Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)

WORDS WORDS WORDS
Post Reply
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.

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

Chapter 47 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:12 am

09
"You know, I think we may have already used up all our good luck when we made our way up these stairs in the dark without breaking our necks."

"I think you may be exaggerating a bit."

It was still trickier than I thought though. After we each picked an o-mikuji, Mom suggested I drive back to the shrine together with Lilly and Hanako and tie our pieces of paper to the pine tree on the shrine grounds. As custom would have it, bad fortunes can be avoided that way while good fortunes are strengthened. Seems a bit silly, but I was kind of aching for some fresh air anyway, and there were some things I wanted to say to Lilly without Mom and Dad being anywhere nearby, so I gave in and drove back with the girls in tow. We very carefully climbed up the stairs to the gate, and now we're standing on the road leading to the various buildings. The shrine's been closed for hours, but fortunately there's no need for us to enter any of the buildings. The tree that visitors tie their o-mikuji to has to be somewhere nearby. It's probably near the hall of worship, so that's where we're headed right now.

"It might not be easy to find that tree with the shrine grounds being this dark, but a tree containing hundreds of pieces of paper must produce a pretty distinct rustling sound, so keep your ears open."

"Hmmm... I think you're right. Are we near the right building already?"

"We're pretty close. Do you hear anything?"

"Somewhere... to our left.

I peer through the darkness in the direction Lilly pointed out and vaguely see some light shapes moving in the wind.

"Yup, we've found the spot. I'll hold out a branch and you can do the tying, okay?"

"Alright."

I approach the tree, grab one of the branches and hold it in front of my sister who starts meticulously tying the pieces of paper to one of its unoccupied parts.

"I'm almost done. Can I have your piece as well, Hanako?"

No immediate response. Hanako's merely standing there looking at her o-mikuji as if the thing's calling her names.

"Hanako?"

I hear a tired sigh coming from her and then the piece of paper is pressed into Lilly's hand, who wastes no time attaching it next to our pieces.

"Hey Hanako, is everything alright?"

"Y-Yes. It's just..."

"Hmmm?"

"I... d-don't really believe in t-this either."

Earlier today, she told us that she and her parents used to visit a place like this during New Year's Day. I wonder what her last o-mikuji said back then, assuming she picked one. Maybe she picked a 'Great Luck' fortune back then too, only to be orphaned and disfigured later that year. That would turn you off to the practice pretty quickly. On the other hand, maybe the fact that she survived at all is great luck in a really twisted way. I wonder...

"Good evening. Are you here to... sight-see? I'm afraid we're... only open between 9 and 4."

Hanako lets out a cry of surprise when we suddenly hear an unknown voice behind us speaking to us in rather awkward English. We turn around and see a girl who's probably not much older than 16 standing in front of us.

"Uh, hey. Good evening. Sorry for intruding."

"Oh... ah... excuse me."

She seems a bit surprised when I answer her in Japanese. Due to our blond hair and the weird time of our visit, she must have mistaken us for tourists.

"We weren't really here to see the sights. We just finished hanging up our o-mikuji."

"Ah... Okay."

Lilly, sensing the awkwardness in the girl's voice, steps forward and smiles in her general direction.

"I realize that we're visiting at a really awkward time, but we've spent most of the day studying at our house, and we need all the good luck we can get for the weeks that lie ahead."

A look of realization appears on the girl's face almost immediately.

"The Center Test?"

"Indeed."

"Good luck. I hope you'll do well."

We exchange bows and prepare to leave the premise when the girl suddenly calls out to us.

"Excuse me."

"Yes?"

"Would you... ah... like to use the hall of worship?"

"The hall of worship? But the shrine is closed, isn't it?"

"The doors aren't locked right now because I just finished cleaning it. If you like, you can make a wish there while I finish my remaining chores at the administrative building."

Lilly gives me an encouraging look.

"Well, okay then. Thanks. We greatly appreciate it."

"You're welcome. I have an older sister who worked here as a shrine maiden during the last few New Year's Days, but now she's busy studying as well, which is why I've taken her place this year."

After thanking the shrine maiden again, we wash our hands at the nearby purification basin and then enter the shrine building. It's still pleasantly warm inside the building, especially compared to the rather chilly night air, and the presence of several lit lanterns in the room gives it a cozy atmosphere. Looking at the row of low seats in the center of the room gives me a sudden urge to take a load off.

"It's kind of cozy in here. Seeing that that shrine maiden sounded like she might still be busy in the other building for a little while, we might be able to take it easy for a few moments without running the risk of wearing out our welcome."

The girls think about it for a moment and then give an almost simultanous nod. We put three of the seats in a circular formation and sit down. This is probably the most relaxed I've felt all day. I guess this would be a good moment to apologize to Lilly. I could do it after today, over the phone, but I'd really prefer to do things like these in person. I don't think either of us minds Hanako being nearby.

"So... umm... Lils, what did you think of today?"

"It was good to celebrate New Year's Day together again after being separated for such a long time."

"So you enjoyed it despite me... well... causing trouble?"

Lilly's smile falters a bit. Looks like she picked up what I'm talking about.
10
"You're still troubled by Mother's words, aren't you?"

"You think she was on to something?"

A pained expression appears on Lilly's face. This isn't a comfortable subject for either of us, and the silence that follows merely reinforces that.

"You can tell me what you think, Lils. I won't be upset if you take Mom's side in this case."

Lilly's shoulders droop upon hearing my words. I can't help but feel that what was meant to be a reassurance had exactly the opposite effect.

"Akira... I don't want to take sides. I don't want to feel like having to choose between you and our parents anymore. There shouldn't be any sides to begin with. Why can't you understand that? Why won't you understand that?"

She's right, of course. There shouldn't be any sides. Yet ever since Mom and Dad left Japan, that's exactly how things have been in my mind. They abandoned us. They abandoned Lilly. So from that moment on, it was us and them. They sent all the financial support we ever needed and then some, but as far as emotional and practical support were concerned, I was the only person Lilly had left. From that point on, it was up to me to be a father and mother figure at the same time. I promised myself back then that I'd be a better parental figure to her than Mom and Dad could ever be. That bar wasn't set particularly high. All I had to do to stay above it was simply vowing to never abandon Lilly. Easiest vow I've made in my life.

"There shouldn't be, but when Mom and Dad left, I really did feel like our family was split into two halves. That was simply the way things were."

Deep down, I felt the schism in our family was permanent. Even if they'd return one day, things wouldn't be the same. It would still be us and them. It would always be us and them. Even though I felt angry, even bitter, about it, I accepted this to be reality from then on. Looking back on things, I think I did more than merely accept this new reality. I think I also grew comfortable with it. Like we were better off without them anyway. Maybe I grew too comfortable with the situation.

"Maybe. But I don't think that's the way things should be."

The same obviously can't be said for Lilly. Deep down she never made peace with the way our family split up and probably always hoped they'd unexpectedly return to Japan and we'd pick up exactly where we left off. Then we took that first trip to Inverness, and we experienced first-hand how much we had grown apart. It didn't really faze me since it merely confirmed what I already knew, but Lilly was very troubled by it.

"I've been thinking about it, and Mom's probably right about me. I have given up on this family. Probably gave up a long time ago. Look, I'm really sorry for kicking up such a fuss."

When Mom and Dad asked Lilly to move to Inverness, I didn't really know what to think about it. Part of me felt like she was better off staying in Japan. She had her friends there and a little semi-family of her own. We'd stay in contact regardless. If she'd really move to Inverness, I'd still get to hang out with her, but I didn't think she'd really get that close with our parents.

When Dad got hospitalized, the various confrontations between us reached a point where I feared that the two halves that made up our family were in danger of falling apart themselves and I hated the fact that I couldn't reliably support Lilly on this particular issue. So eventually, I turned to Hanako who was the closest thing Lilly had to a sister aside from me. I'm not really sure what Hanako talked to her about - Lilly's never been willing to tell me - but the next time I saw Lilly, she seemed to have found a new sense of determination and purpose.

Things really changed after that. When I mentioned to Lilly that people at the office seemed worried about going to the States without Dad and Mom, she suggested for Mom to go and me to accompany her as Dad's representative while she stayed behind in Inverness to look after Dad in Mom's place. We ended up going with that suggestion, and Mom and I spent quite some time in each other's company, although we didn't really do any bonding. Lilly, on the other hand, really managed to make an impression on our old man while we were gone, and after we got back I couldn't help but feel that he developed a genuine soft spot for his youngest daughter. When we learned that Dad was going to be replaced as CEO of the company and Lilly made the proposal for them to come and live in Japan again and Dad seemed to be willing to give it some thought, I did what I felt I had to do - throw my support behind my sister.

"Even if you have given up on us, we haven't given up on you, Akira. Nor will we ever."

"Heh, 'we' meaning 'you', Lils? Are Mom and Dad really this eager to have their black sheep back?"

"I think you're being too hard on yourself."

I dunno about that. As far as I'm concerned, Mom and Dad always considered me a bit of a troublemaker. While other kids in the neighborhood were spoiled by their mothers, I was continuously told what was or wasn't the proper way to act. Them eventually sending me to that horrible middle school was just one more attempt to turn me into something I never was, nor ever could be. Maybe that's why I so quickly became comfortable with the situation of things coming down to me and Lilly. Between the two of us, there was always unconditional acceptance. If the four of us would 'get back together again', there's no question who'd end up eventually falling by the wayside again, like always. Maybe that's why I feel the way I feel.

"It's not myself I'm being hard on. I'm fairly comfortable with who I am even if most others aren't."

"They may be hesitant to show it, but your happiness is very important to them. In fact... While I was selfishly trying to convince you to accompany us back to Japan, Mother and Father felt that maybe it was a good idea to give you the opportunity to find out if you could become happy in Inverness. They were thinking of your well-being when I wasn't. It was Father who told this to me."

"Heh... Dad?"

"He also told me he could never dislike you... because you remind him so much of Mother."

"A couple of months ago, I would have insisted he'd take a drug test for that saying kind of thing."

Lilly giggles.

"I agree with him. You two really do seem to have a lot in common. I think... it made it easier for me - to reconnect with her."

"Don't remind me, please."

It's probably not Lilly's intention, but her words give me an unpleasant feeling in the pit of my stomach, just like seeing Mom's interaction with her tends to do. At first, I believed Mom somehow thought that imitating my way of interacting with Lilly was some quick and easy way to bond with her. I was quite insulted by the idea of such a cheap trick actually working. It wasn't until I spent some more time at head office, where Mom and Dad were frequently brought up, that I started second-guessing my initial impression.

"I... um... t-think it's actually t-true as well."

I smirk slightly as Hanako jumps in for the first time since we sat down here.

"You wannna know something funny? I hear this all the time at work. Just about every time I have a bit of fun with a colleague, I hear stuff like 'That's your Mom talking'. It's actually starting to get on my nerves a bit, being compared to her all the time."

Lilly smiles.

"I think they're complimenting you. Mother was greatly respected at work, wasn't she?"

"Mom and Dad both - from what I've been able to tell so far. Dad was considered the brains of the operation. Very sharp business instincts and a knack for playing the long game, but also a bit distant and... heh... a bit repressed. Mom was more considered the heart of the business. She had the reputation of being sociable and easy to approach. She'd usually be the one to smooth over misunderstandings between the staff and either Dad or people from the Japanese branch, and she also acted as confidant for people on the workfloor. Heh, over the last few months people have been randomly walking up to me - probably under the assumption that I am her successor or something..."

"This is merely conjecture on my part, but I believe you and Mother will probably get along very well with one another once you manage to work out your... differences."

"Don't misinterpret my words, Lils. Just because she could earn my respect as a colleague doesn't mean I could respect her as a person, and without personal respect it would be really hard to get along, don't you think?"

"That's... pretty harsh..."

"Don't you wonder about it then?"

"Wonder about what?"

"Mom used to be so different. She was pretty much the ideal housewife from a traditional male perspective. Quiet, elegant - but also a bit of a doormat. I mean... When Dad summoned her to Scotland, I wasn't even that surprised she went along with it without putting up a fight. She almost always deferred to Dad. For some time, I simply saw her as just another victim. But that's kind of hard to believe now. If this proper lady thing was really an act, put on to 'set the good example' or whatever lame excuse Dad gave, why didn't she tell him to stick that summoning where the sun don't shine? Unless, of course, she really did want to get away from us."

"I don't really have an answer to that. Except we don't really know what went on between them. Maybe there was a confrontation, and we simply don't know about it. Maybe we'll find out some day. "

"I don't really get it, Lils. Is it really that easy for you to forgive them like that? Are you a saint, or am I simply dead inside?"

Lilly giggles at that.

"I think neither. Can I say something that will remain within these walls?"

"My lips are sealed."

"M-Mine too."

"The truth is that... I haven't forgiven them myself yet either. But... I'd still like them to be part of my life in the meantime while I deal with that. I don't think I can go back to the way things were, because I perceive them in a different light now. Perhaps less as infallible authority figures and more simply as ordinary people, just like you and me - with both qualities and flaws. This makes it easier to appreciate their qualities and overlook their shortcomings. I'd like to give them a second chance to prove themselves. Deep down I feel that Mother and Father genuinely care about us and about our well-being. I want to try and have faith in them. I can't really explain it myself. Call it female intuition."

Faith, huh?

"Hmmph, I wonder why I don't have any of that 'female intuition' of yours..."
11
"Hmmm..."

Lilly raises her hand to her mouth in order to hide a playful grin, and I realize that I just set myself up for the world's easiest punchline.

"If any of you dare suggest that it's because I'm not feminine enough, you'll either be walking back to our parents' place or sleeping at the shrine. Just sayin..."

Lilly and I share a hearthy laugh with even Hanako joining in eventually. After this little moment of silliness, Lilly slowly gets up from her seat.

"Seeing that we're indeed still at a shrine, perhaps it would be a good idea to do what we came to do here. Our host is probably finishing up as we speak."

"Good point. Let's go ahead and make a wish then."

We get up, I put some coins in the nearby offering box, and Hanako walks up to the bell cord on one side of the room, ringing the shrine's bell twice. As she joins Lilly in a silent little New Year's prayer, I find myself trying to put my thoughts in order.

For all her polite approach towards our parents, Lilly has a surprisingly down-to-earth attitude towards them that took me off guard a bit. Maybe I really should back off a bit and avoid shouting at Mom and Dad on her behalf.

Is it really possible to move on without forgiving them first?

Can I have faith in them?

Do I even want to?

If I want to keep interacting with Lilly, I can't keep avoiding our parents, tempting as it seems.

I wonder what kind of future we have as a family, if any.

Making a wish for our family to fully reconciliate might be insincere on my part for now.

Maybe something more generic. I take a quick look at Lilly and Hanako and then silently nod to myself.

I wish...

I wish for everyone I've been with today to have good fortune the upcoming year...

...that includes...

...I suppose...

...Mom and Dad.

Yeah, that'll do.
12
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:35 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 48

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:12 am

Chapter 48
01
"H-Hanako..."

As beads of sweat start appearing on my forehead, and my breathing gets more frantic by the second, I whisper the name of my girlfriend in desperation. I moan as the sensation I'm feeling right now grows even more intense.
02
Not now.

Keep it together.

Deep breaths. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.

I struggle to regain control of myself. If I wasn't sitting behind my desk right now, I probably would have collapsed in a heap already.

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.

My heart's still pounding like a jackhammer, but its pace doesn't seem to be increasing beyond its already frantic rate.

Breathe in, breathe out...

I might be able to get up. If this is still going to get worse, I might as well have my episode in the hallway and hope somebody notices and gets help.

At least I'll know the face of my sudden assailant.

I struggle to get on my feet and shuffle towards the door. Just when I reach the doorknob, I feel my heart slowly calming down. I lean against the door with both hands and try to avoid panicking, concentrating on keeping my breathing steady and emptying my head of any thoughts that might cause distress.

As my heart slowly returns to its 'normal' rhythm, I turn my head around and look at my alarm clock. It's 00:30 on January the 19th right now and under normal circumstances, I would have been asleep at this time of night already. But tomorrow (technically today) will be the first day of the National Center Test for University Admissions, and just about all the subjects I'm not extremely confident about, such as English and history, are on the books this day. That's why I decided to involve myself in a last-minute late-night cramming session.

I've been doing very little else than studying over the course of the last few weeks with the occasional nap thrown in for good measure. I know that it's not a healthy schedule, but until recently I was convinced that I'd be able to hang in there without any serious issues popping up.

But then this night came along. I wasn't feeling well, but I've been reminding myself that I'll be able to take it slightly easier after this weekend. All I had to do was hang in there for a little while longer. I was studying when there was suddenly an unusually loud knock on the door that startled the hell out of me and caused my heart to skip a beat, then another beat. Just when I realized that this could spell big trouble, my heartbeat returned, only for it to accelerate... and accelerate... and accelerate.

While fighting the urge to pass out from the strain, there was interestingly only one thought on my mind.

What will happen to Hanako if I die here tonight?

Thankfully, after what felt like an hour but was probably closer to 20 seconds, my heart started slowing its dysfunctional rhythm, and I slowly started regaining my senses.

That was close.

And now I'm at the door of my room. Whoever nearly scared me to death better have a good reason.

"I was starting to think you dozed off. This is no hour to keep a bro waiting, man."

I let out a frustrated sigh.

"Damnit, Kenji..."

Of course, who else? I consider shouting at him what an idiot he's just been, but then realize I probably don't even have the strength to keep that up and would achieve little anyway aside from getting into trouble with the dorm keeper. So instead, I walk past him and into the bathroom where I soak one of the washing cloths and use it to wipe the sweat off my forehead. As the cool cloth soothes my throbbing head, the adrenaline rush from the experience back in my room makes way for an overwhelming tiredness, so I sit down on the nearby shower seat and wait for my body to get its bearings back.

"Man, you're not looking so great."

Looks like he's still completely oblivious to what just occurred. Of course, obliviousness has always been one of Kenji's strong suits. Even the stress of the upcoming test hasn't changed that. I briefly consider how this could have turned out. The last sight of my life being Kenji looking down at me. What a depressing way to go that would be.

"I think I just got uncomfortably close to keeling over and dying."

"You mean like... that thing with your heart happened again?"

Wow, I didn't expect him to actually grasp that. Maybe my first impression was wrong.

"Y-Yeah, that thing with my heart happened again. I'm kind of impressed you still remember that. The only time I mentioned that to you was nearly half a year ago."

That was after my hospitalisation, while I was trying to keep him away from Hanako and Lilly working things out in my room. Man... that feels like such a long time ago. A lot sure has changed since then.

"Of course I remember that. They operated on you and placed that tracking device inside you, right?"

And other things haven't changed in the slightest. I guess there's a reason people like to rely on their first impressions after all.

"Forget about the tracking device. Why did you have to knock so loudly? You nearly killed me just there."

"Killed you? That's not a cool thing to say, man. Not cool at all. If I really wanted to kill someone, I wouldn't start making noises and scare 'em to death. I'd do something like... drop him off a roof or something... make it look like an accident."

"Look, you startled me with that loud knock. That caused my heart to act up."

"It's gotta be something more. Maybe someone spiked your food. Do you remember it tasting funny?"

"It wasn't the food, Kenji, it was the knocking. Besides, who'd want to poison my food anyway?"

"The feminist conspiracy - or someone working for them. They're trying to keep you from graduating and getting into a university."

"Why would they want to do that?"

"Universities in Japan are still largely dominated by men. They're among the last remaining bulwarks against the feminist influence. So now the bitches are conspiring to keep as many men out of there as possible and eliminate contenders before they have the chance to make it in. One at a time. You're lucky you're still alive."

"Is that why you're studying so hard to get admitted to a university yourself?"

"Am I ever! And it looks like I got their attention. Damn, now that I think about it, they may have been after me all along. Got the meals mixed up."

"I doubt it. The person who's been making us meals over the last few days is a member of the science club. You said you personally vetted all of them. Shouldn't that clear him?"

"Oh, right. So I guess it wasn't the food. Did you pass any girls carrying umbrella's lately?"

"Why?"

"There's the old trick with the poison-tipped umbrella. You pass a chick carrying such a thing, you feel a little prick in your ankle and by the time you're keeling over, the perp is already on the other side of the country."

"It was the knocking, Kenji."

"Did you receive any letters containing some strange powder lately?"

"It was the knocking, Kenji. Why is that so hard to accept?"

"Because I knock like that all the time whenever I need a favor, man. And you've always handled it just fine."

That's kind of difficult to deny.

"You know, maybe you're right. Maybe I'm just way more out of shape than I thought."

"You don't really look in good shape, dude. Maybe... you know... you should get some sleep. You look like you need it."

I'm already kind of used to Lilly and Hanako mothering me, but if even Kenji starts telling me I need to take it easy, I must be a really sordid sight.

"...maybe I should. Tomorrow's gonna be one hell of a day. I doubt I'll get much more cramming done anyway."

I get up from the shower seat and carefully make my way back to the door to my room. Before going in, I turn to Kenji, having just remembered something.

"By the way, why did you want to see me at this hour to begin with? Was it really that important that it couldn't wait until morning?"

"Oh yeah, that's right... it was. It was about... uh..."

A new feminist plot? Breakfast money? Or something even more...

"...your science notes. I need your notes on the aerodynamics stuff. You're the science club president. You took notes on that, right?"

... mundane? Gee.

"Yeah, I'll go and get them."

Still feeling tired, but no longer as anxious, I enter my room, get the notes he asked for and walk back out.

"Here's what I have on the subject."

"You're a real pal. If I can't make it into university, I might as well keep the honor to myself and eat the feminists' fuckin' poisoned food right here and now. And uh... Sorry about the knocking, man. Didn't expect you to take it that badly."

"Thanks. I didn't expect it either, so maybe it was a wakeup call."

"I'll return them when I'm done with them."

"It's okay. I think I know what's in them anyway. You might not be able to use them though. I wrote in rather tiny letters when I took those notes. You might have trouble reading them."

"Hey, don't knock the eyes, man. They've seen things. Terrible things that you can't imagine..."

He's back in his own world again.

"Good night, Kenji."

"Like when I made a ship in a bottle and my mom sat on it..."

--------------------------------------
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:35 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 48 - cont.

Post by Guest Poster » Fri Sep 19, 2014 5:13 am

03
I'm woken up from my slumber by the sudden sound of my cell phone ringing. Still groggy, I stumble out of bed and manage to snap it open just before my voicemail would have kicked in.

"Hisao Nakai..."

"Good morning, Hicchan!"

"Wha... Misha is that you?"

"Misha? Don't you recognize the voice of your own mother anymore?"

"Sorry, Mom. I just got out of bed."

I'm now awake enough to remember that Misha and Shizune weren't even the first people to use that nickname on a regular basis. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Mom's calling me today. I was just taken off guard by how early she called. She probably wanted to make certain I wouldn't oversleep.

"I hope you weren't too nervous to sleep."

To be honest, that little episode last night did manage to rattle me, and I started wondering whether it was even a smart idea to set my alarm clock before ultimately deciding that without it I was almost guaranteed to oversleep. Now it turns out that I was never in danger of that to begin with.

"No, not really."

I turn off my alarm clock and start opening my pill bottles with my free hand. I might as well get that out of the way not that I'm awake.

"This is the day you're most nervous about, isn't it?"

"Yeah. History and languages are on the menu today. The most important subjects for me aren't up until tomorrow, but I'll still need to do fairly well on today's exams in order to keep my average up. I have some leeway due to science and math being weighed way more heavily by the faculty I'm applying for than today's subjects, but they could still drag me down if I'm not careful."

"You've been studying so hard over the last few months, I know you're going to do well."

"I really hope so."

"When do you expect to know the results?"

"We're not going to get official results, but the school's making copies of our answer sheets for us and the National Center for University Entrance Examinations is publishing the answers this evening, so that's when I'll know how I did. Same thing tomorrow. Tomorrow evening I'll be able to tell whether I have a chance to take the entrance exams for university or whether... I'll have to look for other options."

I'm really hoping it won't come to that. There are smaller universities in the area that don't look at the results of the Center Test for student admittance, but after Mutou's countless lectures about aiming high, I would be very reluctant to to apply there. Assuming I won't feel too guilty to approach him, Mutou would be a good person to discuss alternative options with in case I flunk the tests this weekend.

"Let's not think about that yet. You'll let us know once the results are in, won't you?"

"Of course."

"I'll soon be heading over to the shrine a few blocks away to get some good luck charms for you and pray for good luck. The rest is up to you, Hicchan."

"Thanks Mom."

"Well, good luck today."

"Ah, Mom?"

"Yes?"

"Could you... Get some good luck charms for Hanako too? And pray for her good fortune? She's going to need it just as badly as I do."

"I will. How has she been doing?"

"Alright... I think."

"Good luck to both of you today."

"Thanks, Mom."

Having finished my morning diet of medication, I take a quick shower and go down to the kitchen to have breakfast, taking one of my study books with me to do some last-minute cramming while I'm eating. There's been an initiative from the junior students over the last few weeks to prepare meals for the seniors so that we had more time to study. It's one more example of the close community that this school is, and I for one am really thankful for it. After finishing breakfast, I pack up my things and head for the girls' dorm.

The girls' dorm's common room is really crowded right now. I see several 3rd years sitting at the tables, eating breakfast with one hand while leafing through a book with the other. I recognize Natsume and Naomi at one table, both studying intensely and catch Naomi letting out a pronounced yawn. She sure looks like she's seen better days though she'd probably say the same of me if she heard me say this. I also see Misaki from my class swapping notes with another girl whose name I can't remember. In one of the corners of the room sits Shizune, her back partially turned to the rest, calmly flipping through the pages of one of her books. Two girls whom I remember being in Lilly's class head towards the exit, and I quickly step aside to let them pass. The common room's probably way too crowded for Hanako to be here, so I head for her room, hoping she hasn't already left. As I enter the hallway leading to Hanako's and Lilly's room, I notice Lilly standing there talking to one of the teachers. I approach them and give the teacher a polite bow.

"Good morning, Lilly. Good morning, Miss Miyagi."

"Oh, hello Hisao. How are you? Are you feeling up for today?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, Lilly. I'll be happy when this day is over, but I haven't counted myself out yet."

Our English teacher raises an eyebrow at my optimistic description of my own condition, but thankfully doesn't say anything. I've already decided that I'm not going to let Lilly (or Hanako) in on what happened in my room last night. The last thing I want is for one of them to have a flashback to what happened with Mister Satou. It's funny, but I think I'm starting to understand how he must have felt; slowly feeling your limits approaching, but also realizing that the stakes are currently too high to quit or slow down. You don't hold back and save your strength in sight of the finish line. You go all out.

Lilly smiles.

"Miss Miyagi has been going around this morning giving pep talks to the girls who are about to participate in the test. Maybe she can give you one as well."

Lilly's homeroom teacher gives me a look-over.

"You're Mutou's star pupil. You'd better make it through this weekend, or you're going to break his heart."

"That's not the most uplifting pep talk I've ever had."

"What tests are you taking today?"

"Ethics, Japanese History, Japanese Literature and English. History's going to be a bit rough, but it's the last one I'm most worried about."

"Just focus on one subject at a time without worrying about the rest and try not to spend too much time on one question. Since all your most important subjects won't be tested until tomorrow, just try to do the best you can and save your strength for the subjects that give you the most points, namely literature and English. There'll be an English listening test at the very end, but the written test is the one you should try to do as best as you can in since it carries a lot more weight."

"I'll do my best. How about your star pupil?"

Miss Miyagi gives Lilly a confident nod.

"I think I can safely stake my job on her acing the English test today. Many students have been dreading the listening part of the test ever since it was introduced two years ago, but someone who was both raised bilingually and is used to paying close attention to audio cues should have no problem achieving a perfect or near-perfect score there."

Lilly smiles humbly.

"I'll do my best to live up to your expectations. English will be the easy part today. I'll still have Contempory Social Studies, World History and Japanese Literature to deal with first. And there's... tomorrow."

"You've been studying pretty hard over the course of the last two months. It should be sufficient. Just concentrate on doing well on the subjects that carry the largest amount of weight for your university application."

"I'll do my best."

"Why are there teachers in the dorms, by the way? I noticed Mister Hoshino walking around the guys' dorm this morning as well."

"We're essentially doing a head count. Making sure there are no students who are set to take the tests today who accidentally oversleep."

"The school really seems to be going out of its way to help its students make it through examination hell."

"In the end the actual studying is still in your hands, but yes, we do try to accommodate you as much as we can. That's also why you're allowed to take the tests here on the school grounds instead of having to travel to the nearest university to take part in the examinations. Normally, only the larger high schools would be granted this privilege. You can thank us for our efforts on your behalf by doing well on your test this weekend."

"Have you already seen Hanako this morning? I came here looking for her."

"Not yet. I was about to go and check on her."

Lilly takes this moment to speak up.

"I believe I have heard her early this morning. She probably went to get some breakfast, though she's been eating in her room - as usual lately."

I must admit I'm still a bit worried about her. From what Lilly has told me Hanako only leaves her room these days to attend the supplementary lessons the school made her take. She eats and studies in her room with the door locked. At least, I hope she's been able to study."
Lilly's homeroom teacher walks up to the door leading to Hanako's room and gives a few gentle raps on it.

"Ikezawa? This is Miyagi."

There's no immediate response, but just as the teacher raises her hand to knock again, the door opens just a bit, and I can see Hanako peering at us from inside the room.

"Ikezawa, it's about time for everyone to head for the gymnasium. Are you ready to go?"

Hanako opens the door further and gives a nervous nod. She takes her bag and then walks out, closing the door behind her.

"Hey Hanako."

"Good morning, Hanako. Let's both do our best today."

"H-Hey."

"Good morning, Ikezawa. What subjects will you be taking today?"

"Umm...P-Politics and Economy, J-Japanese History, Japanese Literature and ah... English."

"And you have studied hard for them, haven't you?"

A silent nod.

"All the teachers here know that your mock exam results weren't an accurate representation of what you're really capable of, so please do your best to prove us right today."

"I'll t-try."

"What study are you aiming for?"

"J-Journalism and Media."

"Then those first two tests will probably be critical. Do your best."

"Y-Yes."

"The three of you should go now. My colleagues have probably unlocked the gym already. Also..."
04
"TEACHER!"

We turn around, and I notice one of the girls from our class running up to us.

"We're not supposed to be running in the hallways, Komaki."

"Sorry, but... in the common room... Inoue."
05
We hear our teacher softly curse under her breath, causing Lilly to cringe, before she takes off and runs down the hallway with Hanako following close behind her.

"This doesn't sound good."

We make our way down the stairs to the common room as fast as Lilly's navigation skill allows us, but by the time we arrive it's already so crowded in there that I can see neither Hanako nor the teacher. Even though I can't see Miss Miyagi in the crowd, I can certain hear her.

"Damnit, can you give us some room already?"

"Suzuki, hand me that pillow over there please!"

"Miura, go and get a nurse to help out. Wait, get two of them! Tell them to bring a stretcher too!"

"Get the chairs away from here. Put them in the hallway!"

"Look, this isn't working. No more spectators! Everyone who's taking the test, go to the gymnasium at once. Everybody else, go to your room! Come on! Today, please!"

At this point, the crowd starts to disperse, and as the common room starts emptying I finally start taking in the scene before me.

Naomi's lying on the floor of the common room, her limbs thrashing about as if she's being electrocuted. One of the tables and several chairs are scattered about. Miss Miyagi is kneeling by Naomi's side, holding a pillow under her head and trying to prevent her from hurting herself. I've seen Naomi have fits before, but the sight of them still never fails to make me feel freaked out.

Now that the bystanders are all gone, the only people in the room besides Naomi and Miyagi are Lilly, Hanako, Natsume and myself. Hanako and Natsume are both holding their hand in front of their mouth to partially mask their expression, but the look in their eyes is all too telling.

They both look crushed. I think they both realize the implication of this event. We all do.

"I really don't think the four of you should still be hanging around here. The nursing staff will probably be here any second now, and they'll take over from me. There's nothing you can do for Inoue right now."

Natsume nods sullenly, and when she speaks up her voice sounds like it's about to break.

"M-Maybe not right now, but... I think that... someone should stay by her side. When she wakes up and she... she realizes what happened..."

"I hope you're not talking about yourself. I could give Takawa a call. She can probably handle it."

"Natsume?"

We turn around and see a frail-looking girl standing in the doorway whom I recognize as Hanako's and Naomi's friend from the writing club.

"Jun!"

"I... ah... probably won't do as good a job at this as you would, but I'll stay here with Naomi. You and Hanako should get going and pass your tests."

Natsume and Hanako exchange a short glance and then simultanously nod their head.

"Thank you Jun. That's really kind of you. We'll leave Naomi in your care then."

With that issue taken care of we quickly leave the dorm building and head towards the gymnasium. As we pass the main school building, Natsume lets out a depressed sigh.

"She was so looking forward to graduation too. I really wonder how she's going to take this. Even though she's been a little careless lately, she didn't deserve having the rug pulled out from under her in a way like this."

Lilly's ears perk up.

"I'm sorry, but... did you say she was careless? This didn't come completely by surprise?"

Natsume thinks for a moment and then shrugs as if to say 'why not?'

"Naomi can't really do much to prevent her episodes completely, but whether they occur occasionally or all the time depends a little bit on her lifestyle, which hasn't been very healthy lately."

"Are you saying that she overstepped her own boundaries?"

"Stress and sleep deprivation are things that make her more vulnerable to seizures. Her episodes have been increasing in frequency lately, and over the last week she was down to one every 48 hours or so. I was really afraid that she was going to damage her brain if she kept going like this. She was caught up in this downward spiral that only seemed to get worse."

"What do you mean?"

"The more seizures she went through, the more stressed she became, and the more time she spent cramming in an attempt to make up for all the time all those fits were costing her."

"What a horrible situation to be in."

"I was really hoping she'd be able to hold out until the end of the weekend. She kept telling me that she'd take it easier for a bit after tomorrow."

Ugh.

"Please give her my regards when you speak to her."

"Thanks, Satou."

"H-Hisao, are you... alright? You look a bit pale."

"I'm okay, Hanako. Just a little upset about what just happened and more than a little nervous about the tests today. I'll be fine. As long as I can struggle my way through history and English, that is."

When we reach the entrance to the gym, we can see that a lot of people have already gathered there. I even see Yuuko hanging around near the entrance. Is she taking the Center Test too? Several groups of students, especially the females, are speaking to each other in hushed tones. It's not difficult to guess the subject of their current conversation. Rather than join one of the groups, Natsume secludes herself some distance away from the rest. She's probably not fond of the idea of people approaching her about Naomi right now. Before we can decide on whether to join her or not, I see Hanako pointing something out, and a moment later I see Lilly's homeroom teacher approaching.

As she reaches the place where we're gathered and several female students walk up to her, Miss Miyagi loudly claps her hands a few times in order to get everyone's attention.

"Alright, listen up everyone! We're all a little shaken by what happened to Inoue this morning, but the situation is under control, the nurses are looking after her, and we'll be talking to the National Center of University Entrance Examinations to work out a solution to this later today! So put this issue to rest and focus on your exams! I'll be acting as one of the proctors throughout the day, and if you're in my class and need my assistence with anything sight-related, but not question related, just silently raise your hand and I'll be right with you. There's a representative of the National Center keeping an eye on things as well today, so there's not a lot of room for leniency. Good luck everyone and go and give this your all!"

Almost as an indicator that she's finished, Miyagi pulls out a cigarette and lights it. The first students start pouring into the gym and Lilly, having smelt the smoke, approaches her mentor with a slightly uncomfortable expression and gets a sigh and semi-guilty look in return.

"Borrowed these from the dormkeeper's office just before I left. I really felt I needed one. And to think I was going to give up smoking for real this year."

Natsume approaches Miyagi with a wary expression.

"Teacher, what solution could possibly be worked out? Regulations on tardiness and absence are extremely strict for this test and there's no chance for retakes. Are there loopholes we don't know about?"

Miyagi gives a tired sigh while dropping her cigarette on the floor and putting it out with her heel.

"What else was I supposed to say? I don't want this lingering in the back of everybody's head all day long."

Both Natsume's and Hanako's face drops upon hearing this news. Miyagi looks a little bit uncertain, but then puts one hand on each of the girls shoulders and gives them both a tiny squeeze.
06
"You two need to shape up! It's more important than ever that the two of you do well today. Seeing that you are both good friends of hers, how do you think Inoue will feel if this little incident ends up costing both of you your chance to make it into your university of choice?"

That strategy has an extremely familiar ring to it. It's the same approach Miss Takawa used on Lilly and me. I wonder if this kind of guilt-tripping is the standard approach among school staff. Nevertheless, I can tell that Miyagi's words get through to Natsume and Hanako.

"Inoue is going to feel really bad about this, but if I know her a little bit I don't think it's going to keep her down for long. She'll be set on throwing you two a celebration party in the upcoming spring, so make sure not to deny her that opportunity."

With that, Miss Miyagi enters the gym. Natsume and Hanako exchange a confused look, but then I see something dawn on their faces. Suddenly, Natsume sticks out her hand at Hanako.

"I think Miss Miyagi's right. Naomi will probably be cheering on us, so let's not let her down. Let's do this, Hanako!"

Hanako gives the most determined nod I've seen for months and puts her hand on top of Natsume's as if to reinforce this pact.

"Let's k-keep this burden off Naomi's shoulders, Natsume. Let's make her p-proud of us."

"Right!"

"Right."

The two give a defiant nod and then follow the rest of the students into the gymnasium. I turn to Lilly who now has an admiring smile on her face.

"Hanako was looking really determined just now. It pains me to say this, but maybe this was just what she needed."

I've seen this kind of look on Hanako's face before. It's that look of intense concentration she sometimes puts on during a game she's determined to win. And she often wins when that happens. I really believe she's going to give it everything she has today.

"We can't do any less, Hisao. Let's do our best today as well."

And with that, we walk into the gym ourselves and take our place in our designated spots. When the proctor gives the signal to begin, the only thing on my mind is getting a good score today.

But nevertheless, during the break between the Japanese History exam and Japanese Literature test, my thoughts briefly return to the sight of Naomi convulsing on the floor of the common room. I didn't tell Hanako and Lilly, but what happened to Naomi hit really close to home for me this morning.

It could have been me.

Naomi's situation sounded eerily similar to my own. It probably was.

It could have been me.

I could have had an episode less than 12 hours later, and I would have lost an entire year. In just a single moment, all the studying I've done over the last few months would have been rendered meaningless. I make a sincere vow not to let this happen to me.

Tomorrow is primarily science and math. I'm pretty good at both of them. I've been studying on them for weeks.

Maybe I really should be going to bed early tonight.
07
Last edited by Guest Poster on Sat Sep 20, 2014 5:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Sisterhood: True Edition. Hanako epilogue I wrote. Now expanded with additional chapters.

Post Reply