let's look at some of your alternative options then and hope it will turn out to be nothing but a formality."

--------------------------------------
07
"You're considering attending a university in another town if you don't get into Kasshoku?"

Lilly and Hisao seem surprised as I tell them about the talk I had with Mutou.

"Well... M-my first choice hasn't changed, but Mutou said that I shouldn't underestimate the importance of getting into a good university."

I'm not exactly standing 100% behind my decision, but when Mutou made his point I didn't really have a solid argument against it. Besides, with some luck I'll do well on my exams, and I won't have to worry about alternatives. Unlike Hisao and Lilly however, I do feel that I need alternatives. After all, if I don't get into some university or another, I'll be homeless after graduation. I'm trying not to worry too hard about that for the time being, knowing I could probably stay with my friends for a while, but it's not a matter I can easily ignore. I looked up what renting a place would require, and it seems most estate agencies demand a tenant to have both a steady job and a family member willing to act as a guarantor in case of a layoff. I don't qualify for either criterium. And then there's the high costs.

"I suppose that is a good point. What university you attended still matters greatly to many companies."

With the conversation dried up, we get back to studying. The last months, Lilly, Hisao and I have made it a habit to study together so we can compare notes, help each other on difficult subjects and keep each other motivated. I was worried at first that we'd just end up chattering all night long, but it turned out that we've been able to exercise enough self-restraint to make these cramming sessions productive. Lilly and I are sitting on Lilly's bed, our backs against the wall, while Hisao's sitting at Lilly's desk.

As I finish another chapter about the late Edo period, I hear Lilly sigh softly and shake her fingers.

"Are your fingers getting tired?"

"A little bit. How long have we been studying since our last tea break?"

Hisao instinctively looks at Lilly's braille alarm clock before rolling his eyes and checking his watch.

"About an hour. Maybe another short break is in order."

"Very well then. But let's continue within 15 minutes."

Hisao gets up and gets us both a cup of tea from the thermos bottle we've been using during these studying sessions to keep our drinks warm. I take a sip from my cup, being careful not to spill anything on my nightgown, and turn to Lilly.

"Your mother already replied to the mail I sent during the lunch break."

"About your prize? What did she say?"

"She said she was very proud of us and that we didn't need to worry about splitting the prize money with her."

"I wouldn't have expected any other reaction from her. Do you already have any idea what to do with your share?"

I nod.

"We're not splitting the money. Naomi said that since we've earned the money as a team, we should also spend the money as a team."

"So what will you be spending it on?"

"A... 'girls night out'... as Naomi called it. The next issue of our newspaper comes out the upcoming Friday, so our club members go to a coffee shop in town to celebrate the release as usual. Naomi, Jun and I will go there too, but leave early and take a bus to the city. We're going to look for a nice p-place to have dinner and then do k-karaoke afterwards. Whether we do anything else depends on how much of the prize money we'll have left."

"Wow Hanako, that sounds like a lot of fun."

I think it does. I still prefer the quietness of the nearby town over the bustling of the city, but things will probably be okay as long as I stick close to my friends. Natsume pointed out that Naomi tends to sing off-key, but said she thought we'd nevertheless have a good time. I am kind of looking forward to it. Since we won't be submitting anything else for the time being due to the exams, this will be a good way to bring closure to the activities of our little writing group.

"I... hope so."

Hisao smiles playfully.

"That does mean you'll have to study twice as hard during the weekend to make up for the fact that you won't be able to do much cramming on Friday."

"I'll d-do my best to catch up on Saturday."

That reminds me about what Mutou said earlier about that open house day on Sunday. Maybe it's a good idea to bring this up with Hisao and Lilly.

"Ummm... Do you remember that open house day that Mutou talked about before?"

Hisao frowns and then nods.

"Right, he brought that up during homeroom some time ago. Are you planning on going there?"

"I'm not sure. Mutou mentioned it again today and recommended going. As a source of motivation."

Lilly smiles.

"Even though we can't really spend too much time away from our study books, it might be a very good idea to go there and have a look. I agree with Mutou's suggestion. It might motivate us to try even harder."

Hisao doesn't look convinced yet.

"It's pretty far away from here. We'd have to get up really early and we'd be back really late."

"Maybe I could ask my father to take us there by car. I will need someone to help me navigate the area, and I can't ask any of you since each of us will be visiting a different faculty."

"If it's not inconvenient for him, and he'll be able to handle a lot of walking..."

Lilly's smile fades for a moment.

"My own pace isn't very fast, so I'm sure he'll be able to keep up. And he has... plenty of free time right now."

"Sorry."

Lilly's smile returns, and she makes a quick hand gesture in order to dismiss the matter.

"It's fine. I'm sure it'll be a great experience for all of us."

"Hanako? Shall we go there the upcoming Sunday then?"

I'm not really sure about the great experience part, but I don't think Hisao and Lilly will go there if I don't come along. I was pretty nervous before the trip to Scotland, and that turned out really well, Mister Satou's incident notwithstanding.

"O-Okay then."

"Maybe this would be a good opportunity for you to check out the dorms there as well, Lilly. You can determine how easy they are to navigate."

"Hmmm..."

Lilly doesn't immediately respond to Hisao's remark, and I happen to know why. She told me recently during one of our outings, but I suppose she hasn't told Hisao yet.

"I'm not certain about that yet. I've been trying to convince my parents to let me live on my own after graduation. I'm used to handling life in a dorm by now. I'd like to take another step towards independence. I feel that my time at university is the perfect time to brush up my domestic skills a little more. After graduation from university, I want to be able to focus completely on my job without having to worry about still getting used to running my own household. College time is probably the perfect time to get this matter out of the way."

I silently smile. It's typical of Lilly to be planning this far ahead already.

"So what did your parents say?"

Lilly's smile falters a bit.

"Convincing them hasn't been very succesful so far. Mother seems... willing to give the possibility some consideration, but Father hasn't reached that point yet."

"Well, letting a child live on his or her own would be kind of scary for any parent at first and surely there are plenty of additional challenges for someone who can't see."

"I am well aware of that. However, I've faced many of these challenges already when Akira and I were living together, and I was able to handle myself decently."

"Did you remind them of that?"

"It's a bit tricky to make that point without coming across as offensive. There may be another way to ease their minds a bit."

"How?"

Lilly pauses for a moment.

"Perhaps they'd reconsider if I had a roommate to keep an eye on things. I was wondering..."

She suddenly turns to me and puts an arm on my shoulder.

"Hanako, I realize this is getting ahead of things a bit, but assuming we'd both do well on our exams, would you be willing to consider becoming that roommate?"

I reel in shock. Is Lilly really asking me to share an apartment with her? I didn't see this coming at all.

"B-But... M-me?"

"I think you would certainly be the most suitable person. I've been meaning to ask you this at some point anyway. I wouldn't mind a bit of company, and we could split household chores between us. That way, I can still get in whatever practice I need. And it will be good to have someone around that I trust in case there are things that need to be done that require eyesight."

"B-But..."

I stop myself before I can comment that I wouldn't be able to afford my half of the rent for something as expensive as an apartment. I doubt Lilly and her family would even accept my money to begin with. Maybe I should give this some consideration. It would certainly be the best solution to my approaching housing problem, and it would probably help with my studies if I have a nice, quiet place to return to after school hours, rather than a dorm filled with people I don't know.

"...roommates..."

"I cannot give you a guarantee that you moving in with me would be enough to sway Father's mind, but it's worth a try. And it would be the ideal way for the three of us to stay in contact with one another without having to neglect the new people we'll be meeting."

"I...ah..."

I cannot argue with any of Lilly's points. I'd like to stay in contact with Lilly no matter what, and if we become roommates that means Lilly can spend time with me at home, and I won't have to worry about me preventing her from hanging out with the new friends she'll make on campus.
08
"I... ah... would like that."

Lilly beams at those words.

"Really?"

I recall what Miss Yumi once said about taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. This is probably one of those opportunities, and if Lilly can pull this off, I don't think I'll feel sorry about it afterwards.

"R-Really."

"I am truly happy to hear that Hanako."

Lilly smiles happily and pulls me into a loving hug. I giggle as I return the embrace, and we cuddle for a little while. Lilly and I are close enough now for me to not feel uncomfortable about displays of affection of this kind. Hisao, on the other hand, rolls his eyes.

"What is it with all those girls throwing themselves at you today?"

Lilly playfully grins at Hisao.

"Jealous?"

"The answer's still no."

Lilly opens her mouth to reply, but her words are cut off by a noise that I recognize as Lilly's ringtone.

"Would you mind if I take this?"

"Go ahead."

Lilly breaks off our hug and makes her way to the phone which is lying on top of her dresser.

"Good evening, Lilly Satou speaking."

She smiles.

"Hello Mother."

"I'm doing well. We're currently studying for next week's mock exams."

"Yes, like a dress rehearsal for the real ones."

"Yes, all three of us."

"She told me that you replied already. It's great, isn't it?"

"I have been told that the money will be put to very good use."

"Yes, I've been with Father all day yesterday. We actually went to visit Grandmother and Grandfather together. It's a shame you couldn't be there. I asked Father to postpone the visit until you were back in the country, but he said rescheduling might be inconvenient."

"Hmmm... Perhaps it would be best to talk about that later."

"You're coming back on Sunday already? That's good to hear."

"Ah... Making it to the airport to welcome you back may be a problem. We just made plans for the upcoming Sunday."

Lilly smiles.

"We're going to see what our future looks like."
09
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

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.

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

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."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:21 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 - 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.

Guest Poster
Posts: 1266
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.

Guest Poster
Posts: 1266
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.

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

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.

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

Chapter 45

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

Chapter 45
01
"Hanako?"

As I reach the roof of the school I hear some shuffling sounds nearby, suggesting that someone's up here. I softly call out, hoping it's my best friend. The cramming classes are having lunch break right now, and since Hanako wasn't in the tea room, I came up here to determine if she decided to retreat here instead.

Since there are only a handful of weeks left before the exams, cramming season is in full swing. Those who did well on the mock exams are free to determine where they want to study, be it their dorm room, the library or some of the classrooms reserved for that purpose. I usually prefer the peace and quiet of my dorm room, so the only time I'm in the school building these days is early in the morning or late in the afternoon in order to get exercises or exam questions from previous years from the teachers. But this morning I made some tasty curry rice for lunch for myself, and since it turned out to be too much to eat on my own, I decided to see if I could find Hanako and offer to share the rest of my lunch with her. It'd be a good opportunity for us to talk or - if she didn't feel like talking - at least spend some time together. The opportunities for us to spend time with one another have started to become exceedingly rare these days.

"Hey Lilly!"

It's not Hanako who answers me, but the voice is nevertheless one I recognize. Still, I find myself wondering who's calling out to me. Shizune and I aren't really hostile towards each other anymore these days, but we're still not exactly close friends either. I don't think Shizune would greet me in such a casual manner though.

"Hello Misha. Is it just you up here?"

"Yup. Just me."

Misha's probably taking supplementary lessons as well. Her grades have been average for about as long as I've known her, and she probably didn't do much better on the mock exams.

"Are you taking a break from supplementary courses?"

"Pfff, yeah! They're really intense. My brain gets overheated, so fresh air is needed to cool it off. Wahaha~!"

It's fairly nice up here, although I'd probably get cold if I stuck around for too long.

"It might help to remind yourself that the upcoming exams are a worthy cause."

"Except... I won't be going to any university here, so I can't even say that to myself."

"Hmmm? You're not? Then why take the national test?"

"I want to try and transfer to a school in America, but Yamaku won't give me a reccomendation unless I improve my grades. So this is kind of my last chance. I have to take the test, and the teachers here are going to compare my answer sheet with the national test's answers when they're published. If I do well enough, they'll give me a reccomendation anyway."

"I think it's great that you have such adventurous plans for the future. I feel that such a dream is definitely worth studying hard for."

"You think so?"

I nod my head.

"I do. I hope you succeed."

Under other circumstances, I would have offered to help Misha improve her English - a vital skill if you want to transfer abroad, but right now I need to get my own grades in order first.

"Aw, thanks. I hope you guys do well too ~!"

Now that I think about it, Misha's probably been attending the extra courses together with Hanako and might have seen where she went.

"Misha, may I ask if you have seen Hanako today?"

"Yeah, we had English just now, and she was there too."

"Do you have any idea where she is now? I've been in our tea room already, but she wasn't there. And since there are so many people using the library to study, I don't think she's there either."

"I think I saw her walk towards the exit after class ended. I'm not sure where she went."

I sigh in disappointment.

"That's too bad. I wanted to share some of my leftover curry rice with her. But if Hanako's not in the building right now, there's little chance of me finding her before the end of lunch break."

"Sorry."

"It's fine. Are you interested in having some instead?"

"Huh? Really?"

Why not? I'm already stuffed myself, and it's a waste to throw it away.

"Yes."

I hold the container with the food in front of me until I feel Misha taking it off my hands.

"Wow, this smells really good. Thanks, Licchan~!"

I grin a bit as I hear Misha use the nickname she used to address me with in the early days of the student council. That was obviously before Shizune and I had our falling out. I don't think Misha'd be this forward with me if Shizune had been anywhere nearby.

"It's been quite a while since I've heard that nickname. Our early student council days seem so far away now that the exams are nearly upon us, don't they?"

"Makes you feel nostalgic, doesn't it. Don't you sometimes wish you could turn back time?"

I would. I'd love to return to the days before Hanako had her breakdown. How carefree those days now feel. What I wouldn't give to go back to that afternoon and talk myself out of making that horribly ill-timed phone call.

"It would be wonderful to be able to turn back time and correct mistakes one has made in the past."

"Mistakes?"

Misha sounds puzzled and almost a little bit suspicious.

"Something related to Hanako, Licchan?"

That's a surprise. As far as I know, only Hisao, Naomi, Hanako and myself are aware of what happened at Kasshoku University that day. I don't think Naomi would have told anybody but her best friend about it, seeing that she was really rattled as well.

"I'm afraid so. But... Did you hear anything from anyone, Misha?"

"Just some rumors. But everyone can see that something bad happened to Hanako. Even if you don't count her exam results, it's like she's turning back to the way she was... before. Like she's started avoiding people again, and she's not working or talking with others in class. It's almost like she never met Hicchan."

"Oh dear..."

It was obvious from the start that Hanako's confidence and behavior started regressing after that incident, but the notion that pretty much the entire school has noticed this, too, is an unexpected dose of salt in my wounds.

"And you and Hicchan seemed to be kind of down too. Like you were involved in whatever's bothering Hanako. And then the mock exams."

"..."

That's a sharper deduction than I thought Misha to be capable of. She's usually a little bit oblivious to these kind of subtleties.

"Licchan, you didn't sleep with Hicchan, did you? You wouldn't do such a thing, right?"

WHAT ON EARTH? I take back what I just thought.

"I beg you pardon?"

"Well, people were wondering since Hanako started becoming more outgoing after she became Hicchan's girlfriend, maybe she and Hicchan broke up, and that's why she's been so down lately. Since the three of you are together so often and you just said that you made a mistake, I thought..."

I can't deny there's some logic in that theory, but it still feels wrong on so many levels that I nearly trip over myself in my attempts to deny it.

"That isn't even remotely what happened. I'd never do such a thing. Hisao is like a brother to me, and I'd never hurt Hanako by making advances on her boyfriend. Hanako and Hisao are still together, and they're doing fine."

To be honest, 'doing fine' is probably too positive a spin on things. Hanako's been steadily growing more reclusive over the last few weeks, and I don't think she and Hisao stay over at each other's place anymore, nor do they see each other much. I keep telling myself that we're all simply too busy studying to spend much time with one another, but I'm nevertheless starting to get a little worried at how isolated Hanako is becoming.

"That's a relief. I'd have been disappointed if you did anything that low."

"Something happened when we visited an open house day that caused Hanako to become the center of attention, which was very... frightening for her. I'd rather not go into much more detail, but I hope that's enough to satisfy your curiosity, Misha."

"Oh, sure Licchan. So is that why Hanako did so badly in the mock exams?"

"Misha, how did you learn about Hanako's exam results?"

"Oh, uh... There was a list with the exam results among the paperwork in the student council room. Hanako's mark kinda stood out."

"Was it really that bad?"

"She scored... ah... a twenty six on average on the exams."

That's even worse than I thought. I'm shocked into silence for several seconds.

"Oh my god..."

"Kinda of makes you wonder if she had a blackout during the tests."

Or a panic attack. Or several. That might have been what happened.

"Perhaps."

"If that's what happened then she might still do well on her exams as long as she can prevent that kind of thing from happening again, right? Right?"

"I hope so, Misha. I really hope so."

The ringing of the school bell makes Misha get up, and it also reminds me that I'd better get back to my studies as well. I say goodbye to my unexpected conversation partner and make my way back to my dorm room.

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

I manage to get two hours of cramming in until my concentration is broken by the ringing of my cell phone.

"Good afternoon. Lilly Satou speaking."

"Hi Lilly."

"Hello Hisao. How is your studying coming along?"

"Okay, I guess. I've been studying non-stop since eleven. I'm probably about ready to take a break."

In other circumstances, I would have asked him to come over so we could have a drink together, but it wouldn't feel right to do so without Hanako.

"Perhaps a little walk will do you good. It's a good idea to keep some daily physicaly activity now that you've temporarily suspended your morning runs."

"Maybe, but today I've got other plans already."

"What is it that you have planned then?"

"I'm paying a visit to Miss Takawa in 20 minutes."

"You've made an appointment with her?"

"Yeah. I approached her this morning, and she said she'd be able to make some time this afternoon. Would you like to come too?"

Why would Hisao want to see Miss Takawa? Is there something specific he wants to talk to her about?

"Ah... If it's not a problem..."

"No, I think I'd actually like you to come along."

"Hisao, is this about anything in particular?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe. Shall we meet in front of the nurses' building in 15 minutes?"

"I'll be there."

--------------------------------------
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 45 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:10 am

02
"Please enjoy."

"Thank you."

I put the bowl of tea I just received to my lips and take a careful sip. It's remarkably tasty and has a very unique flavor. I'm almost tempted to ask if Miss Takawa brews her tea herself.

I've been in this office once before, the day after our Kasshoku trip, to brief Miss Takawa about the events of the day before, hoping she'd be able to do something for Hanako. She thanked me graciously for letting her in on what happened to Hanako, but so far I haven't noticed any moves on the school's part to give her a helping hand. In fact, it seems the opposite has happened. While Hisao and I were given exemption from the supplementary lessons most people with our exam results would have been expected to follow, the school has put Hanako in every single supplementary class they had available, and as a result she's away from the dorms from dawn until dusk. It's almost as if they took the lessons Hisao and I were exempted from and put them on Hanako's shoulders. The thought alone is enough to upset me.

"Now then..."

I hear Miss Takawa put her bowl down and pick up the sound of Hisao impatiently shuffling in place as if he's been forced to stay silent for too long already.

"How can I be of assistence to the two of you?"

I turn towards Hisao slightly in order to let him know he can go ahead. I'm a bit curious about what he has to say myself.

"Miss Takawa, I realize that Hanako's your client and you're bound by client confidentiality, but what exactly is it that you can and cannot tell us about Hanako?"

"To be honest, just about anything Miss Ikezawa confides in me during our sessions is considered confidential, and divulging any of that would break our bond of trust. I can be a little bit more open regarding my own impressions and opinions."

"What about treatment?"

"I'm not overly fond of discussing treatment of my clients with people who aren't part of the school's medical staff."

"Oh..."

"I realize that the two of you are here out of concern for Miss Ikezawa, so I'll try to be as accommodating as I can afford to be. Is that okay, Mister Nakai?"

"Yeah."

"Why don't you start at the beginning?"

"I ran into Hanako two days ago while at the school's apothecary in order to get a new batch of some of my medication. She was startled when she walked in and saw me there, and instead of talking to me, she just nodded nervously and then quickly walked off, almost as if she was fleeing."

I frown.

"Fleeing? Maybe she went there to...ah..."

Get her birth control pills. I used to get them for her, but the last two months before that trip to Kasshoku, Hanako actually managed to work up the courage to get her own. Well, together with me at least. I'm relieved that Hisao manages to grasp my meaning without me having to finish my sentence, but the soft sigh he lets out to dismiss my suggestion stings more than I expected.

"I don't think so. Besides, I doubt she'd try to avoid me over that. Also, uh..."

"Please proceed, Mister Nakai."
03
"Yesterday, I briefly spoke with Hanako. She returned some of my notes that I allowed her to copy. When she took them out of her bag, I noticed a small bottle of pills in there. It was only a split-second, but for me that was enough. I know a pill bottle when I see one. I doubt they were sleeping pills either. She'd keep those in her nightstand."

"Hisao, are you saying that Hanako's on medication?"

"When I put two and two together, it's kinda hard to come to any other conclusion. I was hoping to get confirmation here, as well as what this says about Hanako's current condition."

"Mister Nakai, as a woman I feel compelled to point out that it is rather ungentlemanly to rummage through a lady's handbag, even with your eyes. Don't you agree, Miss Satou?"

I hear Hisao let out a soft grunt of frustration as Miss Takawa playfully deflects his question. I force a smile as I reply.

"I... agree on that, Miss Takawa. But since we now know about it, perhaps you can give us some reassurance instead of leaving us to draw our own conclusions which might be worse than her actual situation."

"Hmmm..."

A long silence.

"Very well then. What I prescribed Miss Ikezawa is some medication to help her sleep better at night and some light antidepressants to stabilize her mood. Both are light dosages and we're only supplying her with very small batches at a time, so the chance of her growing dependent on them is extremely slim. We're keeping a close eye on things."

"So, Hanako's... officially suffering from depression?"

"Things are what they are, with or without some stamp from a mental health official. If what I'm saying is anything but a confirmation of what you must have known already, I may have overestimated your friendship with her."

I shake my head.

"It isn't. But it still hurts to hear you confirm it."

"Now that you know, perhaps I could ask you to... pay attention to Miss Ikezawa whenever you interact with her and let me know if you notice anything that could be a side-effect of the medication."

"We will. But Miss Takawa..."

"Yes, Mister Nakai?"

"I think I speak for Lilly as well when I say that we'd really like to do more for Hanako than just watch out for potential side effects of her medication. We want to help her through this in any way we can, but it's getting harder and harder to get through to her. During Hanako's last crisis you had some very useful advice. We were hoping you could help out this time as well."

I nod decively as a sign of agreement with Hisao's words.

"Whatever it takes."

"I'm glad to hear that from the two of you. In addition to simply being there for her during the sparse moments she may desire company, there is one specific thing you two can do that would greatly help."

"And what is that?"

"Study hard and pass your exams."

The sigh in stereo that results from both of us causes the old lady to chuckle.

"It sounds like that wasn't quite what you were expecting to hear."

"It's not that we don't understand that our own exams are important too, but..."

The old woman sighs.

"You two managed to solve your falling out with Miss Ikezawa the last time by saying the right things at the right time, and I suppose you were expecting me to point out a similar approach that could make all the pieces fall into place and solve this crisis that Miss Ikezawa is going through. But the last time it was a crisis directly related to your relationship with her. This situation is about..."

She pauses shortly.

"...something else. There are simply no 'right words' to quickly solve this situation. Not this time. I'm sorry if I dashed your hopes just now."

"About a week after that open house day, Hanako told me that all she managed to adapt to was life at this particular school and that she still wouldn't be able to function beyond the safe confines of Yamaku. She felt that when she leaves here after graduation, she'll still be the same person who came here nearly three years ago."

"I don't share that opinion and I'm certain that you don't either."

"I don't."

"Me neither."

"There's probably another factor that plays a role here. This is just a theory of mine, but try to look at things from her point of view. This school is where she has lived for the last three years. Until recently she barely ever left the premises. Most of the pleasant memories she's had this decade are all connected to this school in one way or another. All the people who are part of her life right now are connected to this school in one way or another as well. When you take away the connecting factor that all things have in common, wouldn't you feel anxious at the thought of leaving here, wondering just how much of your life will remain intact once you graduate? I imagine that that realization must have dawned on Miss Ikezawa during the open house day while she was wandering about the campus of a strange school that, assuming she passes her exams, will become her new world very soon."

I never really thought of that before, but it does make sense. Yamaku has literally been Hanako's world for the last three years, and after graduation she'll be forced to leave its safety. I wonder if, had Mother and Father not returned to Japan, I would have felt something similar right about now.

"I can understand why she'd feel uneasy about that. But... Lilly and I are still here. We're studying so hard because if we all pass our entrance exams, we can still attend the same university. We can still hang out with her."

"Yes. You and Miss Satou could be... sources of stability... in Miss Ikezawa's life. But you can only fulfill that role if your own situation is stable. And there is another motivation to study hard as well."

Sources of stability?

"What motivation?"

Sources of stability...

"May I ask whether Miss Ikezawa knows about your own mock exam results?"

"She does. We looked her up in her room the day we got them back and mentioned our grades to her."

"And how did she react to them?"

"Kind of horrified. And then guilty. When we left the room she actually apologized to us."

"I was afraid of that. You may be worried about Miss Ikezawa, but it's clear that she's also worried about you. I can see her blaming herself for what happened at Kasshoku, and she is very likely to blame herself for anything that happened as a result of the fallout of that incident. Which included your recent grades, unfortunately."

Even though it isn't her fault. She wasn't the one who made that phone call. That was me.

"I suppose we got lucky we both got exemption from the supplementary courses or Hanako probably would have blamed herself for that as well."

The old therapist doesn't immediately respond, almost as if waiting for something, and suddenly I have a flash of insight that causes me to let out a small gasp.

"Miss Takawa. Did you have a hand in arranging the exemption Hisao and I received?"

"Hmm, hmmm. Clever deduction, Miss Satou. I was indeed the one who put in a request with your homeroom teachers to let the two of you off the hook this time."

"So this was done for Hanako's benefit?"

"Indeed. We cannot reverse Miss Ikezawa's current situation, but we can make it easier on her by making sure she isn't feeling guilty about the two of you being forced to attend cramming sessions in class. Like the medication, it's a measure on the part of the school to make the upcoming time easier for her to get through. Of course, this puts some additional responsibility on your shoulders to perform well, even without those extra lessons, so be sure to honor this gesture of goodwill."

"Thank you."

Hisao clears his throat.

"It's appreciated alright, but why give us exemption and not Hanako? You're talking about the school doing its part to help Hanako through this, but she's nevertheless being punished for doing badly at the mock exams, even though she studied really hard beforehand."

"I agree with Hisao. It seems like the school is overloading Hanako with supplementary lessons even though I suspect she's already familiar with most of what's being taught there. Those low grades weren't her fault. It wouldn't surprise me if she had a blackout or panic attack during the mock exams that caused her to fail them."

"I agree with your reasoning about the probable cause of Miss Ikezawa's low grades, but please don't regard Miss Ikezawa's participation in the extra classes as a punishment of some sort. The school is merely doing what we deem best for her."

"I'm not sure I understand."

"The alternative to what we did would have been to exempt her, too, and allow her to study on her own. But the worst thing you can do to someone suffering from depression is giving them the opportunity to stay in their room all day long."

My thoughts return briefly to Mother and how she complained to me before about how Father would just stay in bed nearly all day long and didn't seem to have motivation to do anything.

"That makes... sense, I suppose. But still..."

"It is important for her to maintain a daily routine for as long as possible as this has a beneficial effect on people suffering from depression. In addition to that, this approach allows us to guarantee that there will be a teacher keeping an eye on her throughout the day who can also verify how well she's doing with the various subjects. I realize that forcing all these lessons on her may seem a harsh thing to do, but I believe that this is the best way to give her a chance of succeeding at next month's test. And as an added benefit, the two of you will be able to concentrate on your own studies without needing to worry about her for most of the day. The last thing we need is some kind of worry feedback loop between you and Miss Ikezawa that puts your own exam performance at risk."

"You seem really worried about how we do on our exams."

"I wouldn't have asked your homeroom teachers for an exemption if I didn't have faith in your ability to pass the exams. The reason I'm emphasizing the importance of passing your exams is the fact that this situation has upped the stakes significantly."

"The stakes?"

"If you two fail the upcoming National Center Test, either due to a lack of proper preparation or due to the situation with Miss Ikezawa acting as a distraction, Miss Ikezawa will inevitably hold herself responsible for it, and it will be next to impossible to get the idea out of her head that she caused her two best friends to fail and lose a whole year. It will almost certainly strain her relationship with you. Do you two understand what's at stake now?"

A very long silence as the two of us digest what Miss Takawa just told us. I have a pretty good idea of how awful Hanako would feel if Hisao or I were to flunk now. It's the same kind of guilt that's been tugging at me ever since that trip to Kasshoku. Finally, Hisao softly speaks up.

"I understand."

"So do I. We'll do our best to pass the exams. You have our word."

"Thank you. I hate to put pressure on you like this, but please do whatever you can to keep this particular burden off Miss Ikezawa's shoulders."

"We will."

"I give you my word here and now that I will do whatever I can to stabilize and improve Miss Ikezawa's mood. This situation does not have any easy solutions and it's not impossible that her mood will degrade as graduation day gets closer, but I will do my best to make certain that doesn't happen. We take care of Miss Ikezawa and you take care of yourselves. Agreed?"

"Yes."

"Thank you, Miss Takawa."

"The pleasure was all mine. I'm happy we had this conversation. Perhaps we can have a more uplifting talk at some point in the future."

We say our goodbyes and leave Miss Takawa's office and the nurses' building. As we reach the dorm, Hisao sighs.

"I went to see Miss Takawa hoping for her to say that things weren't quite as bad as I thought, but to be honest I feel worse now than when we went in there."

"I'm afraid that goes for me as well. But there's no use complaining about it. We now have an additional reason to give our all at the exams. Let's both do our best."
04
"Yeah. Maybe we could still do a few extra things as well. Like making her dinner so she won't need to cook after she comes back from a long day of supplementary classes."

"I've already been doing that for the past few weeks. I felt it was the least thing I could do for her."

"Maybe we could... you know... treat her to a little outing this weekend. Just for a few hours. Just to cheer her up a bit."

"I'm not sure if that's a good idea. We don't have that many days left until the national exam and Christmas and New Year are coming up soon as well. I don't think Hanako will be put at ease if she sees us taking some time off. It might actually make her worry more."

"You're probably right."

Suddenly, an idea pops into my mind.

"Hisao, do you have any plans for the upcoming Christmas?"

"Well, I'm going home on the 24th and stay at my family's place while still trying to get in as much studying as I can while I'm there. I'm planning to take Hanako along too. My parents said that it was okay. I'm not sure what it feels like for an orphan to attend someone else's family activity, but I think just leaving her in her dorm room will be even worse."

"I'll be going home for a few days as well. Akira said she won't be able to make it home for Christmas this year, so it'll be up to me to compensate for her absence. I was thinking that it might be a fun idea for you and Hanako to come over the day after Christmas Eve. We'll have to study of course, but we can also probably spend an hour or two just hanging out and relaxing. It's not exactly an outing, but it will still allow the three of us to spend some time together outside the school. I'm sure my parents won't mind. They'll be pleased to see the two of you again."

"Hey, I'd love to."

"Then let's follow through with it. I'll talk to my parents. You should invite Hanako."

"Deal."

"Let's get back to our books, Hisao. And let's study as hard as we can. We have to pass the exams."

"I'll make it through, Lilly. I promise."

"I promise as well."

After swearing our little oath we part ways. I hurry back to my room and return to my books, throwing myself into the subject with a new-found fervor. With luck, I'll be able to get in at least two more hours before it's time to make dinner.
05
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:31 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 46

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:10 am

Chapter 46
01
"I think that's Lilly and her father over there."

Hanako doesn't respond. It's really crowded at the train station right now, and she's trying to block out the rest of the world by hiding behind her long scarf and the collar of her thick coat. Even though Christmas is not an official holiday here, there were still plenty of people who visited their family yesterday.

"Lilly!"

I call out in the direction where I saw Lilly's distinct blonde hair. Moments later, I see someone wave at us. With Hanako clinging to my arm, I slowly make my way towards our friend. As we reach Lilly and her father, they both greet us with a polite bow.

"Miss Ikezawa. Mister Nakai. It is good to see you two again."

"Merry Christmas Lilly. And you too, Mister Satou."

"M-M-Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to the two of you as well. I'm really happy you're visiting today."

"Let us not waste time standing around here. The car is parked not too far from here."

"Great. It's kind of chilly today, so let's go."

We follow Lilly and her father to the car, and a minute later, we're leaving the train station behind us.

"If the two of you desire to do some studying right now, I will not distract you with idle conversation."

"How far is it from here?"

"About 15 minutes."

"Hmmm, might not be worth risking motion sickness over."

"How about you, Miss Ikezawa?"

"Umm...."

Hanako is a bit startled by Mister Satou suddenly addressing her, but then meekly shakes her head.

"Just be sure to do your best to catch up when we get to the house."

"Ah... Yes, sir."

"If you wish as much peace and quiet as possible, you can use the guest rooms to study without anyone else around. If you want to take the occasional break, my wife will be honored to bring you some tea and snacks once an hour or so. We will make sure not to disturb you until it is time for dinner."

I exchange a quick look with Hanako. My own parents were already pretty 'encouraging' in getting us to devote as much time as possible on our studies, but Mister Satou seems even more driven.

"We... ah... appreciate the effort, sir."

Lilly's father flashes us a wry smile.

"I do feel a bit bad about having honored guests over and then pressuring them to spend about their entire stay engaged in an activity they are probably tired of by now, but I speak from personal experience when I say that some of the most important days of your lives are less than four weeks away from you."

"Personal experience?"

I guess so. Even though the company he worked at was a family company, it's doubtful he would have made it that far without having attended some prestigious university.

"The days I spent studying for my own high school exams were some of the most stressful days of my life, and they were not very enjoyable, but the results were worth the stress and lack of sleep. Sometimes you have to endure some short-term hardships in order to make a positive difference in the long run."

"Enduring, huh?"

"Yes. We Japanese have a proud tradition of being able to endure hardships with dignity and perseverance. It has made us some of the most resilient people in the world. If you wonder whether all of the stress is worth it, think of the many people in this world who lack access to the educational opportunities you are being given. You will find that many hardships are relative."

"That's a good point."

"Also..."

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

"Mister Nakai? I apologize for intruding, but I have brought you some herbal tea. Please enjoy."

I turn around to look at the entrance of the guest room where I've been studying for the last two hours and look at the kimono-clad figure who just walked in carrying a tray. I've seen Lilly's mother walking around in a business suit and in her sporty casual clothes, but seeing her in traditional Japanese clothes is another thing altogether. Her sky-blue kimono constrasts very nicely with her blonde hair, and the way the fabric is flowing around her as she moves makes her appear very graceful. Her figure...

"You know, if you keep staring like that I'll have no choice but to tell your girlfriend."

I instinctively flinch as I'm abruptly reminded that despite the change in clothes, the woman before me is still the same Karla Satou we met in that pub in Inverness.

"I wasn't..."

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

I simply roll my eyes at that. It wasn't so much Karla's remark that made me react, but simply the jarring effect of someone giving off such an elegant air at first before throwing out a blunt remark without warning.

"It's okay. I was wondering... Do you often wear traditional getups like these? And do you often greet your husband at the door the way you did when we arrived here? It kind of surprised me."

"Not really. They're beautiful and elegant, but not exactly practical. I also don't welcome my husband home every time he walks through the front door. These kinds of things are like one's favorite food. It only remains tasty if you don't eat it every day."

She hands me a bowl of very hot tea, which I put on the desk I'm seated at so it can cool down a bit. She then smiles sheepishly.

"I suppose I'd better get going. I wouldn't want to distract you."

"I'm actually thinking of taking a little break. You don't have to leave on my account."

She smiles.

"Well, if you don't mind a little company..."

She walks over to the bed, and I can't hold back a grin when I see her fumble with her kimono a bit before sitting down. She looks a bit annoyed at being caught out.

"Yeah, yeah, I guess I'm a little bit out of practice. It has been six years since I've worn one of these. My technique used to be much better. But my husband hasn't complained, which is the important thing. And since settling here I've been focussing more on dusting off my Japanese than my kimono-wearing skills."

I can attest to that. When we first met her, Lilly's mother spoke with a pretty heavy accent. Her accent is still faintly noticable, but I could easily mistake it for some unfamiliar local accent if I didn't know her origins. I don't think my English will ever be that fluent.

"This is a gesture towards your husband then?"

She nods.

"My husband may have married a woman from Scotland, may have led a foreign branch of the company for years and may have even picked up a few western trains of thought here and there through his exposure to foreign cultures, but there's a part of him that will always remain traditionally Japanese, and he's always been very proud of his country and his culture."

"That probably explained the speech we got on our way here about it being pretty much our civic duty to push ourselves as much as possible during these remaining four weeks in order to set the good example to the students and generations that come after us."

Karla lets out a bright laugh.

"Sounds like you really got him going. He probably reminded you that he went through the same thing himself when he was younger, didn't he?"

"Several times. What university did he attend? Did he make it in on his first try?"

Karla smiles proudly.

"The big T itself... Tokyo University. On his first try too. Being at the top of his class throughout high school paid off. "

"Whoa! He didn't mention that."

"Can't say I'm surprised. He doesn't like boasting. He says it's unjapanese."

"I don't think we can compare to that. Man, that is impressive."

"He always managed to push himself further than anyone else. That's why he succeeded. Anyway, try not to hold the tangent against him. He means well. Although..."

Her face suddenly becomes frighteningly serious.

"...it must be kind of ironic to be given a speech about enduring and pushing yourself by someone who endured and pushed himself all the way to Raigmore's Intensive Care ward."

I nearly choke on the sip of tea I just took. Karla didn't even try being subtle on that one.

"You disagree with your husband's views?"

She slowly shakes her head.

"I'm a little mixed on it. I agree with what he said in the car. The three of you really should give everything you've got to those upcoming exams, even if it's giving you a headache. The opportunity you're getting would indeed be a privilege in the eyes of many. Anyway, there's a lot about the Japanese work ethic and perseverance that I admire. I respect how dedicated your people are to their jobs and how highly they regard their customers. I also admire the Japanese perseverance in the face of hardships. If a neighborhood out here is ravaged by an earthquake, people simply keep going without complaining, or turning on each other, or looting other people's places. In a lot of other places on in the world, chaos would probably erupt quickly. But... Sometimes I feel those principles are taken too far."

"Like when?"

"Sometimes situations demand action rather than silent endurance. Sometimes children being bullied by their peers, girls being bothered on crowded trains or people in unhappy marriages endure their situation because they feel that that's what's being expected of them and that complaining or standing up for themselves would make people around them think less of them while I personally feel that those kinds of situations could be solved if the problems were highlighted instead of ignored. My husband's situation was a similar case. He felt the warning signs, but he just didn't speak up. Because he was taught from an early age that enduring without complaining was the proper thing to do, and he probably thought that there was no 'honorable' way out of his predicament."

She looks straight at me like a police inspector interrogating a suspect.

"What about you, Hisao?"

I'm not certain if I like the direction this discussion is headed in.

"Me?"

"According to Lilly, you do little more than studying all day long these days. Are you still getting sufficient sleep each night? How about your daily exercise?"

I ditched my daily exercise weeks ago and I haven't had eight hours of sleep in days. But what choice do I have? It's easy for her to say I should take better care of myself, but I don't want to risk falling a few centimeters short of a passing grade over a few extra hours of sleep that I could have managed without.

"I'm still doing okay so far. I realize that your husband also thought he could tough things out for a little longer too and endangered himself in the process, but I'm still making sure to take all my daily medication. I think they'll keep me going until things calm down a little bit."

She slowly nods her head.

"Well, I hope you're right. Be sure to see a nurse if something feels off."

"I will."

She grins.

"Attaboy."

"By the way, how has your husband been doing? Has he had any more trouble?"

She brightens up a little bit.

"He's doing much better right now, though I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you the details himself. At the beginning it was really tough for him though. At first every single tingle in his stomach or chest made him wonder if another attack was coming up. Makes you really paranoid. Lilly said that it was not uncommon for people recovering from a heart attack to feel that way."

I smirk a bit at that. Karla notices my expression and chuckles.

"Makes me wonder about her sources."

I shrug my shoulders.

"After we got back from Scotland, Hanako suddenly started getting unusually curious about... things. Or maybe she was always curious, but until then she was simply too shy to ask. Sometimes she'd even ask me a question out of the blue."

"And you decided to play along with the game that Lilly and Hanako were playing there?"

"Well, it seemed to make Hanako happy. Besides, I never got the impression that she was doing it purely for the sake of passing it on to Lilly during their daily phone calls. She always looked extremely sincere while listening to whatever I had to say about... the subject. I think she genuinely wanted to know how I felt about things. And she's always been a very good listener."

It probably helped me too. I've always been very reluctant to talk about my condition. And more than a little uncomfortable too. But the knowledge that there was someone out there, someone related to one of my best friends no less, who might be drawing strength from my thoughts and impressions was a very effective push. And it also helped that Hanako never tried to force things. Whenever I started feeling uncomfortable, she'd never fail to soothe my nerves. She'd take my hand in hers, or snuggle up to me, or give me a soft kiss accompanied by that warm smile of hers, or let me rest my head in her lap while she ran her fingers through my hair. True to her usual ways, she'd hardly ever speak while doing all of that, but I always felt stronger and more at ease afterwards. She was such a sweetheart during those moments. The two of us probably got a lot closer during that time.

"I think it helped a lot. Lilly often used your example to remind my husband that it was possible to go through something like that and pick yourself up afterwards. So, thanks for that. I think we as a family owe you one."

It feels kind of weird to hear that my life has been used to offer comfort to a recovering heart patient. They should have seen me the way I was before Hanako and Lilly entered my life.

"I mostly bounced back thanks to Hanako and your daughter. I'm happy I could do something back for Lilly."

I sigh.

"If only it was that easy to help Hanako get back on her feet."

Karla opens her mouth to say something, but then seems to think the better of it. After a few quiet seconds, she gets up.

"I'm sure she'll be fine in the end."

"Well..."

"I'd better get going now. Gotta start preparing dinner. You try to do a bit more studying, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am."

--------------------------------------
02
"Come in."

I turn around as I answer the knock on the door and it slowly opens, revealing Lilly standing in the doorway.

"Hisao, have you been able to get a lot of studying done?"

"I think so. I'm about ready for a break."

Lilly smiles.

"Mother has just informed us that dinner is ready. We were hoping you could join us downstairs."

"I'd love to. I think I've managed to work up quite the appetite over the last few hours."
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 46 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:10 am

I put a bookmark in my science book to mark the spot where I'll be picking things up after dinner and leave the guest room. Beyond the doorway, Lilly and Hanako are waiting for me. I look at Hanako, who's fidgeting with one of the sleeves of the thick (and slightly too large) sweater she's wearing.

"Hey Hanako. How's your studying coming along?"

"N-Not t-too bad."

"It's good to hear that we've all done a good amount of studying. Come, let's not keep Father and Mother waiting for too long."

We follow Lilly down the stairs and into the dining area where her parents are waiting for us at a carefully laid table. Mister Satou, who's sitting at the head of the table, gives us a friendly nod and motions Hanako and me to sit down on his left. Lilly is delegated to the seat next to her mother on his right. I wonder if they picked this arrangement because it makes certain that everyone at the table is facing Hanako's left side, hopefully putting her at ease a little bit.

After we sit down, Karla takes two bowls, fills each with hot miso soup and puts them in front of us before serving her husband and her daughter.

"The soup smells delicious, Mrs Satou."

"Thanks Hisao. This meal is probably one of the more unorthodox ones I've made in recent memory, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you'll find it tasty."

"Unorthodox? The soup smells good, but I don't smell anything unorthodox about it."

Karla grins.

"The're nothing unusual about a meal with miso soup, noodles and cooked rice, but I've also prepared a western-style turkey for the main course and a Scottish dundee cake for dessert."

"That's a... pretty unusual combination."

"Think of it as a multi-cultural meal. I came up with the idea while I was visiting a few of my friends in Inverness, and we talked about what each of us was planning for Christmas."

"Do you often visit your country of birth these days?"

"About every 5 to 6 weeks or so. Though I usually don't stay longer than a couple of days. Just long enough to drop by the head office for a few days and hang out with my Scottish friends."

"Are you still employed at the company?"

"Not officially. But I drop by there whenever I'm in the area so I can keep an eye on how things are going, remain informed about the going-ons there, keep my ear close to the grapevine and see if there are any conflicts or misunderstandings between the staff and the new management that I can help smooth over."

Lilly's father nods.

"There is also value in getting updates on the company's condition from sources other than the official channels, especially since the board of directors is so far removed from head office's geographical location."

"How are you finding your new position on the board, sir?"

Lilly's father lets out a soft 'hmmm'.

"I am honored to be a member there, but to be honest, meetings are so infrequent that I would end up with a lot of spare time if that were to be the only job I got involved in. Fortunately, that will not remain the case for much longer."

"Have you found a new job then?"

A subtle smile appears on Mister Satou's face for a moment.

"I will remain a member of the Satou board of directors, but early next year I will also join the ranks of another company."

Karla grins.

"The old boy network came to the rescue."

Lilly's father gives his wife a short admonishing stare, but then continues.

"My successor at head office knew someone from his university days who works at the upper management of another company and he was willing to put in a good word for me."

"What kind of company?"

"They are a major book publisher in Japan. The department I will be given a managing role in is responsible for analyzing the foreign market, determining which books would be viable to localize in other languages, coordinating the translators doing the localizations and then helping out with the marketing abroad."

Karla winks at us.

"In other words: the ideal place for an avid reader who is well-traveled. I'm sure he'll do very well."

"That sounds like a very enjoyable job."

"Yes. C-Congratulations."

"Thank you. I have always been more interested in books than in medical equipment, so it sounds like an enjoyable occupation although it is, of course, a bit of a demotion when you consider my previous position."

"Dear, your current position is member..."

"Ahem...junior member..."

"...junior member of the board of directors of an international corporation, which is a step up from CEO who got appointed by that board to manage things at head office. This new job is simply something you're doing on the side."

"That is not a bad way of looking at it, although I will not be able to afford allowing my future colleagues to see me like that. If they feel I am merely doing my job 'on the side', as you phrased it, they will not respect my input. I will have to pull my weight."

Lilly looks a little uneasy at her father's words.

"I just hope you'll remain mindful of your health, Father."

"I have no intention of getting hospitalized again, Lilly. I will make certain to remain under the watch of a physician who will be given permission to share his findings with your mother if he feels it necessary. I will also not be working full-time - yet - though the fact that I still have to attend board meetings of our company's board every now and then is the officially stated reason for that."

Karla gives a satisfied nod.

"That does put my mind at ease."

"Good. Then let us continue with this exquisite meal."

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

"Anybody up for another slice of dundee cake?"

No response. I was already pretty full before we got to dessert, and if I eat any more, I'll be guaranteed to contract a stomach ache. I might not be the only one feeling that way.

"I have the impression that our upcoming graduates are about ready to get back to their books."

I suppose that's our cue.

"Thank you for the meal."

"Yes. T-thanks."

"We will be sure to study as hard as we can until it's time to leave."

"That is good to hear. Perhaps, Lilly, I can supply you with some additional motivation."

"Hmmm?"

Mister Satou straightens himself out and pauses for a moment for dramatic effect.

"I have been thinking about the request you made some time ago. About... living accommodations."

"Oh..."

Lilly lets out a small gasp. It's obvious that she didn't expect this subject to suddenly pop up.

"While a part of me is still skeptical, I have to decided to procur an apartment for you to use and give you the opportunity to live on your own, provided that you pass your exams."

"Father..."

Lilly looks flabbergasted for several seconds before recovering and flashing her father a smile bright enough to light up the room.

"I... I promise that I will not disappoint you."

"However..."

He raises a finger for emphasis, only to quickly lower it again upon remembering that his daughter can't see the gesture.

"...I would like you to make good on the compromise you offered."

"Compromise?"

"Of taking a roommate. An extra pair of eyes. I insist on that."

Lilly doesn't immediately reply and instead merely turns to Hanako. As do I. And Mister Satou. And his wife. As more and more gazes center on her, Hanako's expression goes from surprised to uncomfortable, and she pulls up the collar of her sweater a bit as if to hide from the staring eyes. After several awkward seconds, she finally manages to whisper a reply.

"M-Me?"

Lilly nods decisively.

"You and noone else, Hanako. You'd be the perfect roommate for me. That is... if you'll have me."

"Y-Yes, b-but..."

"There will be no need to worry about the financial side of things. This family can easily afford the rent of an apartment. All I ask is that you keep an eye on our daughter and assist her with things that require eyesight."

Hanako fidgets nervously, but then finally nods her head.

"It is decided then. Thank you, Miss Ikezawa."

Mister Satou politely bows at Hanako, and Lilly gives her best friend a happy smile.

"Thank you, Hanako. This makes me really, really happy."

"L-Lilly..."

Hanako still looks a little lost, but still manages a smile in response to Lilly's. As the three of us make our way back to the guest rooms, I put my hand on Hanako's shoulder and give it a reassuring little squeeze. When I sit down behind my books and turn to the page where I left off, I feel a sudden sense of relief.

Hanako's been very worried that after her graduation, she'll be thrust into a world where she wouldn't be able to function.

After we started dating, however, she didn't seem to have a problem anymore visiting town or even the city. She'd be uncomfortable and on her guard sometimes, but not to the point where it paralyzed her. But maybe that was because if things went wrong, she knew she'd have a safe place to return to.

Maybe this opportunity to move in with Lilly and have her own little place of safety is just what she needs. A little island of stability in a sea of uncertainry.

Maybe things will be alright after all.

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

"I hope I'm not interrupting."

I turn around to see Lilly's mother standing in the doorway again, but unlike last time she doesn't have a tray with drinks on it.

"It's okay. Is it already time to head back to Yamaku?"

"Not yet, but my husband and I were hoping the three of you were willing to have a little drink with us downstairs before we drop you off at the train station. You've spent most of the time here studying, so I think today was pretty productive, and you guys can probably do some more cramming on the train if you like."

I'm not sure if I'm up for that, but I do welcome a break at this point.

"I'll be right down. Just let me pack my stuff first."

"Great. We'll be in the living room."

I watch Lilly's mother walk out and then start stuffing my books into my backpack. One hour of additional studying in this room might actually be more productive for me than two hours of studying on the train, but I've made enough progress today to be able to afford taking it easy during our journey back to school.
03
I leave the guest room and make my way to the living room downstairs. As I enter, I find that everyone else is already there. The Satous are sitting on the couch on one end of a low table containing five bowls filled with tea. Hanako is kneeling near the corner, where a large Christmas tree has been set up. As out of place as the tree looks in the traditionally styled living room, I can't deny that it's a beautiful sight. Countless lights and ornaments are hanging from its branches, and as I approach Hanako, I notice that she's admiring several finely crafted figurines that are set up near the foot of the tree. I let her be for a moment and then softly touch her shoulder to get her attention.

"Hey there. Are you going to join us?"

She gives me a meek nod and follows me to the couch facing the one Lilly and her family are sitting on. After Karla hands each of us a bowl of tea, Lilly's father raises his bowl slightly and clears his throat.

"Let us drink to your upcoming exams. May all your studying pay off, and may all three of you pass with flying colors."

Lilly's mother shoots us a grin.

"We can hold a big party here to celebrate afterwards in order to make up for the fact that the three of you had to spend such a large part of today burried in your books."

Lilly smiles at her mother's suggestion.

"Cheers, then."

We drink our tea and hang back, the silence made more comfortable by the cozy atmosphere in the room. Eventually, Lilly's father exchanges a look with his wife who nods briefly and walks out of the room, coming back moments later with something in her hands that I can't quite make out. She gives me a friendly look.

"Hisao, there's something we would like you to have. We've been meaning to give it to you for a little while, but haven't gotten around to it until now. I figured... why not make it a Christmas present?"

"That bag you're carrying is for me?"

"It is. Sorry for not wrapping it up, but I felt that would be a bit morbid."

I can tell what's in the green bag she hands me even before I open it. The symbol of a heart with a small lightning bolt on top of it is pretty universal. I undo the zipper near the top and pull out a device about the size of a small toaster, except much flatter, connected to two electrodes. It's an AED unit with a small logo of Satou Medical Technology near the corner. I suddenly realize it looks exactly like the AED devices I've seen around the school. It wouldn't surprise me if Yamaku was actually a customer of the Satou family company.

"Ah... Thanks. That's a pretty generous gift."

"We have one of these around the house for my husband's sake too. You might not need one of your own at Yamaku, but we felt it might be a reassurance to have one on hand when you move back in with your parents after graduation. If not for your reassurance, then maybe for theirs."

"Or you might be able to take it to school with you."

"I don't know about that, Lilly. It's probably just a little bit too large to comfortably fit in my backpack with the rest of my books."

I get up from the couch and bow gratefully to Lilly's parents.

"Still, I really appreciate this. These devices are extremely expensive, aren't they?"

Karla rolls her eyes as if I just said something extremely stupid.

"Well, believe it or not, but I got a discount because I happen to know the manager."

"Please apply the electrode pads to the body of the patient."

A pre-recorded voice suddenly sounds from somewhere behind me, and when I turn around I see that Hanako has turned the device on while examining it.

"Hey, that thing has voiced instructions."

Lilly's mother nods at my observation.

"Most AEDs these days have. Not many people are going to read instruction manuals in the heat of the moment. It's really useful for people like Lilly too. I've given her a little crash course myself not long ago."

Hanako has taken one of the pads and puts it just below her right shoulder.

"Hey, take care not to accidentally shock yourself."

I hear Karla sigh.

"I hope that was a joke, Hisao. AEDs don't randomly apply shocks without determining whether one is needed in the first place. If you didn't know this,then I think a little instruction from yours truly is in order here."

"Please do not make him memorize any knowledge that he does not need for his exams, Karla. He has already absorbed enough information for one day as it is. He will still need to hang on to all of that."

"Sure, sure."

Our attention is once again drawn by Hanako as she finishes applying the pads and now mimics pushing the shock button. As she removes the pads again, Karla gives her an appreciative nod.

"That's all there is to it. Looks to me like you've handled this kind of device before."

Hanako nods her head.

"In f-first aid class. I think t-the model w-was exactly the same too."

Lilly's mother sheepishly smiles.

"Ah, the blessed first aid class."

"Ah yes, about that..."

I see Lilly's father exchanging another look with his wife before slowly getting up. Karla subtly motions me to sit down, sits down herself, and then shifts her gaze on Hanako. I notice that Lilly has also changed posture and is now sitting straight up as if waiting for something. Mister Satou is looking straight at Hanako and even though she shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, he doesn't avert his eyes.

"Hanako?"

"Y-Yes?"

"Yesterday, my wife and I celebrated Christmas together with Lilly for the first time in six years. In a few days, we will celebrate New Year together, and Akira has promised to join us for that occasion as well. It feels like the rifts in this family are slowly healing."

His gaze shortly falls on the AED device at Hanako's feet as if it reminds him of his own hospitalization this summer.

"I do not believe in spending a lot of time dwelling on what could have been, but I am nevertheless very aware of the fact that things could have gone a lot worse for me - and for our family. The fact that they did not is, for a significant part, due to your efforts."

Hanako's cheeks turn red under Mister Satou's words of praise, and she meekly shakes her head.

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

"Your modesty does you credit, but I think our family does not merely owe you for what you did for me that night, but also for the tireless support you gave my daughter during the aftermath."

Lilly smiles warmly.

"Your support and encouragement have made a great difference for me, Hanako. You were the one who reminded me how important a family is and that it's worth fighting for."

Hanako fidgets awkwardly under the praise being heaped on her. She never did handle compliments very well.

"Hanako?"

Mister Satou's expression suddenly turns serious.

"When you visited me in the hospital, I asked you if there was anything I could do back for you. I always pay back what I owe to others. And nobody can deny that I owe you a great deal. Back then, you said you could not think of anything. How about now? Please think carefully and do not immediately dismiss my words."

Hanako thinks for a moment, but then shakes her head.

"I... d-don't n-need anything. I'm j-just glad that Lilly's h-happy. If m-my f-friends are happy, I'm h-happy too."

Lilly's father nods his head.

"I expected you to say that. So we came up with something ourselves. As a way to show our gratitude and appreciation. It is probably a little... unorthodox, but it nevertheless seemed fitting."

He walks over to a dresser near the Christmas tree, opens a drawer and takes something out of it. Something that looks like an envelope. Hanako looks puzzled as Lilly's father walks back and continues.

"We will, of course, not force you to take it. That decision shall be left with you."

"Hanako..."

He holds the envelope in both hands and extends it towards Hanako, as if he's offering some VIP his business card.

"...thank you."

Visibly unsure of herself, Hanako looks at the envelope that is being extended to her. She doesn't immediately respond, shooting me a helpless look as if asking me what to do now. I give her an encouraging smile.

"Go ahead."

As she nervously gets up from the couch and takes the envelope from Lilly's father, I notice Lilly and her mother are looking a bit tense. I wonder what's inside. Money? No, the kind of sum I'd expect Lilly's father to give as a reward would not fit inside an envelope like that. He'd use a suitcase to deliver it. Or a sports bag. Or the trunk of an expensive car. Company shares then? Hanako returns to the couch and looks at the envelope in her hand with an unsure look.

After what feels like hours, she finally opens it and takes something out of it. It looks like a letter. I can see Hanako's eyes quickly sweeping the paper. Then, as she's about half-way through, her mouth suddenly falls open, and I can hear her gasping for breath. Her eyes grow to the size of saucers.

I remember when we weren't dating yet and I decided to show her the scar on my chest. I told her I was going to take my shirt off, and she had an expression just like she has now. Well, almost like she has now. This time her eyes seem even bigger.

"Ah..."

My curiosity getting the better of me, I get a little closer to Hanako, and peek over her shoulder.

It doesn't turn out to be a letter after all, but an official form of some kind. Near the top is a logo and near the bottom are some dotted lines. One dotted line contains a meticulously crafted signature, obviously belonging to Lilly's father. Another one is empty. I start reading the text on the form and when I realize what Hanako's holding in her hands, I can't supress a gasp of my own.

"Whoa..."

I first look at Mister Satou who looks back at me with a sincere expression on his face. Then I look at Hanako who is still in exactly the same position as she was when I took a peek, as if time froze around her.

Finally, I manage to collect my thoughts long enough to break the pressing silence in the room.

"Hanako, these are adoption papers..."
04
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 12:42 pm, edited 4 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 47

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:11 am

Chapter 47
01
"This seems to be the place..."

I check the address in my business organizer one last time and then steer my rental car up the driveway. After parking the car, I take a long look at the house in front of me. It's nowhere near the size of the mansion-like place they had in Inverness, though still larger than the average Japanese home. The neighborhood I just drove through doesn't have that same conservative upper-class feel our childhood neighborhood had either. I wonder what made Mom and Dad pick this place.

I sigh and then reluctantly push the buzzer. I wasn't really planning to drop by here today or... well... any day soon, but due to certain circumstances I ended up changing my mind. It'll probably be okay though. I brought along a couple of manga to keep busy. And I really do want to see Lilly while I'm here. Lilly and...

"Akira! Good to have you here."

Unsurprisingly, it's Mom who opens the door and greets me.

"Yo."

She steps aside, and I walk past her into the entryway area where I start removing my shoes and prepare to put on some slippers. While I'm doing so, I take another look at Mom. She's wearing a sky-blue kimono that doesn't look familiar to me, meaning she probably bought it after she and Dad moved back to Japan. It feels weird seeing her wear one again after having gotten somewhat used to seeing her in her business attire on the workfloor. Which in turn felt strange when I first got to Scotland, because before Mom and Dad left Japan Mom used to wear kimonos quite often.

As I finish putting on my slippers Mom makes a graceful bow.

"Welcome home, Miss Satou. Please enjoy yourself."

"Home, huh?"

"Since you've never been here before, remind me to show you around later. Ah, and happy New Year, of course."

"Yeah, the same."

I follow Mom through the hallway into the living room. A pretty cozy living room from the looks of it. A low table, two large couches, some dressers near the wall and a huge Christmas tree near the corner. One of the cabinets probably contains a stereo, for I can hear soft classical music coming from somewhere. Seated on the couch, dressed in a dark kimono himself and cradling a book in his lap (no surprise there) is Dad. As I approach, he calmly puts his book down, gets up and makes a formal bow.

"Glad you could join us, Akira. Happy New Year."

I make a polite bow myself.

"You too."

Mom gives me a light pat on the shoulder.

"So, what can I get you?"

"I suppose you don't have beer?"

"You supposed wrong. Have a seat and I'll go and get you one."

"...thanks."

Mom walks out of the room, and I'm about to sit down when I hear a shuffling sound behind me, followed by a familiar voice.

"Father, I just heard the doorbell. Was that...?"

I instantly break out into a smile which grows even bigger when I see my sister carefully navigating into the room.

"Hey there, Lils!"

I walk up to Lilly and grab her in a not-so-gentle bear hug, chuckling to myself when she lets out an involuntary whimper.

Yup, still a wimp.

After recovering from the surprise, Lilly happily hugs me back. We stay like that for a second, and then I break off the embrace and give my sister a long look-over.

"Well, don't you look gorgeous?"

My words aren't empty flattery. Lilly truly looks beautiful in her dazzling white kimono. Mom must have bought it for her after they moved back here. Lilly smiles.

"Hello Akira. I'm so glad you could make it here. Happy New Year."

"Happy New Year to you as well. It's really good to see you again too. How's the studying coming along?"

"We've set a goal to get at least six hours of studying in today, despite it being New Year. For now, we're still on schedule. Hopefully it'll allow us to catch up later."

'We', huh?

I look past Lilly and spot another kimono-clad figure partially hiding behind the doorway. I walk up to her and give her a hug that's slightly more gentle than the one I just shared with Lilly. There's a soft gasp, but then, moments later, the embrace is awkwardly returned.

"Hi Hanako. Nice to see you as well. Happy New Year."

"H-Happy N-New Year, Akira."

I give Hanako a look-over that's quick enough to avoid making her uncomfortable.

"I'll be damned if you aren't the cutest sight I've seen in months."

"Uhhh..."

Hanako fidgets uncomfortably, but I meant what I just said. Cute is probably the most accurate way to describe Hanako. The pink kimono she's wearing is a nice contrast with Lilly's, and her hair is done up in such a way that it still manages to hide most of the scarring on her neck. That all-too-familiar lock covering the right side of her face is still there, but it doesn't look too jarring. The kimono itself is probably just a little bit on the large side, though that might have been intentional, seeing that a good part of Hanako's wardrobe is slightly too large so she can hide her scars better. On the other hand, when I hugged her I couldn't shake the impression that she's gotten slightly skinnier. I do hope she's still eating enough these days.

"Did you do up your hair yourself?"

She shyly nods. I'm kind of impressed. That couldn't have been easy, though the alternative, letting someone else close enough to clearly see her scarring, was probably a much worse prospect for Hanako. All in all she still did a good job, aside from one spot near the back where it seems just a little bit uneven.

"Color me impressed."

My thoughts return to several weeks ago, when Dad made a surprise phone call and abruptly dropped a bombshell. He and Mom had decided to adopt Hanako into our family, and he wanted to know if I had any objections to the idea of having another sister. The way Dad phrased it gave me the impression that the decision had already been made, though at least he gave me an opportunity to voice my opinion, which is more than he himself got when Koji Kojima was adopted by Granddad. I told Dad back then that I had no issues with Hanako being my sister, and I still stand behind those words, even though my feelings about this situation are more complex than just that.

Lilly told me that Hanako would be visiting this place the day after Christmas together with Hisao and that our parents were planning to use that occasion to make her the offer. I made Lilly swear a solemn oath to phone me and tell me how things went as soon as she was able to, even if that meant calling me in the middle of the night. From what I heard, the proposal came so out of nowhere for Hanako that she was shocked into a silence that lasted for several minutes. Lilly eventually broke said silence by telling Hanako that it was probably a good idea to take as much time as she thought she needed to think about it. With the pressure somewhat relieved, the subject was dropped and the conversation went back to the upcoming exams until it was time to go, and Dad dropped Lilly, Hanako and Hisao off at the nearby train station.

That was a little less than a week ago.

I'm pretty confident that if Hanako had signed those adoption papers at any point between then and now, Lilly would have phoned me about it immediately, so it seems like this whole thing is still very much up in the air.

Two days ago, Lilly managed to talk Hanako into accompanying her and spending New Year's Eve and New Year's Day at this place instead of going along with Hisao. No doubt there was the unspoken intention of trying to get her to warm up to Mom and Dad.

But I wonder how Hanako really feels about all of this.

"Akira?"

"Huh?"

My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by Mom entering the living with a glass of beer in her hand.

"A penny for your thoughts."

"Eh, it's nothing."

I take the glass of beer and sit down on the couch across from Mom and Dad. I look at Lilly and Hanako from over my shoulder, but notice that neither of them has moved from their spot.

"No desire to catch up with me, girls?"

Dad readjusts the pair of glasses resting on the tip of his nose.

"Your timing was a bit unfortunate. They had a short break 15 minutes ago and just resumed studying when you arrived here. Taking another break this soon would be irresponsible."

Boy, the old man is really staying on top of them with this. Lilly smiles awkwardly.

"We have two more hours of cramming planned. There will probably be plenty of opportunity to catch up later. I'm looking forward to it."

"Well, okay then. Give it your best shot, you two."

Lilly and Hanako nod and then walk out of the room, leaving me alone with Mom and Dad.

Great.

"So, Akira, how are things in Inverness these days?"

"Okay, I guess. Not really all that different from the way they were when you were there three weeks ago."

Mom rolls her eyes at my response.

"And how are things with your boyfriend? Has he already made a decision whether to stay in Scotland or not?"

Just over two months ago, I apologized to Yuichi, and we decided to give things another try. With Koji's help, I managed to arrange a temporary transfer for him, so he could check things out, rather than immediately moving permanently.

We decided against him moving in with me. Not only is my apartment a bit too small for two people to live there comfortably, but we both felt that it was best to let our relationship recover a bit from the previous breakup rather than immediately spend 24/7 around each other. He's living in an apartment a few kilometers away from my own.

"Well, he's still working on getting settled. The new work culture took him longer to adapt to than he thought, but he responded pretty well to my attempts to get him... you know... a bit integrated."

"What kind of attempts?"

After moving to Inverness, I went out of my way to engage in activities that involved a lot of other people so I wouldn't end up like Dad, doing nothing with my life except working or sitting at home. Since I knew that getting to know people in the workplace was probably not going to cut it anymore, I joined a fitness club and started taking part in pub quizzes during the weekend. When Yuichi joined me in Inverness, I dragged him along whenever I could, but we're both at a point now where we know a few people we can hang out with in our free time if we want to. If he'd decide to stay there permanently, he probably wouldn't be lonely.

"Just general stuff."

Mom and Dad raise an eyebrow at my non-answer, but neither seems eager to start prying. Maybe that's a good thing.

"What do his parents think about the option of him moving?"

"They said they'd leave the choice up to him."

They'd certainly miss his presence, but since there's already someone else helping out with the family restaurant, I don't think they'd demand for him to stay in Japan.

"And up to you. I hope the two of you can manage to make this work. Maybe you can officially introduce him to us next time."

I can’t help rolling my eyes at that. Yuichi's an employee of the company. Surely they’ve checked him out already.

"Uhuh..."

Mom frowns.

"You don't seem extremely talkative."

"Never mind me. I'm just a little tired. It was a long drive."

Dad makes a gesture towards the doorway.

"You can rest in one of the guest rooms if you like."

"That'd be good."

I drink the remainder of my beer and then follow Mom, who gives me a little tour of the kitchen and the dining room...

"Well, how about it? Do you think you could make yourself feel at home here?"

"...who keeps this place clean whenever you're in Scotland? Does Dad have hidden homemaking skills he's never shown until now?"

"We have a housekeeper employed who helps me out with keeping the house in order and who's also been willing to take care of breakfast and dinner in my absence, at least until your father starts his new job."

...the study...

"That room sure looks familiar."

"Almost as if he packed the old room in his suitcases and brought it along, isn't it? The actual room is a little bit smaller, so some of his books are stored in the attic, but overall we made this place identical to his study in Scotland."

...the bathroom...

"It's still larger than I thought. Instead of two families, that bath can now only house one, which is still way larger than the tub I have in my apartment."

"Your father has always liked relaxing soaks, though we don't need a bath like the one in Inverness anymore."

"Have you ever needed a bath that large during those years you lived in Scotland to begin with? Why get a bath that can house like seven or eight people when it was just you and Dad living there?"

"Because we had business delegations from Japan on occasion, and your father would often let them stay at our home instead of letting them sleep at a hotel. Since Inverness has no Japanese communal bath houses, it was not uncommon for the members of such a delegation to have a shared soak at our place. Obviously, this bathroom here will only be used by our family."

"Okay, that kind of makes sense."

...the attic...

"This place kind of looks like a small office."

"The study is your father's place to retreat do some work or reading, so I decided to claim this little room for myself. I'd like to start working again at some point, after things have settled down for Lilly and your father, and when I do, this place'll be my little base of operations."

"What on earth do you need an old typewriter for?"

"Heh, I wrote pretty much all of my articles on a typewriter like this one back when I was still in the reporting business. I like the nostalgic feel it adds to the place. I'll be using a personal computer for actual work, of course."

"Oh."

...and finally the bedrooms.

"Didn't get around to properly furnish this one yet, huh?"

"It's not that we didn't have time to give this room a personalized touch. It's just that we weren't sure what kind of touch you'd want."

"Me?"

"This house has three bedrooms in addition to the master bedroom, so you can all have your own room. Lilly has already given a few pointers on what she'd like her room to look like. We were hoping you'd be willing to do the same."

"Lilly visits this place almost weekly. It makes sense to give her her own room. It's not like I'll be in Japan that often."

"We have enough bedrooms available. If you don't have any immediate suggestions, I could also drop by your apartment the next time to see what your interior tastes are like."

"Uh..."

Mom gives me a teasing smile.

"Or I could just decorate this place exactly like your bedroom of 20 years ago. I remember that one vividly."

"I hope you're not being serious."

"I hope it won't be necessary. Anyway, I'll let you have some peace and quiet now. You can rest up a little bit for an hour or two."

"Two hours?"

"We're planning to pay one of the nearby shrines a little visit together later today. It's been a tradition in this family for as long as I can remember."

"It hasn't really been a tradition over the last couple of years."

"All the more reason to pick it up again now that we're back in Japan. I know your father's really looking forward to it. I really hope you're coming along as well."

"Well... Okay then."

"Great. See you in two hours then."

Mom starts walking out of the room, but turns around once more before closing the door behind her.

"Oh, by the way... Take a look in the closet for a little surprise."

And with that, I'm left alone in a bedroom that has little more than a bed, a closet and a desk in it. With nothing better to do, I walk up to the closet and take a curious look inside. The only thing in there is an admittedly impressive bright red kimono.

"Geez, how do you put these things on again?"

Suddenly those two hours feel ridiculously short.

--------------------------------------
02
"Is that shrine far from here?"

Dad looks at me from the rearview mirror and shakes his head.

"A minute or ten at most. We will be there soon."

Lilly smiles.

"I still remember how we used to celebrate New Year by visiting the nearby shrine together with Grandfather and Grandmother and then go home to play games, eat rice cakes and listen to Mother playing Beethoven's 9th Symphony on her cello."

Mom shrugs.

"I always thought it sounded bland without an orchestra to play along. You can't really play symphonies on your own and make it sound right."

"Still, it's a pleasant memory for me. I suppose I can't convince you to give us a little performance later today?"

"Sorry dear, but it's been a long time since I've played that piece, and I'd like at least a bit of practice before I'd feel confident about playing it again. Maybe next year."

"That's a shame. It is something that stands out in my New Year memories."

Mom nods and then suddenly snickers.

"Is something the matter, Mother?"

"Just digging through my own New Year memories, and I remember how we'd always go and buy those little sheets of paper that'd tell you your fortune for the upcoming year at the shrine. Those... eh... I think they were called o-mikuji. And you were always pretty anxious about that."

Lilly shifts a bit uncomfortably in her seat, but I let out a chuckle. I think I know what Mom's referring to.

"Oh right. There was that one time when Lilly burst into tears in the middle of the shrine because she picked an o-mikuji that predicted bad fortune."

"Akira! That was the third year in a row I picked bad luck, and I was only seven at the time."

"Heh, I did feel kind of sorry for you back then, you know."

Mom turns her head around and grins playfully at me.

"It's not like New Year was always kind to you. I remember when you were seven you convinced us to buy you a kite to fly on New Year. But after only a few minutes, you accidentally let go of the flying line, and the kite ended up stranded in one of the tallest trees in the neighborhood. You were so upset about that that you spent about an entire month throwing pebbles at it every day in an attempt to dislodge it."

"Oh my. I never knew. How horrible."

Lilly giggles and I hear way more amusement than sympathy in her voice. I roll my eyes and give her a poke in the ribs with my elbow.

"You be quiet. That was my first kite ever, and I only ended up having a total of five minutes to enjoy it. It was a very traumatizing experience, so don't make light of it."

"Hahaha. Did you ever manage get it out of that tree?"

"Not really. One day it was simply gone. There was probably a storm the night before that took off with it. Maybe it's for the better, or I'd still be chucking pebbles at it."

"The two of you will have to save the rest of the memories for tonight's dinner, girls. The parking lot belonging to the shrine is just down the road."

As Dad parks the car near the stairs beyond the shrine gate, I let my eyes sweep across the parking lot. I see quite a few cars here, and there's a bus nearby whose passengers have just disembarked and are now making their way up the stairs. We might end up having to wait in line for quite some time. Thank goodness it's not too cold right now. We get out, and I turn to Hanako, who's been silent for pretty much the entire trip.

"Hey Hanako, would you mind helping Lilly up the stairs? Tripping up and tumbling down would be a really rotten way to start the new year."

Hanako gives me a nod, and we start walking up the stairs with me in the front, Mom and Dad just behind me and Lilly and Hanako bringing up the rear. I can hear the bustling of the crowd of visitors ahead and the ringing of the bell before I make it to the top, but when I reach the shrine gate, I'm still overwhelmed by how many people are visiting here right now.

"Geez, how did all these people get here? There weren't that many cars in the parking lot."

Mom, who followed close behind, gives me a silly grin.

"Either those were clown cars down there or most of the people here used the public transport. You tend to forget how popular it is here when you live abroad for some time, don't you?"

"Yeah, kind of..."

My attention quickly shifts from Mom to Lilly and Hanako who have now also reached the top of the stairs and pause for a moment some distance away from us to catch their breath and take in their surroundings. The contrast between their reactions couldn't be larger. Lilly takes a deep breath and seems to enjoy the scent from the nearby trees and the murmur of the people nearby. Hanako, on the other hand, only seems to have eyes for one thing..the crowd standing between us and the hall of worship where shrine visitors can do their prayers. The serenity on Lilly's face seems to make the terror and panic welling up in Hanako's eyes even more jarring.
03
Damnit!

From what I've seen of her myself, the extent of Hanako's trouble with crowded places is hard to pin down. When she was visiting the indoor marketplace in Inverness, she seemed capable of traversing the place with a minimum of discomfort despite the fact that there were quite a few people there. Of course, that was during a vacation that, from what I've heard, she enjoyed a lot and she was probably in a good mood. The last month hasn't been exactly good to her - quite the opposite, from what Lilly has told me. I'm not sure if anxieties work that way, but it wouldn't surprise me if the rut she's been in lately has made her more vulnerable to things that trigger her apprehensions. The idea of having to stand in the middle of a mass of people for what would probably be over an hour has to be intimidating to her even on her good days.

"Hanako, are you alright?"

Perhaps Lilly has picked up a change in Hanako's breathing, since she turns towards her friend with a worried expression.

"I'm... okay."

I walk up to the two of them, eager to clarify the situation.

"It's pretty crowded here, Lils. Somewhere between 150 and 250 people who get to go before it's our turn. We'll probably be here for a little while."

"...oh."

A pained expression appears on Lilly's face as she realizes the situation.

"Do you think we should... ah...?"

I turn to Hanako.

"You say you're okay, but the look on your face says something else entirely, Hanako."

"Please d-don't w-worry about me."

"I'm not worried. I just wonder if spending an hour with hundreds of people all around you is really your idea of a good time. Because from what I can see, to most people here it is."

"Uhh..."

Hanako fidgets nervously. I think responses like 'I'm okay.' and 'Don't worry about me.' are kind of reflexes for her whenever someone shows concern for her. She hates the idea of burdening others. But I don't think that she's good enough at lying to tell me to my face that she trusts herself not to panic at some point if we were to join the crowd in front of us.

"I'll... b-b-be okay. R-Really."

"Hanako, whenever people do things as a group, the amount of fun they're having is partially based on how much the rest is enjoying themselves. If one person in the group is feeling miserable, then it takes some really willful obliviousness for the rest to have a good time. If you're gonna try and reassure me that you really are going to be perfectly fine, at least look me straight in the eyes while telling me that you'll be okay."

Hanako sighs loudly. She's obviously not convinced she can pull off what I just asked her to do.

"I could... m-maybe w-wait in the car?"

"I dunno. Maybe we should simply call the whole thing off."

Hanako's widen in panic.

"B-But, it's a f-family t-tradition, isn't it? You and L-Lilly s-should..."

I don't think it was Hanako's intention, but she effectively shut the argument down. I'm not going to navigate this particular minefield until I know exactly how she feels about this matter and this isn't the right opportunity to pry.

"I'll go and consult the folks. Let's hear what they have to say."

As I walk up to Mom and Dad, I find myself wondering how they're gonna react to this whole thing. How aware are they about Hanako's various anxieties? Lilly doesn't usually talk about them, and I had to figure out most of Hanako's issues through personal interaction with her.

"Hey, I've been thinking... How important is this to you two?"

Mom and Dad give me a puzzled look.

"Because this place is kind of busy, and it may be better to visit another shrine or maybe come back later when the crowd has thinned out a bit."

"It is true that there are many people here, but it does not seem to be busier than it usually is on New Year's Day. I do not think you will find a shrine that does not have a lot of visitors right now, and I suspect that things will remain that way until closing time."

"Then maybe we should leave and come back tomorrow or something."

Dad shoots me an incredulous look.

"Visiting a shrine on New Year's Day has been a family tradition for a very long time."

"Except during the last six years."

This earns me a scolding glare from Dad. Mom gives me a quizzical stare.

"Why? Why now? You were okay with this before."

I had other things on my mind earlier, so I completely forgot about the possibility of this happening. I would graciously accept blame for that.

"Hanako..."

Mom and Dad throw a quick glance in Hanako's and Lilly's direction. It's hard to make out Hanako's expression from this distance, but her slumped posture is easy enough to see, even from here. They exchange a glance, and I can see realisation dawning on them. Mom gives me an unsure look.

"Hanako and that crowd...?"

"...yeah."

"She wants to leave here?"

"Part of her wants to get away from here as soon as possible, I can tell that much just by looking at her. But she also hates feeling like she's a burden on others, so she's not going to ask us to cater to her. She offered to wait in the car, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea. She'd have nothing to do for over an hour except sit there and feel bad about herself."

"What do you think, dear?"

Dad looks pensive for a second and then lets out a disappointed sigh. He reaches into his pocket and hands me his car keys.

"Go ahead and take her back to the house. Then come back here afterwards to pick us up."

"Sure."

We make our way back to Lilly and Hanako.

"Hey Hanako... uh... Dad's given me the car keys and I'm going to go back to their place. Shall we go?"

She doesn't immediately respond and merely shuffles her feet for a moment while doing her best to avoid our gaze. There's a very guilty look in her eyes. Suddenly, Lilly speaks up.

"Father... would it be okay with you if I... went along as well?"

"...go ahead then. Your mother and I will offer a few additional prayers for your good fortune in your place."

"Thank you, Father."
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

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

Chapter 47 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:11 am

Without much ado, we pass back down the stairs, through the gates and to the parking lot. This time, though, it almost feels like Lilly is helping Hanako navigate. We get in the car, and I drive back to our parents' home without anyone really saying anything. When we enter the living room, Hanako slumps down on the couch and holds her head in her hands.

"L-Lilly... Ak-Akira... I'm s-so sorry."
04
"Don't apologize, Hanako. It's really not that much of a big deal. Let's just relax a little bit, before you two get back to your books. I can afford to hang out here a little bit before I have to pick up the folks."

"B-But..."

"You know... back in the days we used to play games on New Year's Day after a shrine visit. Card games, backgammon, Lucky Laugh. Of course, Lilly would always win the latter. It's as much of a family tradition as the shrine visit was, and this one actually makes sense in my opinion. I don't see any reason for us not to honor this tradition right now."

Lilly smiles.

"Hanako, don't you have a deck of playing cards in your backpack? Why don't you go and get it? The two of us against Akira."

I grin.

"Bring it on."

Hanako looks a little doubtful, but then nods and walks out of the room. I wait until I think she's out of earshot and then turn to Lilly.

"I hope I wasn't being too overbearing with her back there. I kinda went with my gut instinct here. Given the number of people there, we would have been in the middle of that crowd for a long time and... If she had a panic attack ten or twenty minutes in, it would have been very difficult to quickly get her out of there, and we might have had a public spectacle right there with us at the center. Who knows how Dad would have reacted to that. Ever since that screw-up at Kasshoku University Hanako's probably more paranoid around crowds than ever before. Maybe we should be too."

Lilly nods her head.

"I... think you did the right thing. I just feel bad about disappointing Father."

"Don't be too hard on yourself, Lils. Set the good example for Hanako."

"I'll try."

We wait until Hanako returns with her deck of cards and then start playing, with Lilly and Hanako occasionally whispering to one another on which card to play. As the game goes on, I can see Hanako slowly starting to relax.

"Akira?"

"What is it, Lils?"

"Why do you feel a family visit to the nearby shrine doesn't make sense? I'm not sure why you feel that way."

"I didn't say it doesn't make any sense at all, Lils. I said that it doesn't make much sense."

"I still don't really understand why you would say that."

"Those shrine visits were a family tradition because the three people in charge of the family, that being Dad, Granddad and Grandma, are shintoists. With Granddad and Grandma not being here right now, we might very well have more catholics than shintoists in the home right now."

Lilly raises an eyebrow.

"Do you still count yourself among those catholics, Akira?"

"Naw, I haven't been much of anything for years."

Hanako gives me a midly curious look.

"You were... um... catholic, Akira?"

"Used to be. Mom's a catholic, though it mostly translated into her giving us a pretty cross-shaped necklace to wear and sometimes telling us bedtime stories with a moral, like a shepherd who left his herd in order to look for one lost sheep or a traveller who was severely injured by bandits and saved by a member of an enemy tribe who had him nursed back to health out of compassion."

Lilly smiles.

"That last one was always one of my favorites."

"Mom's religion was always pretty low-key, but then I was thrown into middle school and some of those teachers started throwing the S-word around."

"Uh... S-word?"

"Sin. Nothing's more off-putting than people telling others they're lower human beings for the slightest infraction."

"Some of them were a bit heavy-handed, I'll admit."

"Anyway, I often wondered if a catholic saying a prayer at a shinto shrine isn't a sacrilege of some sort."

Lilly chuckles softly.

"I've always told myself that praying for the happiness and good fortune of one's loved ones is never sacrilegious, no matter the circumstances or the location. I'm pretty sure that Mother feels the same."

This discussion has made me curious about something. Having just finished a game, I wait until Hanako's finished shuffling and dealing the cards and then give her an inquisitive look.

"How about you, Hanako? Are you a shintoist yourself?"

Hanako looks a little awkward, but nevertheless gives it some thought.

"M-My parents were. We always went t-to our local shrine on N-New Year's D-Day too. B-But ever s-since... the accident, I haven't b-been to one. I d-didn't want to anymore, even though t-the orphanage staff usually visited the n-nearby shrine with t-the other children that day. I'm n-not really sure whether I'd even b-be welcome there anymore."

So the situation we just dealt with isn't even something new to Hanako. She's been faced with this kind of thing since she lost her parents.

"Oh..."

"It w-wasn't all bad though. We would usually eat some delicious rice cakes when the other c-children came back, and the staff would play games with us. That was... fun."

"You really like games, huh?"

She smiles gently and nods her head. I give her an encouraging smile back.

"Well, then let's play for two more rounds, and then I'll go back to the shrine, and you two can go back to your books."

--------------------------------------
05
"Aaaah..."

I stretch my arms as Lilly and I walk out of the bathroom after having taken a nice long soak. Lilly chuckles.

"That felt refreshing, didn't it?"

"Yeah, definitely a change from that cramped tub at my place. Though cramped has its benefits in certain situations too."

Lilly blushes a bit.

"Akira. That's kind of..."

Before we can continue on the subject, one of the guest room doors opens, and Hanako comes out and walks up to us.

"H-Hey. Was it... relaxing?"

"Yeah, it was pretty good. You can go ahead and get in yourself now. The water should be the right temperature for you."

"T-Thanks."

I give Hanako a friendly smile.

"You know, you could have taken one together with us, and I would have been more than willing to keep my eyes closed all the time. Soaking on your own is kind of lonely in such a large bath. Or Lilly could have accompanied you instead of me."

Hanako smiles uneasily and then shakes her head.

"It's... okay. I... already t-took a bath with L-Lilly yesterday. It... m-must have been some time ago when y-you and Lilly last bathed."

"Well, that is kind of true. The home we used to live in had a large bath too, so she and I used to take soaks together all the time. That kind of changed when I started working though. The last time we bathed together must have been..."

I rack my brain a bit, but can't come up with an exact answer. I give Hanako a goofy grin.

"...about the time Lilly's chest started getting larger than mine."

"Oh my..."

Lilly is visibly flustered by my joke, but then a playful smile appears on her face.

"...has it really been that long?"

Son of a- OUCH!

Hanako immediately turns her head away, obviously trying to hide her grin. I snicker a bit at Lilly's comeback, but am still determined not to let that little jab go unpunished. I give Lilly a playful poke in the side while at the same time winking at Hanako.

"You know, you'd better not diss my chest. After all, at least I have someone to admire mine. As does Hanako. As does Mom. You're currently the only person in this house who's headed for spinsterhood unless you learn how to accept date requests from people who aren't Hanako."

"I b-beg you pardon?"

The expression on Lilly's face is so comical that Hanako lets out an amused giggle before she can stop herself. Upon hearing this, Lilly smiles awkwardly.

"I have the impression I'm being made fun of."

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

"Don't worry about it."

Hanako, probably having determined that the little spectacle before her has come to a conclusion, gently pushes her way past us and gives me a little nod before closing the bathroom door behind us. After hearing the door's lock snap into place, I turn to Lilly.

"Hope I wasn't out of line just now."

"I could very well ask you the same."

"Naw, you can make fun of me as much as you like. Especially if..."

"Especially if?"

"Especially if it cheers up Hanako. She looked a little down during our ride to the shrine and during dinner..."

Not just down, but also a little lonely if I remember correctly.

"...and she seemed downright depressed while we were driving back, but she was smiling again just now when she entered the bathroom."

"That's a relief to hear."

"You'd better get back to your books for a little while. If you feel up to it, that is."

"Hmmm... Have you finally joined the choir, Akira?"

"Heh, you're probably getting tired of all the prodding, but if you want to pursue your dream you'll have no choice but to do well on the National Center Test the upcoming month. They don't employ English teachers at Satou Medical Technology, so you can't take shortcuts like I did."

"I'll do my best. And Akira?"

"Yeah?"

A teasing smile appears on her face once more.

"I may not remain single my entire life, you know?"

"Meow, Lils."

Still chuckling, we each go back to our respective rooms. I lie down on the bed, take a manga issue out of my bag and start reading. I make it to page 20 before I hear knocking on the door. Too irregular to be Lilly's and too loud to be Hanako's. Not pronounced enough to be Dad's.

"Yes?"

The door opens and, as expected, Mom walks into the room. I give her a look as if to ask what she wants, but she merely stares at me for a moment.

"Uh... Is something wrong?"

"Hey. Did you and Lilly have a pleasant soak?"

"It was alright."

"No longer feeling tired?"

"Not really, it was pretty refreshing."

"If that's the case then would you like to join your father and me downstairs?"

Ugh. I was already wondering where this conversation was headed. Now I kind of feel like she set me up.

"I'd... uh... rather stay here if that's okay."

"There's not exactly a lot to do here."

"Until I finish this manga, that's probably not going to be a problem."

"That's gotta be one hell of a manga."

I manage to resist the temptation to ask her what on earth she meant by that and simply get back to reading. But contrary to my expectation, Mom doesn't walk out of the room. Instead, she sits down on the chair near the desk and just keeps looking at me without saying something. I raise the manga closer to my face in an attempt to block her out, but somehow her gaze manages to unnerve me enough to make further reading impossible. I sigh loudly and put my manga back in my bag before returning the stare that's aimed at me.

"Okay, what's the problem?"
06
Mom doesn't immediately answer and merely twirls one of her bangs around her finger.

"What do you think the problem is?"

I'm not in the mood for charades like these.

"Mom, if you have something on your mind, I'd rather get it over with now."

She lets out a tired sigh.

"When I heard that you were coming over today, I was hoping we'd get the opportunity to... you know... maybe not reconcile, but make a start to mend our differences. I didn't think there'd be a more appropriate day for making a new start than New Year's Day."

"Oh..."

"But that's probably not going to happen, is it?"

"Sorry I couldn't meet your expectations."

"Couldn't or wouldn't? It's been kind of weird to see you today, you know? Whenever Lilly and Hanako are nearby, you're like all smiles and sunshine. But the moment they're out of earshot, the temperature suddenly drops like 30 degrees."

"What did you want me to do? Put on a fake smile and pretend nothing's wrong?"

"For the love of God, no. I know a lot has happened between us, and it'll probably take a long time to move past that, but... It felt like you weren't even trying today. Whenever we talk to you, you answer in single syllables. You took literally every single opportunity you could get to avoid us or get away from us."

"At least I haven't started any arguments."

"Akira, why exactly did you come here today? You've declined Lilly's invitations before, so why not now? You could have spent time with Lilly before or after her stay here. If today wasn't a gesture of reconciliation and you dislike our presence this much, why come here at all? Why let us mar your day?"

I never came here to reconcile. If that's what she expected then it's no wonder she's disappointed.

"It's complicated."

My gaze briefly wanders towards one of the walls. Mom follows my gaze and then nods.

"Hanako?"

She picked that one up quickly, I have to admit that much.

"I wanted to keep an eye out. Just in case. Make certain she'd be alright. That's why I came."

Mom lets out a bitter chuckle.

"You came here to protect her against us? I'm not sure whether to be laugh or cry about that. A few weeks ago, you still gave us your blessing. We wouldn't have gone ahead without that. Why the sudden change of heart?"

"No change of heart. Dad asked a very specific question, and I gave a very specific answer. He asked if I objected to having Hanako as my little sister. I said I didn't, and that hasn't changed. She's a sweet kid, and I really do feel a certain bond with her."

"I agree. And she doesn't seem to have a lot of people in her life right now. Don't you think she deserves a family?"

"I think she deserves a family, alright. I'm just not so sure whether she deserves this one."

"Any specific objections?"

"Come on, Mom. Don't play dumb. What if Hanako had been a few years younger and you would have had to go through the orphanage staff to make the arrangement? Do you think they would have gone along with it if they knew about your track record?"

"They just might have. There's one heck of a lot of adoptions taking place each year in this country, but only a miniscule part of those adoptions actually involve children who are in need of a home. Adoptive parents aren't all that common. Nearly all adoptees are succesful adult men."

"So you'd be counting on their desperation? That sure is a big reassurance."

"Your cynicism is noted."

"My cynicism, huh? I wonder..."

"Yes?"

"She hasn't given you an answer yet, has she? Not when you first asked her, not during the week that came after and not today, even though New Year's Day would have been a perfect occasion to make a 'new start' as you put it."

"No. Not yet. But we told her she could take her time. And she really should be focussing on the National Center Test and her entrance exams. Get those out of the way first."

I study the expression on Mom's face carefully, and I detect the same slight sense of anxiety that I noticed on Lilly's face when I briefly asked her about this subject during our shared soaking session. It's pretty obvious that both had been expecting Hanako to have jumped at the offer when it was made to her.

"I wonder if you guys also thought of an exit strategy in case Hanako isn't interested."

"We told her that the decision is hers to make. If she declines, she'll still always be welcome here as an honored guest."

"Surely you don't believe that it's that simple. Hanako probably feels that declining would be an insult. Even if she declined, she'd still be roommates with Lilly. She'd still be living in an apartment that you two are paying for and that you might be visiting every now and then too. Do you realize just how awkward that would be for her?"

"You almost make it sound like you're secretly hoping for this whole thing to fall apart."
07
"That's not it. I'm simply hoping for whatever outcome is best for Hanako. That girl's been hurt a lot in the past and is still lugging around one hell of a lot of baggage. The last thing she deserves is to be let down again. You couldn't be bothered to take responsibility for your own child six years ago and now you think you have what it takes to take responsibility for someone else's. Can you even imagine what that's like? Don't answer that! I know you can't! But I can, thanks to you!"

I promised myself not to make a fuss today. I'd just go here, hang out with Lilly and Hanako and bottle up whatever anger I feel towards Mom and Dad. As long as I made sure not to interact with them too much, things'd be fine. But now it looks like I'm about to break my promise. Something about Mom managed to touch a nerve, and now I feel my old wounds are bursting open.

"Akira, calm down. I'm not justifying what has happened in the past."

"No, now you're downplaying it instead!"

"I wasn't downplaying anything."

"You come in here and act offended, because I haven't forgotten about you having abandoned Lilly. You're like: 'What's the problem, we're here now, aren't we? Just shut up and forgive us already.' Like it was never a big deal!"

"I'm not..."

"Yes, you are! You're lecturing me about how New Year's Day is such a perfect date for a new start. Do you know what would have been an even better date for a new start? Well? The previous six friggin' New Year's Days! That's all Lilly wanted for New Year, you know. For you to come back to her!"

"I..."

"Just because Lilly isn't going to call you out, doesn't give you the right to scold me for rightfully holding you responsible. Even though you don't want to be reminded that you left your youngest daughter in the care of a girl barely out of high school, that's still exactly what happened. Either that or you were planning to rely on a mother-in-law suffering from ulcers, shortness of breath and high blood pressure to clean up after you... like you've been doing for years anyway."

"Akira..."

Mom gets up from the chair and takes a few steps towards the door, but before I can reach into my bag to retrieve my manga, she stops, turns towards me and shoots me a vicious glare.

"It's nice to see that you're so committed to Lilly's well-being that you're attacking us on her behalf. You've probably convinced yourself that she's secretly thankful for it, too. What I remember Lilly telling me is that it's her dream to get our family back together again. And she's been trying really hard. I don't think it'll be easy to move past the last few years, but I still believe it's possible and that we can come out of this closer than we were before, if we give it an honest try. But you don't really believe that, do you? Neither do you want it. You've already given up on our family, and you're more comfortable with the way things are now! You wouldn't mind if things remain this way forever, but you're afraid of admitting this to Lilly, so you're playing along on days like this while blaming any lack of progress on us. Shout at us as much as you like if that makes you feel better, but at least stop pretending to have her best interests at heart! Because you don't!"

"Oh, shut up Mom!"

I'm shaking with anger at her words, and it takes all my strength to fight off the urge to punch her. I probably would have thrown my book at her if it had been in my hand right now.

"Mother... Akira..."

We've both been so occupied with our hostile stand-off that neither of us noticed that the bedroom door softly opened, revealing a very upset-looking Lilly standing in the doorway.

"Please... Stop fighting..."

The hurt expression on Lilly's face is enough to make me forget about the anger I just felt and replace it with a weary resignation. When I look at Mom, I notice the combatitive look in her eyes has vanished as suddenly as it appeared and has given way to a tired expression. She sighs as she briefly puts her hand on Lilly's shoulder.

"I'm sorry, dear."

"Sorry, Lils. I'll keep my mouth shut from now on."

Without responding any further, Lilly turns around and walks out of the room. Crap. I really messed up this time. I wonder how much of that argument she overheard. Probably all of it.

Mom turns to me and lets out another weary sigh.

"I... may have been out of line just now."

"I could really use a beer right about now."

"Yeah, me too. Want to go and grab one?"

"...why not?"

I follow Mom to the kitchen where she opens the fridge and takes two cans of beer out of it. I take one of them from Mom, and we open our cans with a loud snap. Neither of us looks at the other or says a word as we drink. I doubt there's much to say to begin with. When I finish my beer and prepare to throw the can away, I suddenly notice a small box on a sidetable that wasn't there when I got a tour of the kitchen.
08
"What's in there?"

"Oh, we picked that up today. We got it for Lilly, Hanako and you. We were planning to give it to the three of you later this evening. Now that I think about it, now would be a good time to do so. I doubt Lilly's currently in the mood to do any more studying. Would you mind getting the girls?"

"Well, okay."

I go upstairs and visit Lilly and Hanako in their rooms, telling them that Mom and Dad have something they wanted to give to them. When we get back to the living room, Mom and Dad are already waiting for us with the box I noticed earlier on the table in the middle. The three of us sit down on one of the couches, and Dad scrapes his throat.

"Ahem, I trust the two of you are satisfied with the amount of studying you have managed to get in for today?"

"I have, Father."

"I... umm... t-think so."

"Very good. Since the three of you were absent during our visit to the shrine's hall of worship, we made certain to bring you some of these. With the exams so close, we felt it could not hurt."

He takes the box off the table and opens it. It's filled to the brim with o-mikuji. Mom smiles.

"Hopefully a little good fortune for the exams you're facing this month."

I scratch my head.

"You sure bought a lot of those o-mikuji."

"The three of you can take one each. I'm going to take the rest of them to my colleagues in Inverness on my next trip there. They love this kind of stuff."

Father makes an inviting gesture towards the box.

"Go ahead and take one."

Lilly, Hanako and I each pick a piece of paper from the box and unfold it. With more than a little hint of excitement, Lilly shows me her piece.

"Can you tell me what mine says, Akira?"

"You got 'Good Luck', Lils. I hope that translates into good results later this month."

Lilly beams.

"I really hope so too. What did you get, Akira?"

"I got a 'Bad Luck' one. No biggie."

"Oh..."

I roll my eyes at Lilly's slightly worried expression.

"You know, I don't really believe in this stuff, so it doesn't faze me."

"Even so..."

My eyes shift from Lilly to Hanako who has just unfolded her piece, but doesn't really react to it.

"What did you get, Hanako?"

Without saying anything, she gives me her piece of paper.

"It says 'Great Luck'. Looks like we have a winner here."

Mom makes a quick 'not so fast'-gesture with her finger.

"You know what you have to do to draw out its full potential, don't you?"

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

Post Reply