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Sisterhood: True Edition (Hanako Epilogue) (Completed)
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:33 am
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:33 am
This is an epilogue story for Hanako's route, starting a few days after her good ending. While Hanako is, for the most part, the central character in the story, the point of view alternates between her, Hisao and Lilly. (most of the time) This story contains some sexual content here and there.
Two years ago, on July the 12th 2012, I posted the initial version of this story on the forum. Given the abundance of Hanako epilogues on the net, I didn't think mine would have created that big a stir, and I was (and still am) pleasantly surprised by how well-received it turned out to be. Several readers asked me if I was ever planning on writing more and/or continuing the story. My answer was that I wasn't sure yet, but if
I'd do some more writing, it would probably be a continuation of what was already written. That's because although the original 18 chapters tied up the story nicely and neatly, I still had plenty of ideas and thoughts about how things would continue. As a result, the story continued in the back of my mind, and as it slowly started taking shape, I decided to start writing it down in an attempt to get it out of my head.
Well, the story's finally out of my head now and I'm happy to say that no further ideas for a continuation are left in there. The story in this thread can be considered the final version of the tale I wanted to tell. I have no further plans to do any more work on it.
The final product turned out to be quite large. It's probably among the largest fanfics posted on the forum. If this is your first time reading the story and you wonder whether it's worth reading a fanfic of this size, go ahead and read up to the end of chapter 17. It wraps up the existing plot threads quite nicely and still gives a better sense of closure than the end of Hanako's route in Katawa Shoujo did for many. If you're eager for more afterwards, go ahead and read the rest. If you recently read the original 18 chapters and the story is still fresh in your mind, go ahead and start with chapter 17 alt. If it's been some time since you last read the story, go ahead and start at the beginning. The original chapters have been finetuned during the proofreading process as well, so the thoughts-in-parenthesis issue and the jumping tenses that were seen in the first incarnation are gone now too.
If you enjoy listening to Katawa Shoujo's soundtrack while reading, be sure to check out my post about music cues below.
EDIT: If you prefer reading on a tablet or eBook reader, check out the eBook version
of it, courtesy of KsFanfic. (version with music cues is here
Have fun and please enjoy the True Edition of Sisterhood.
Table of contents
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:34 am
A word about music cues
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:34 am
A note on music cues:
It has come to my attention that there are people among the Katawa Shoujo fanbase who enjoy listening to the game's soundtrack while they're reading. If you're not one of those people, feel free to skip this entire post and dive straight into the story. If you are, keep reading.
I can see where people who listen to music while reading through a story are coming from. Music is a great way to add to the mood and Katawa Shoujo has a nice variety of different songs for different situations. After I posted the first 18 chapters of Sisterhood, some people asked me for a list of music cues. In other words: a list telling readers what songs to play during which scenes. I remember posting such a list in the other thread, but there was one problem with it: it was filled with spoilers. That made it difficult to use during your first read-through.
Sisterhood isn't the first fanfic where the author has implemented music cues. Several members have given it a try, either by simply listing the name of the song in the text itself or by adding links to songs on YouTube. The problem of these approaches is still that opening (and later closing) a YouTube page or opening an MP3 file on your computer involves actions that drag you out of the story. With Sisterhood, I'm trying for a less intrusive approach by using a small application I've developed that allows you to load a pre-made song list and then switch from one song to the next with one click of the button. I've attached the zip-file containing the application to this post.
In order to set up the program, you'll need to take five simple steps:
- Download the application by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.
- 2) Download the Katawa Shoujo soundtrack from the game's website (http://www.katawa-shoujo.com/download.php) if you don't have it yet.
- 3) Run the program.
- 4) The first time you run it, it'll ask you to specify the folder where you copied the soundtrack files to. Select the folder and click OK.
- 5) Press Ctrl-O or click "Open List" from the File menu and open the file Sisterhood.txt which is located in the same folder as the program itself.
Below is a quick overview of the application:
Play/Stop button: Click here to start playing the currently selected song. Click again to stop it.
Next button: The only button you'll be clicking most of the time. It jumps to the next song in the playlist.
Reset button: Rewinds all the way back to the start of the playlist. For when you want to start over.
Chapter controls: Allows you to manually jump to a certain chapter.
Song controls: Allows you to manually jump to a certain song in the current chapter.
Always on top: If this box is checked, the application remains visible on top of all other applications. You'll probably want to keep this turned on and then move the window to one corner of your screen.
Soundtrack location: Shows where the soundtrack files are currently located.
Load list on startup: If this is checked, the application remembers the last list that was active and also your current position in the list, so you can jump right back in at the point you left off.
Auto-play list: Automatically starts playing a song list upon loading it. This also causes the application to immediately start playing the current song upon startup.
Open List: Opens a new song list. If the song list you're trying to open isn't formatted correctly, you'll get an error.
Select MP3 folder: Allows you to select another folder from which to load the soundtrack songs.
Exit: Close the application. Depending on your settings, the program will remember your current location in the playlist and immediately start where you left off the next time you run the program.
Simple View: Contains just the start/stop-button and the next-button and takes up as little space as possible. You'll probably want to use this while reading through the story.
Normal View: In addition to the playing the current song or skipping to the next one, the normal view allows you to also jump back to the start of the current playlist or jump to a specific chapter/song in the list.
Option View: Allows you to calibrate a few settings. You probably won't need to do this more than once.
While reading through the story, you'll occasionally come across small black spoiler boxes as shown below:
According to the nurse, running is pretty much a daily ritual for Emi.
"Hey there! It's been forever since I've seen you here."
These black markers indicate that you need to jump to the next song in the list. Whenever you come across this marker, click the "next" button. That's all.
It's possible that the music simply stops after you press the "next" button. Most likely, the music list simply contains a silence at that point. If there's still no music after consecutive clicks on the "next" button, I suggest quitting and restarting the application.
There are three more things I want to get across.
I will not be supplying technical support for this program. If it works, great. If it doesn't (I doubt it'll run on anything other than Windows), I'm sorry, but you're out of luck.
If you disagree with my musical selection, you're free to change it. There's no account for tastes after all. You can even add additional songs to the list by editing the Songlist.txt file. Just add a number, followed by a colon, followed by the filename. You can also edit the playlist. The format of the playlist follows a few very simple rules:
- The first line is reserved for the title.
- All the lines underneath contain the chapter name, followed by two colons, followed by the numbers of the songs to be played, separated by commas. The end of each line must be marked by a semicolon. Number 0 means silence and a minus sign in front of a number plays that song only once.
No feature requests. This is kind of a rule on this forum anyway, but I'm done with this application. It fits my purposes. I won't be doing any more work on it.
That's all. Have a nice read.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:34 am
It has been a little over a week since Akira and I arrived at our parents' home, and although the official reason for coming over was seeing (or perhaps seeing off, though her situation miraculously stabilized shortly before our arrival) Mother's ailing sister, our whole time here has felt more like a vacation. I have spent most of our time here sitting in the backyard reading the books I brought along and occasionally chatting with Akira.
After finishing the remainders of breakfast that were left in the kitchen for me (Mother and Father appear to be early risers; I wonder what side of the family I take after), I navigate my way to the yard hoping for an opportunity to catch a few rays. As I step outside, I'm greeted by the familiar sound of a sharp snap followed by the short hiss of a beer can being opened. I turn my head towards the source of the sound and do my best to appear as disapproving as I can.
"Akira, do you really think it's a wise idea to be drinking this early? How can you think of drinking alcohol before we've even had lunch?"
"Hey, unlike you I've been up and about for four hours already. Besides, I have a reason to celebrate. Check out what I got this morning."
As I hold out my hand, my sister passes me a rectangular piece of paper that has a familiar size. I remember having held a similar piece not too long ago.
"A plane ticket! So you have finished making arrangements for our trip back to Japan?"
"Not just that. I managed to convince the old man to let us fly business class! We'll be travelling back in STYLE, BABY!!!"
I wince a little at my sister's overly enthusiastic announcement, but manage to compose myself and smile.
"Fitting accommodations for your new position in the legal affairs department at head office, are they not?"
The playful retort I was expecting doesn't come. Uncomfortable silences aren't exactly common around Akira. Did I misjudge her yesterday evening?
"Why don't we have a little walk, Sis? A little stroll by the bay shore'll do you good."
The area near the bay shore where we're taking a break is pleasant to be sure, but the atmosphere remains somewhat heavy. As I am still determining the best way to bring up the obvious subject, my sister turns to me.
"Be honest, Lils. You think my decision was made a little too hastily, don't ya? It's written all over your face."
I sigh. I didn't really think it was my place to tell Akira what to do with her life, especially not after she sacrificed the latter part of her youth to look after me. But when Father told her that a position had opened up at the corporate headquarters here in Inverness, she accepted the job in seconds. And within a week, she'll be back in Japan breaking up a relationship that she seemed happy with before.
"I don't think I can deny you've made your choice extremely quickly. For how long have you been dating…"
"I've been making quick decisions since I started working, Sis. I went with my gut instinct there, but I've been sleeping on it and I think I managed to work out why my gut told me to do what I did."
I hear a whoosh from my sister's direction, followed by several short splashes in the distance.
Is she skipping rocks?
"You know, there's a part of this whole deal that I don't like…at all. But I've made a clear choice on what to do with my life years ago and this seems like the best road to take."
I nod silently. She may not seem like it at first impression, but Akira's pretty ambitious. And there are still several rungs of the corporate ladder left that she wants to climb.
"This might seem a tad weird to you, but in a way I'm securing my future stability. You can't get any higher than head office. So if I find someone else and settle down here, future promotions ain't gonna force me to move anymore. I can get where I wanna go and secure my financial future right here." She chuckles shortly. "Better to get this step behind me before my good looks start fading."
"Not everybody makes a big deal out of looks."
We both get a good laugh out of that. I suddenly feel how she takes my hand and pushes a small flat rock into it before turning me around.
"Here, give it a try."
"Anyway, if I ever have any kids of my own, this will at least mean I can work my way to the top without having to leave them behind in another country. And they definitely seem more open to part-time employment than the management in Japan. Must be a cultural thing."
Akira suddenly sounds very bitter. I cringe a bit at her sudden change of tone. I've never really felt comfortable when she vented about our parents, but I've never denied her a chance to do so, even though my own feelings are more nuanced.
"Of course, the old man didn't exactly hide the fact he pulled some strings to help me get this job, so I think we both know what'll be expected of me in return for taking it."
"Wh-what would that be?"
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"I'll be expected to stop giving him a hard time about leaving us to fend for ourselves. He'll have paid me back, so all's fine and dandy again. Like every person has his price."
I want to deny it, but I too have the impression Mother and Father are trying to make up for their sudden migration six years ago. A migration that Akira always interpreted as an escape. An escape from us…from me.
Splash - splash - splash
"W-wouldn't it be good to have them try and make amends, even if it's a little late? We're still a family after all."
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"It might have been good if I had been in a position to accept or decline."
"Whaddayathink? Word of my recommendation already spread around. You really think my job won't hit a dead end if I decline? You think anyone at home would give a promotion opportunity to someone who declined a recommendation from head office? I was extremely lucky to get as far as I already got, but I only have to push things once and it'll be over. Me declining the offer I got would be just the excuse they'd need."
That was probably more than just a pebble she just threw.
"I could start at the bottom rung of the ladder at another company, but chances are pretty high I'd get stuck there permanently. Assuming they'd want to hire me."
"All things considered, this new position is something I probably wouldn't have turned down anyway, but it would have been nice if the choice would have felt more like my own. Now it has a bitter aftertaste I'm still trying to get out of my mouth."
I didn't see it like that before. I want to say it is just paranoia on her part, but I know I'm not going to win that discussion. Akira has been in the business long enough to get a feel for the unwritten rules of the place. I don't really have any reason to doubt her assessment of her own situation.
"This is why I hate the notion of office politics. I cannot even begin to imagine how I would feel in that kind of situation."
I stifle a cry as Akira gives me a cheerful slap on the back.
"Probably like a goldfish in a shark tank. Stick with your own dream, Lils. You'll thank yourself later."
Splash - splash - splash
"Is this what you'll be telling your boyfriend as well?"
"Something like that. He knows I want to work my way up. If I give it all up for his sake, I'll probably end up resenting him over it, even if the decision was completely my own. No relationship can survive with that kinda baggage. I think he'll understand. I hope he'll understand. Anyway, let's start walking back."
"D-Did you really consider all these things during the few seconds between when Father asked you and you accepted?"
"Like I said, it was a gut feeling. It took me a whole night of mulling to figure out the specifics."
I am impressed. Akira wasn't the only one who was asked to move from Japan to Scotland. I too have been asked to move back in with our parents. But where she accepted almost immediately, I have been trying to avoid even thinking about the choice that has been offered to me. Akira trusts her instincts blindly. I'm not quite as confident in my gut feelings and tend to mull over things longer than I should.
"You know, there's one thing that kinda bothers me about my decision. And that concerns you."
Splash - splash - splash - splash
"You wanna be an English teacher and I think you'd be a mighty good one. The nice thing about a teaching gig is that you don't have to worry about promotions as long as you can get the job to begin with."
"I am not certain what you are getting at."
"So I'm guessing the decision you're gonna make is eventually gonna come down to the people who'll be affected by your choice. But since I made my own decision right in front of you, I probably influenced your choice already and that felt kinda wrong. I probably could've shut up and let you figure out what to do for yourself."
"I do have my family over here. And your decision would have mattered to me."
"True, you got our little family over here, but you got your little family over there too, right?" She chuckled. "And I'm not referring to that competitive cousin of ours with whom you get along so well."
I sigh. Akira is correct, unfortunately. When Mother and Father told me they liked me to move to Scotland and live with them again, Hanako and Hisao were the first thought that came to my mind. We were almost our own little family, the three of us - at least that is how I feel. And right now I am very worried about how they are doing.
"Hisao called last week to tell me Hanako had withdrawn within herself. Just like last year. He's been showing interest in her lately, but I'm not certain if it's the kind of interest she would appreciate. All in all, I've been worried."
"Hey, how badly could they screw up in the short time we've been here? You're probably worrying about nothing."
"You're probably right."
Suddenly, something smooth is pushed into my hand. I recognize the feeling of a cell phone.
"If you wanna ease your mind, why not contact them? I've got the tickets, which means you've got an official excuse"
I smile appreciatively at Akira as I dial Hanako's number. Just hearing her voice would probably ease my worries. I feel a bit guilty for not having called earlier, but I know from before that Hanako would have been unlikely to respond during her birthday depression.
Hanako's voice sounds very far away, but the reception isn't all that bad.
Hanako sounds delighted to hear from me. That's good. It means she must have bounced back from last week sooner than expected.
"It is good to hear from you, Hanako. How are you doing right now? And how is Hisao?"
"W-we're doing very well. And how are you doing, Lilly? D-Do you have any idea when you'll be heading back?"
It takes me a moment to place Hanako's tone. While I've known Hanako for about a year and have been around during her good moods, this is the first time in a long while she's sounding outright cheerful.
"We'll be returning to Japan near the end of the week. Akira will be dropping me off, so I'm hoping the two of you will be welcoming us at the gate."
"S-Sure, we'll be there."
"Hanako, you sound like you're in an unusually good mood right now."
"Ummm…Lilly, there's something I have to tell you when you get back."
I have no doubt that whatever she wants to tell me is responsible for the good mood she's currently in, and I'm not looking forward to spending several more days wondering what it might be, so I decide to press the issue a bit.
"Hanako, did something good happen to you?"
"I…I can't tell you yet. I promised to keep it a secret until we could tell you in person."
"Hmmm…would you be willing to elaborate on who 'we' might be?"
"Ah…no, I mean….I meant to say 'I could tell you in person' "
"Hanako, do you mind if I make a few guesses?"
By the time Akira and I arrive at the driveway of our parents' mansion, we're both wearing a huge smile on our face. Akira chuckles lightly.
"Hah, I still can't believe she got herself a boyfriend. Who would have known? Didn't think she had it in her."
"I think it's very sweet. They have so much in common. I am sure they'll be a very nice couple."
As we enter the mansion through the patio doors, Akira turns around and gives me a playful poke in the ribs.
"How about I go down to the cellar and fetch us something to celebrate? Wanna open up a little bottle of champagne and perform a toast?"
I smile at my sibling and nod playfully.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:35 am
I let out a loud yawn as I approach the running track wearing my gym shorts. It has been a while since I wore them as I am still exempted from P.E. classes, and that running session during my first week was also the last time I made an active attempt to improve my health. Even then, it was mostly a desire to get the head nurse off my back that drove me to the running track. Today will be the first day I am here of my own free will.
Two days ago, Hanako and I met in the park in an attempt to salvage our friendship, which had taken a turn for the extremely awkward after we spent the night with each other the evening before. If anything, our mutual confession highlighted just how riddled with misunderstandings and false assumptions our friendship had been up to that point, and clearing those up was a painful process for both of us. But it was also this very process that allowed the two of us to make a fresh start as boyfriend and girlfriend who made a promise of mutual support to each other.
My new relationship with Hanako is also the reason I approached the nurse yesterday with a request for a training schedule. A week ago, I would have seen a heart flutter as something that was nobody's problem but my own, but now that I have a girlfriend I feel a newfound responsibility to stay in shape. The nurse had been quick to draw, in addition to his own conclusions about my motivations, a training regimen for me to follow.
As I reach the track, I see a familiar girl sitting on the bleachers. As I approach, she looks up, gives me a wave and a smile and then continues adjusting the prosthetic running blades attached to the stumps just below her knees. I remember running with her on the track before, during my first week here. But since she's not in my class and I have spent most of my free time in the library, the tea room or my dorm, we haven't really talked much since then. I guess if my determination to get in shape holds out, we'll get to know each other better soon enough. According to the nurse, running is pretty much a daily ritual for Emi.
"Hey there! It's been forever since I've seen you here."
"Yeah, I've been making some early New Year resolutions and decided to make a serious attempt to get into shape."
Emi gets up from the bleachers and bounces up and down on her leg blades a few times to test their stability.
"Nurse told me about your visit yesterday. He asked me to keep an eye on you, just in case something happens."
She looks at me quizzically.
"What exactly was he talking about?"
I take a moment to consider how to reply. When I first started attending here, I felt like my arrhythmia was none of other people's business, but over time I've slowly gotten more comfortable with it, and at this point a few of my classmates know about it. It is probably best to give Emi a run-down of the situation, just in case something does happen.
"I'm at this school because I have a heart condition, so for me shaping up is more about avoiding sudden death than it is about avoiding weight gain. Until recently, I just walked some short distances every now and then, but I recently picked up dating, so I have an additional reason to improve my health and stay in shape. I'd hate to leave a grieving girlfriend behind."
Emi responds with a smile, but suddenly makes wide eyes and mouths a soundless "ahah" as if she just had a revelation of some kind.
"Ohhh, so THAT was what the nurse was talking about."
"What exactly did he tell you?"
Emi strikes a pose, puts her hands in the pockets of an imaginative coat and squeezes her eyes shut while contorting her face in a grin that is as wide as it is artificial.
"I have reason to believe young Hisao is being driven by the oldest motivation known to man."
I don't know whether to be amused by Emi's over-the-top (but still frighteningly accurate) imitation of the nurse or annoyed by the insinuation she's making.
"I don't really see what's wrong with the desire to stay alive."
Emi gives me an impish smile that indicates she really isn't buying my attempt to sidestep her remark.
"I think he was talking about sex, Hisao. You know, keeping the species going and all?"
"Whatever. Can we save the rest of the small talk for the cool down lap?"
That sounded a little bit grumpier than I intended, but Emi doesn't seem to pay it any heed and cheerfully accepts my suggestion to start the morning run.
The laps around the track actually turn out better than I expected. The last time I participated in this activity took place a week after I was released from the hospital, and my physical condition was outright pathetic. Nowadays, my condition is sufficient to allow me to walk from town back to school without feeling like an old man afterwards. Though I recently discovered it still wasn't good enough.
I wonder how Emi and the nurse would react if they knew their teasing had an element of truth in it. Getting healthy enough to have sex wasn't the only reason behind my resolve to start working out, but the brief hiccup my heart experienced during the night Hanako and I slept together was enough to scare us both for a moment, and my condition hanging over our newly formed relationship like a dark cloud was something I wanted to avoid at all costs.
Emi politely waited for me at the finish line, and now we are casually doing our cool down lap. She doesn't waste any time bringing up a subject to talk about.
"So, Hisao…are the rumors I've heard true?"
"What rumors would that be?"
"Don't tell me you don't know. I don't keep up with gossip much, and even I have heard about it."
I sigh. Of course I knew. After Hanako and I bared our souls to one another in the park and we were walking through town to get something to drink, Hanako gave me what she called her first gift to me: a sweet kiss on the lips that marked the official start of our relationship. But it turned out that our little public display of affection had been spotted by some fellow students, and a day later the rumor mill was working overtime spreading the news throughout the hallways of Yamaku.
"What have you heard?"
"About Hanako Ikezawa… kissing someone in the middle of the street… a transfer student."
"Guilty as charged. Is that enough for you?"
Emi giggled and gave me a wink.
"I bet I'm not the first one to bother you about this, am I?"
"More like the sixth. Which isn't too bad. Given the fact the entire school seems to know about it, I was prepared for more interrogations than I've received so far."
As we finish our lap, we walk to the bleachers and take a few sips from the water bottles we brought along. We sit down for a moment, and Emi gently starts rubbing the spots where her legs meet her prosthetics.
"The rumor's not really about you, you know. I mean, you're just a new transfer student. But Hanako's been the shyest girl in school for the better part of three years. It's no wonder people talk about something like this."
"It's surprising so many people seem to know her, given the effort she usually makes to avoid drawing attention to herself."
"I don't think anyone except you and Lilly Satou really know her. But I bet most students know who she is. Sometimes, when you try hard enough to avoid being noticed, you end up standing out all the more."
We get up and take another sip. Emi lets out a cute little belch that most people would only associate with infants and we start walking towards the staff building.
"How did she react to the attention?"
"She hates it. What did you expect? Before, she merely thought people were staring at her all the time. Now, she KNOWS people are staring. She's been ditching the last few minutes of every class so far in an attempt to avoid the crowds."
Emi looks down for a moment as she hears this. She gives me a sad smile.
"That's too bad. I mean, I get that she hates people staring, but I don't think this kind of attention is a bad thing. It's a shame she can't enjoy it."
"What do you mean?"
"Every student here has baggage of some kind. Some have gotten accustomed to things, but others are still working on it. But we all have…you know…milestones we have reached or still want to reach."
She lightly taps her right leg blade in order to accentuate her point.
"When I first heard the rumor, I was reminded of the time I took my first few steps with these. Or the first time I successfully navigated a staircase. For people like me, it brings back a pleasant memory. For people who are still coping, it's a little glimmer of hope, I think. Anyway, maybe I'm too optimistic, but I think right now most students, even though they don't know her, are genuinely happy for her. If she doesn't realize that and can't enjoy that, she's missing out."
Emi's words sound oddly logical to me. Without exception, all students here must have dealt with hardships in their life, some more than others. Hanako's act was an undeniable sign of recovery, and no doubt something that would resonate with a lot of people here. I smile at Emi appreciatively.
"That actually makes a lot of sense. I don't think it'll change the way she feels about this, but I bet it'll make her feel a little bit better when I tell her. You know, you're a lot deeper than I expected."
Emi looks annoyed at this.
"You think I'm shallow or an airhead or something?" Her frown quickly makes way for a mischievous grin. "You'd better watch what you say to me. I bet I could convince the nurse to tack on a few extra laps to that daily training schedule of yours."
"Bring it on. It'll only make me healthy sooner."
Emi laughs at me calling her bluff and as she opens the door of the nurse's office she playfully pokes me in the ribs with her finger.
"Let's hope you still have that drive tomorrow morning. The second days are always the worst ones."
After delivering that ominous premonition, she closes the door behind her.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:35 am
After listening for a moment, the nurse puts away his stethoscope and gives a satisfied nod to indicate I can put my shirt back on.
"You sound good to me. No chest pains or dizziness this morning?"
I shake my head. I've been doing these morning jogs for several days now, and so far my heart hasn't acted up a single time despite the exhaustion I feel at the end of each practice session.
"And what do you think of the coach I assigned you?"
"When I got overconfident and tried to keep up with her yesterday morning, she immediately started yelling at me to stick to my schedule. She can be pretty intimidating despite her short stature."
The nurse laughs at this.
"Is that a compliment?"
"I can't really complain about her. She can be harsh, but fair and pretty fun to chat with. Why are you so interested?"
As I finish putting my shirt back on, the nurse leans in and speaks in a conspiring tone.
"The reason I asked her to get this involved with your practice sessions is because I want to know how open she is to the idea of using her athletic experience to help others. Running has always been a solitary thing for her, so it would be good if she took a liking to this whole coaching gig, as informal as it is."
"Are you hoping she'll want to turn it into a career?"
He gives me a sheepish look.
"Graduation is less than a year away, and Emi doesn't have any clear plans on what to do afterwards. She kind of likes to live by the day. She's not exactly a bookworm if you know what I mean. But sports are something she's genuinely passionate about."
You don't have to tell me that.
"Are you trying to talk her into becoming a trainer or a coach? Aren't those usually retired athletes?"
"More like a P.E. teacher. She might make a lively colleague, don't you think?"
The nurse suddenly looks pensive and snaps his fingers with a guilty look on his face.
"Speaking of which…that reminds me. A colleague of mine has been asking me about you and wanted to meet you. Do you have some time to spare later this day?"
"I have obligations today, but that's early in the evening. I could manage right after the last class. But what is this about?"
Today is a special day as Lilly called us from Scotland a few days ago, saying she and Akira would be flying in today, and Hanako and I are planning to welcome them back. But I'm pretty curious why someone on Yamaku's staff would call on the nurse to arrange a meeting. I don't recall getting particularly bad marks lately, and even if that were the case, a teacher would be more likely to approach Mutou or Shizune in order to get in touch with me.
"Just an informal chat, I've been told. If you could drop by after your last class ends, that'd be great."
That isn't a satisfying answer at all, but I still need to get back to the dorms and take a shower before class, so I leave the office without prying any further.
After class, as I reach the corridor leading to the nurse's office, I can see he's already waiting for me outside. He greets me with his usual fox-like smile.
"Good to see you could come so quickly. This way please."
He leads me through a few hallways and up two sets of stairs to a part of the staff building I've never been to before. He stops at a door at the end of one of the hallways and knocks loudly before opening it and making an inviting gesture like a porter beckoning a guest.
I expected to see just another office on the other side of the door; a variation of the nurse's home turf, but the room I step into fits neither a medical staff building nor a school. The best way to describe it would be a rather old-fashioned living room filled with nothing but wooden furniture and curtains in a style similar to ones my grandparents used to own. The only piece of technology in plain sight is the phone on a small table in one of the corners. As much out of place as the room feels in the building we're in, I have to admit it fits its sole occupant like a glove. Behind the table in the middle of the room sits a short old lady who looks like she's in her late fifties or even her early sixties. She's dressed in a violet shawl and a long black skirt, and her graying hair is held back in a bun.
The nurse seems amused by my surprised reaction and puts his hand on my shoulder in an overly personal fashion.
"I feel that over the last few days we've grown close enough to each other for me to introduce you to my mother."
Before I can fully digest his extremely out-of-place joke, the old lady behind the table rises to her feet and approaches us while shooting the nurse a stern glare.
"If I was truly your mother, dear colleague, I would have taught you how impolite it is to make these kinds of remarks before even introducing us properly."
The nurse acknowledges her words with a cheerful nod and a slightly apologetic gesture.
"This young man next to me is Hisao Nakai whom I'm certain you've heard plenty about by now. My colleague here who wanted to meet you is called Miss Takawa."
"Yumi Takawa. I'm very pleased to make your acquaintance, Mister Nakai."
The old woman in front of us makes a graceful bow as the nurse continues.
"Here at Yamaku, our primary focus is to help students deal with the physical implications of their conditions, but in certain cases where a student's condition is the result of an accident of some sort, some additional support can be desired, and if I feel their circumstances warrant it, I usually refer them to Miss Takawa here or one of her co-workers. Eventually the final decision lies with the students, but most of them accept the additional help we offer them here."
I notice how his smile shortly fades for a moment during the last part of his statement, but before I can ponder on whether he had some specific people in mind, his jovial expression returns, and he reaches for the door handle.
"I'm sure the two of you will do fine without me. I'll be going now. See you after your next practice run."
As the nurse closes the door, the woman in front of me gives a tired smile.
"You'll have to excuse my colleague. He is a fine young man, but I believe he enjoys his own jokes a little bit too much sometimes."
She makes an inviting gesture over to the table in the middle of the room.
"May I have the honor of getting you some green tea, Mister Nakai?"
"Uh…sure. I mean…please."
I take a seat at the low table in the middle of the room as my host walks over to a corner and fills two ornate tea bowls with the contents of a kettle boiling on a small brazier there. After returning to the table and putting one of the bowls in my hands, she sits down across from me and gives a small bow to indicate it's okay to drink.
As I drink, I am reminded of the many lunch breaks I've spent in the tea room with Hanako and Lilly. This room seems to have the same relaxing atmosphere, maybe even more so, and the grandmotherly feeling that the old woman in front of me is giving off reminds me slightly of Lilly's composed demeanor. But unlike Lilly's unfocused and cloudy gaze, Miss Takawa's gaze is sharp and analytical.
"If I may ask, Mister Nakai… Did my colleague tell you why I wanted to meet you?"
"No, not really. All he said was that it was informal."
"Correct. I have no reason to believe you yourself are in need of my services."
Services? The nurse said that this Miss Takawa gives "additional support" after accidents. Did he mean psychiatric help? Is this old lady a shrink? Suddenly, a realization dawns on me.
"You're a counselor, aren't you? Are you by any chance Hanako's therapist?"
The old lady gives an appreciative smile at my deduction.
"Well reasoned, Mister Nakai. My specialty is cognitive behavioral therapy, and Miss Ikezawa does indeed happen to be one of my clients."
I have to admit I have wondered about the person Hanako was seeing ever since Lilly first brought up the subject, but this old lady was not what I was expecting a therapist to look like at all.
"Sorry for the reaction. I've always thought of therapists as bearded guys with thick glasses."
Miss Takawa covers her mouth with her hand and chuckles briefly. I doubt this was the first time she heard about that stereotype.
"Plenty of those exist around here as well."
"So I guess this is about my relationship with Hanako?"
"You've come up with increasing frequency in recent sessions. When Miss Ikezawa started referring to you as her boyfriend, I felt it might be a good idea to meet you myself and create my own impression of you."
She smiles playfully.
"Miss Ikezawa is presumably expecting me to say something positive about you during the next session, so it would probably pay off for you to be on your best behavior here."
"Does Hanako know you're having this talk with me?"
"If she hadn't consented to this, you would not be sitting here right now."
"So what exactly are you expecting of me?"
"I merely wish to get a general impression of you. Would you be willing to tell me a few things about how your relationship with Miss Ikezawa came to be from your perspective?"
There are plenty of things and events that took place regarding our relationship that I don't care to talk about with this person, especially since I don't know what Hanako has told her, so I just end up describing a few moments I've had with Hanako to her like our first meeting in the library, our first game of chess during the festival and our various outings in the city. As I relay these events, Miss Takawa listens to me without saying a single word.
"Thank you for your account of these events, Mister Nakai. I very much appreciate your time."
"I suppose you aren't willing to tell me a few things in return? Or is that all covered under patient confidentiality?"
I don't have high hopes for any attempts to learn more about Hanako from a therapist, especially since the nurse was already so tight-lipped about it, but for some reason it seems unfair for me to be the only one giving out information.
"Client confidentiality, Mister Nakai. And I'm afraid that I'm indeed not at liberty to tell you anything that was confided in me during closed sessions. All I can tell you is that I'm content with Miss Ikezawa's progress so far."
I can't resist a frown at that statement. If the nurse was correct, Hanako must have been in therapy at Yamaku since she came here two and a half years ago, but when I first met her she was still too skittish to even hold a conversation with me. Was Hanako even worse when she first came here, or is this therapist exaggerating the progress that was made? Of course, there was also a third possibility.
"May I ask for how long you've been treating Hanako? Are you the only person who's been treating her?"
"I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I cannot disclose information of that kind to you."
"Can I ask you something that won't force you to violate your client confidentiality?"
"By all means."
"For how long have you worked here at Yamaku?"
Miss Takawa raises her eyebrows for a second and then smiles.
"Very well played, Mister Nakai. I have only worked here for a little over a year."
That means Hanako must have been meeting with at least one previous therapist in the past to whom she presumably didn't open up. Somehow I'm not really that surprised. I am still a bit skeptical about Miss Takawa's claim of the therapy's effectiveness though. Was it just a coincidence Hanako started opening up more when I befriended her? I don't think so. Miss Takawa seems to read my thoughts.
"Am I correct in my assumption that you don't seem to believe me?"
"I haven't known Hanako for as long as you have, but considering how she's grown over the last period, I feel that instead of therapy, maybe all Hanako really needed were friends."
I prepare myself for an offended reaction, but Miss Takawa doesn't seem fazed.
"I don't believe that the two are mutually exclusive. In fact, I believe Miss Ikezawa benefits most from having both."
I don't really think there's a point in arguing that sort of thing with her. After taking another sip of her tea, she gives me another one of those analytical stares.
"Mister Nakai, I won't take up much more of your time. I already appreciate you coming here. Would you be adverse to one more question?"
"What is it that drew you to Miss Ikezawa? Why is it that you are attracted to her?"
That's kind of a personal question. Fortunately, it's something I've often thought over myself, so I don't have difficulty coming up with an answer.
"Multiple things, I guess. We both enjoy reading and playing games. We both like spending time away from the bustle of the rest of the world. She's also a really sweet girl and once you get used to the scars, she's actually pretty attractive too. Also…I can't really describe it very well but I feel some kind of kinship with her. Like she's a kindred spirit. It's hard to explain. We figured we could both use support from someone and we made a promise to be that someone for each other during tough times."
My answer seems to satisfy her as she nods appreciatively.
"You didn't even need to think before answering. Very good. I have no further questions for you, Mister Nakai. You can take your leave if you wish."
I have plenty of questions left for her, but I don't think she's going to answer them, so I finish my bowl of tea and get up.
"Then I'll be going now. Hanako and I are planning to welcome Lilly back this evening."
She rises as well and walks me to the door before giving a polite bow as a farewell.
"I hope Miss Satou has had a pleasant trip abroad. Take care of yourself, Mister Nakai."
After a polite greeting I leave the secluded 'office' and hurry back to the exit of the staff building. There are still plenty of things to do before tonight.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:35 am
The sun is already setting by the time Hanako and I make our way to the parking lot. Hanako received a text message from Akira confirming they landed safely, and Akira is going to drop Lilly off at the school gates.
"Are you sure they'll be here soon?"
"Y…yes. It should take them less than an hour to get here."
I was already aching to see Lilly back after two very eventful weeks, but I'm particularly excited to break the news of Hanako and me going out. I'm very curious about how she'll react.
"I wonder how we should tell them about us. Maybe we could hold hands when they arrive."
Hanako seems a bit absentminded ever since we left the school grounds. I wonder if something's wrong. She seemed excited to see Lilly again earlier today.
"Yeah. And then leave it to Akira to point that out. Then again, she might just keep it to herself just to mess with Lilly a bit. I wouldn't put it past her."
Hanako doesn't respond. I notice she's playing with something she's holding in her hand.
"Are you considering wearing that when they arrive?"
"I don't really know yet."
"It's your choice."
Neither of us really knows how to continue the discussion. While the silences between us are no longer as frequent or awkward as they once were, they still rear their head every now and again. This is one of those times.
We went to town the other day to do some shopping for this evening. Neither of us thought Lilly would have much energy for a party, but we wanted to make the evening a bit special nevertheless and bought a batch of fragrant tea as well as a box of sweets for her.
Hanako is still toying around with her little trinket as I spot a car heading up the parking lot and approaching us. As it gets closer, I see the distinctive hair color of the Satou sisters behind the windshield. The car stops in front of us, and Hanako lets out a small sigh, putting the trinket back in her pocket. Looks like she isn't ready yet to let Akira see her new look.
The car door opens, and Akira steps out, giving an enthusiastic wave. I have no idea how much energy this woman has, but an intercontinental flight and a ride from the airport to Yamaku seem insufficient to diminish it. Lilly, on the other hand, looks a little worse for wear.
Hanako's fidgety mood seems to vanish the moment Lilly gets out of the car as she rushes forward and grabs Lilly in a tight hug with a huge smile on her face. Lilly is visibly surprised but then recollects herself and returns Hanako's hug with a gentle embrace of her own. I can't help but smile myself as I see this display of unrestricted affection between them.
"It's so good to meet you again, Hanako."
"I'm so happy to see you again, Lilly."
Lilly carefully signals Hanako to break her embrace and then places both hands on her shoulders.
"Hanako, I'm very happy for you. Happy and proud."
She then turns to my general direction.
"Very happy for both of you."
I shoot Hanako a suspicious look and notice she's started fidgeting again.
"Both of us? Wait, did you…?"
Lilly doesn't reply and merely maintains a cheeky grin on her face. Akira is noticeably less subtle.
"Congratulations, lover boy! Looks like ya caught yourself a nice fish while we were gone."
I'm starting to understand why Hanako seemed nervous while I was considering how to announce our relationship. Lilly probably sweet talked the news out of her days ago.
"Hanako, didn't we agree to tell them the news in person?"
Hanako gives me such a guilty look I'm starting to feel heartless for scolding her.
"I…I'm sorry, Hisao. I meant to keep it a secret, but…"
"Don't be upset, Hisao. It took me a great deal of effort to convince Hanako that keeping such happy news bottled up is an unhealthy and frustrating thing to do to herself. She seemed genuinely relieved when she finally decided to break the news to us ahead of time."
Now she's pretending this was all for Hanako's benefit instead of satisfying her own curiosity. Lilly's playful expression shows she is all too eager to take full responsibility for this premature leaking of information, and she doesn't look even a little bit guilty about it. Akira merely looks at me with a mischievous grin.
"My sis can be pushy in her own polite and passive way, you know?"
Akira walks back to the car, opens the trunk, fishes Lilly's luggage out and beckons me to take on the role of porter.
"I'd like to stick around, but I still have a big distance to drive and a boyfriend to catch up with."
"Aren't you at least a little bit tired after travelling for so long?"
"Nope. When I was born, I hogged all the genetic jet-lag immunity I could get. As you'll find out soon, there wasn't anything left for Lilly afterwards."
Lilly let out a light groan before carefully walking over to Akira and giving her a polite hug.
"Stay in touch."
"Will do. And think about the upcoming weekend, will ya?"
With that, Lilly and Akira part ways, and a minute later we're watching the car drive off into the distance. I walk over to Lilly and give her a quick hug.
"Welcome back, Lilly. You're probably tired, but Hanako and I planned a little private party for you to celebrate your return. If you wish to go to bed right now, we'd understand, but if you can bear with us for another hour or so, we can take the opportunity to catch up."
Lilly smiles gratefully at us.
"I accept the offer as long as you don't mind me being a little less talkative than usual."
"Hanako, I'll help Lilly carry her luggage back to the dorms. Would you go ahead and prepare the tea?"
As Hanako dashes off to the girl's dorm, I turn to Lilly.
"What was with Akira's remark about the upcoming weekend?"
Lilly smiles mysteriously.
"I needed that."
As Lilly puts her second cup of tea down, she lets out a satisfied sigh. She still looks a bit tired, but the caffeine seems to have taken the edge off. None of us have said a lot since we reached Lilly's room and Hanako brought in a pot of fragrant tea. It doesn't really matter much. Lilly's presence always seems to turn otherwise uncomfortable silences comfortable.
"I suppose what I originally planned to talk about was the news that the two of us are dating now, but with that cat already out of the bag, maybe we could hear some tales from Scotland instead."
"I'd like to leave those for another time, if that's not a problem."
Lilly reaches down, takes a piece of candy from the box we bought and brings it to her lips as if to further justify leaving the talking to us.
"You could tell me about your first official date, if you'd like."
Hanako really must have spilled her guts to Lilly.
"So you know about that too?"
"Only that it was meant to take place a few days ago."
I look at Hanako who's sitting next to me, still looking a little guilty.
Hanako bashfully nods and gently takes Lilly's hand. She reaches into her pocket, fishes something out of it and puts it into Lilly's hand.
"This is a gift Hisao gave me."
Lilly takes the object and softly runs her sensitive fingertips alongside it. After careful examination, she smiles.
"A little hair clip. With a small flower on top. What a nice gift. Were you wearing it when we arrived?"
"N..no. Not yet. I could wear it now if you like."
I look at Hanako as she takes back the clip from Lilly, pauses for a moment, carefully brushes aside the lock of hair that's usually covering the right side of her face and applies the clip to pin it in place. I'm still a bit unused to the sight of Hanako's face being completely exposed, but that's more because I've been staring at that lock for so long I've gotten used to it.
The clip, its flower decoration a miniature version of the one on Hanako's phone strap, was something I gave to her just before our first date with the request to wear it on occasion when we were alone. I told her that the sight of her face wasn't going to be a big deal to me, and I wanted to be able to look my own girlfriend in both eyes. It also served a more practical purpose as I found it awkward to kiss her with that lock of hair constantly getting in the way. As far as I know, this is the first time she's worn it in the presence of someone other than me. With Lilly, it obviously doesn't make much of a difference.
I sit back and nibble on a piece of candy myself as Hanako gives Lilly a brief summary of our date. I can't help but be a bit amused as her retelling actually makes it sound much more spectacular than it really was. In fact, it was probably as tried-and-true a date as we could have managed. This was a bit intentional on my part as I wanted our first date to be as comfortable as possible.
We started with a quiet little dinner at the Shanghai, a familiar place without a lot of people around. It was here that I gave Hanako the hair clip that she's now carrying with her all the time. After finishing our meal, I took her to a small movie theatre in the city. The movie we went to was actually a film adaption of a book we both read before, so neither of us was very surprised by most of the twists in the plot, but we had the benefit of having additional discussion material on our way home, and being able to avoid awkward silences with Hanako is always a good thing. I was even entertained at how passionate she got for a moment while we were debating the way the director changed a few things about the ending before slipping back into her usual meek demeanor. One thing about our date that stood out was Hanako's uneasiness with the idea of me paying for everything, so we ended up paying for each other's meal and movie ticket.
"It sounds like you both had a really good time."
Lilly seems pleased with Hanako's story. She pauses for a moment before addressing us with a sheepish expression on her face.
"Are there any more dates planned for the upcoming weekend? Or am I not privy to such information?"
"Not at the moment. We both wanted to catch up on things with you. Why?"
"I was thinking that with us having the upcoming three days off, we could spend our time away from Yamaku. Our family owns a summerhouse in Hokkaido we can stay in."
"Is that what Akira was talking about before she left?"
"Correct. She is planning to stay there next weekend with her boyfriend."
Her expression clouds for a moment.
"Which…means that if we go there…we will probably end up cleaning the place up for them."
I share a brief look with Hanako. Having to do some cleaning seems a small price to pay for a cheap vacation, and spending that vacation with Hanako and Lilly only makes the prospect even more attractive.
"I'd love to go. I've never been to Hokkaido before. How about you, Hanako?"
"Me neither. I'd really like to go too."
Lilly claps her hands together.
"I suppose it's settled then. We'll have to leave early in the morning in order to catch the train there. Maybe it's best if we retire for the evening for now. We won't be able to sleep in tomorrow."
Hanako gets up and gathers the tea cups and tea pot from the table.
"I'll go and clean the tea service downstairs. And I think I'll go to bed afterwards."
As I get up myself to leave as well, Hanako gives me a quick kiss on the lips before removing her hair clip and walking out of Lilly's room. Before I can follow her, Lilly softly calls my name.
"Hisao, would you mind helping me unpack a few things? I'd like to get some sleep myself, and I will still have to pack a few things tomorrow morning as well."
For a second I want to ask if it wouldn't have been more appropriate to ask Hanako to help her with that, but then I realize that this may very well be Lilly's roundabout way of asking me to stick around for a small talk. Which is fine, because there's something I've been meaning to ask her as well. As I start messing with the lock of the suitcase, Lilly sits down on her bed with a tired but cheerful expression on her face.
"So…you and Hanako…"
"Yes, life can take some interesting turns. Thankfully this one was far more positive than most of the other big changes in my life this year."
"I'm happy you two found each other. Hanako's mood seems to have improved so much compared to how she used to be."
"Things could have worked out very differently. By the way, thanks for the advice the other day. I needed that wake-up call pretty badly."
That's an understatement. Not too long ago, I was thinking of nothing but protecting Hanako from the world around her. I was obsessing with her emotional condition and thought of nothing except on how to prevent her from getting hurt more than she had already been. I didn't realize how patronizing my disposition must have been until Lilly called me out on it that evening. Not only was Lilly's judgment of my behavior spot on, but Hanako was aware of it too and instead of protecting her, my attitude was actively hurting her. If anything, I want to forget about this stage of our relationship as soon as possible.
"I'm glad I could help. Though you two probably would have been able to sort things out yourselves."
"I don't think so. Hanako turned out to be aware of my obsessive worrying, and it only served to make her feel worse. I'm not sure how things would have turned out if you hadn't told me to back off a bit, but I doubt we'd be where we are now. But there's one thing you said during that phone call that I'd like to ask you about."
"What is it that you would like to know?"
"You told me not to doubt my bond with Hanako, because of some reason or another, but you cut yourself off before elaborating."
"I promised Hanako not to tell you about how she felt about you. I caught myself in time to avoid breaking that promise."
"I'm a bit surprised she told you about that. I would have expected her to keep something like that to herself."
Lilly remains silent for a few seconds, carefully choosing her words before answering.
"She didn't. At least not at first. We frequently spoke about you while spending time together. Shortly after the festival, Hanako suddenly started asking me what I thought of you. She wanted to know whether I…liked you. She was uncharacteristically persistent in her questioning."
"And you in return wanted to know why she was so interested?"
"Yes. After some digging on my part I got her to admit to me that she was in love with you herself."
"So it was like she was asking you if it was safe for her to pursue me without becoming a rival to you?"
"I do not think she had any plans to pursue you. But in the case I liked you as well, she would have tried to push her own feelings away for my benefit…"
For a moment Lilly looks genuinely sad.
"…regardless of how you felt about her. That's the kind of person she is."
That does sound like something Hanako would do. I put a hand on Lilly's shoulder.
"Well, things worked out in the end. We got together, and I'm happy I'm able to call her my girlfriend."
Lilly nods silently before smiling inquisitively at me.
"Hisao…if I may ask. How did you two get together? How did things… fall into place between you two? I asked Hanako, but she wouldn't tell me much about it."
That's a tricky question. Things falling into place was probably the worst description of how our relationship came to be. It was a whole lot more accurate to say things were blown to very tiny bits that we ended up using to piece together something more stable. We ended up playing emotional hide and seek, we ended up hurting each other and pushing each other away and to top it off, we had sexual intercourse for misguided reasons that neither of us was emotionally ready for. It wasn't exactly romance novel material we took part in. I have my sincere doubts Lilly would really want to know even half of these things.
"The right word would be…messily, Lilly. It's probably better to leave this to your imagination. Please take my word for that."
Thank goodness she doesn't pry. One more thing bothered me though. There were many things Hanako told me during our confession in the park that day; many things that I didn't think Lilly was aware of, and some of them applied to her as well. The difficulty with trusting friends Hanako admitted to having was one thing that came to mind, and part of me wants to let Lilly in on this. But I'm not certain yet if the risk would be worth it. The things Hanako told me in the park were things she confided in me, because she trusted me. Earning her trust has been a ride through hell, and something tells me it won't be easily regained if she feels I betrayed it. With luck and Hanako's slowly growing confidence, she'll be able to improve her friendship with Lilly on her own without me having to meddle in it.
I finish emptying Lilly's suitcase, stand up and get ready to return to my own dorm room.
"Don't worry too much about it. The important thing is we're fine now. Let's focus on what's ahead of us. Starting with a few days in Hokkaido."
Lilly gets up from the bed and gives a polite bow.
"Thank you for tonight, Hisao. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
"Me too. Goodnight Lilly."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:36 am
I lift my arm, hold my watch in front of my face and press a button on the side, causing the display to light up. I hear the soft voice of my girlfriend who's lying on the ground to my left.
"Hisao, what time is it?"
"It's nearly half past ten."
"Do you think we should head back?"
"Not yet. Lilly probably hasn't finished her book yet."
A momentary silence. Silences around Hanako are sometimes uncomfortable, but right now they feel alright due how relaxing our surroundings are.
"How many romance stories do you think have a chapter where a couple is lying in an open field gazing at the stars?"
I hear an amused giggle from Hanako.
"I…I could name at least nine."
I suppose that would make us number ten. After getting up early - too early - yesterday morning we took the train to Hokkaido and arrived at the Satou summer home late in the afternoon. I failed to get a great deal of sleep the night before, so I spent a large part of the evening napping while Lilly and Hanako cleaned up the house and made supper. I felt a bit guilty about it, but neither seemed to mind it very much.
The day afterwards, we walked to the nearby town which was more exhausting than I thought due to the heat. We had ice-cream to cool down once we reached our destination, and Hanako spent most of the time afterwards browsing clothes for Lilly, herself and me. After a filling lunch in town and more shopping, we walked back to the summer home, had a delicious dinner and then went out for an evening walk while Lilly remained behind in order to finish the book she started on the train a day ago. After lazily strolling through the surrounding area, we decided to take a break, and now we're lying side by side in the wheat field behind the summer home just staring at the sky.
I sneak a sideway glance at Hanako, though I can't see her very well since it's already pretty dark, there isn't a single street lamp in a three mile radius and Hanako's face is partially obscured by several stalks of wheat.
"What is it?"
"What do you think of our trip so far?"
I take a moment to think. We haven't really been doing anything spectacular ever since we got here… Lilly's blindness, my heart condition and Hanako's difficulty with crowds rule out a lot of activities, but somehow it hasn't detracted from the experience. Something about our little outing feels… just right.
"I like it. A lot. I'm happy we got the opportunity to go here. It's nice to relax a bit after all the studying."
Not to mention the stress related to other recent events.
"I really like it too. I'm thinking of why I like it so much."
"Promise you won't laugh at me."
Hanako hesitates for a bit and then takes a deep breath.
"It feels like what?"
"It…feels like…I… have a family again…"
"A family huh?"
"Y-yes. A small disabled family, but a family all the same."
I think about Hanako's words for a bit. The atmosphere between us really has felt like that over the last two days. The way Hanako and Lilly looked while preparing our meals together. The way we had breakfast and dinner together. The way we huddled on the couch while watching television together. The way we relaxed in the back yard, reading books or playing games. It all felt so strangely comfortable.
"I think I know what you mean."
"You feel the same?"
"I think I do. I keep trying to imagine what this kind of trip would have been like with the friends I used to hang out with before I came to Yamaku, and I don't think things would have felt this… natural. This… homey."
"Maybe we both needed to be away from Yamaku for a while. To… you know… maybe… remember what it's like to be n-normal."
That's a pretty good point Hanako is bringing up. When passing by students from other classes, I still tend to revert to thinking of them as "that girl with the crutch" or "that guy who's missing several fingers" from time to time, and every time I catch myself, I'm reminded of my own condition. On the other hand, I'm now so familiar with both Lilly and Hanako that I find it harder and harder to see their condition as something out of the ordinary. It simply has become part of who they are in my mind.
Life here has been very relaxed. Lilly's familiarity with the building has allowed her to get around without needing her cane. Having no other people in a one-mile radius has allowed Hanako to relax to the point where she's been wearing her hairclip almost constantly, and although she's still not as chatty as Emi or Misha usually is, she's calm enough to hold conversations with us without her usual stammering.
The only time I was reminded of my own condition was when I was forced to admit to Hanako yesterday evening that I hadn't thought about taking my medication for the day yet after she asked me about it. While taking my pills has become an automatism for me at Yamaku, I was confronted by the fact I become prone to forgetting about them when suddenly taken out of my usual daily routine. While I'm thankful that Hanako takes her promise of mutual support so seriously, I'm not thrilled by the prospect of her watching me like a hawk for the remainder of the trip. Still, her scolding was only a minor inconvenience.
"You're right. It's been months since I've felt this…normal."
"F-for me it's probably been years."
A silence. While she didn't sound sad while saying it, the reminder of how stagnant Hanako's life has been until recently depresses me a bit. Eager to steer the discussion away from that topic, I return to what we were talking about previously.
"So, if we're like a family, what would that make Akira? The loud and feisty aunt?"
Hanako giggles at that mental image.
"And I guess Lilly would be the mother of the bunch?"
"N-no mother or father. Just Lilly, you and me."
My question was merely in jest, so I raise an eyebrow at how seriously Hanako answers it. Does Hanako object to the suggestion of her and Lilly's relationship being like a mother-daughter relationship or does she think the idea of other people being like a mother or father figure is inappropriate since her own parents died? If it's anything related to the latter, there's no way I'm going to explore that right now, lest I ruin her mood for the rest of our time here.
"Is Lilly like a sister to you then?"
"I… I can't really tell for sure. I was an only child, so I don't really know."
"Same here. We could have asked Lilly if she were here right now."
Hanako lets out an audible sigh. I wouldn't be surprised if her thoughts are the same as mine right now.
"About Lilly… Have you noticed as well?"
"It'd be really hard to miss it. She's kind of acting like she accidentally joined us on our honeymoon."
The length Lilly's going to to give Hanako and me private time together seems a bit much. It's been mostly small things, like deciding to finish a book when we asked her to take a walk with us and suddenly wanting to take a break and catch a tan for an hour while we were in town, so Hanako and I could (or rather had to) do some shopping without her, but they have started adding up.
"Is she avoiding us?"
"Naw, she's just trying to give us some space. Wouldn't you do the same for her if it was her who just got a new boyfriend?"
"P-probably… Maybe. It's just that it feels like she's trying to get us to hook up even though we're already together. So I don't really understand."
Good point. It's like she's trying to play match maker, which seemed strange since we have all the time in the world to do this at our own pace, and unlike her cousin, Lilly isn't really the type to try and hurry people along. Then again, she did do something similar back when she had Akira take her and us to that pool club in town in an attempt to get Hanako and me closer to each other.
"It's her motherly streak. She can get carried away with it at times. Just give it time. It'll probably blow over in a week or two."
"You're probably right."
We fall silent, neither of us really knowing how to continue the conversation. One thing remains on my mind. Even though most of Lilly's actions to give Hanako and me some time alone were rather small, one of them was decidedly less so. When we arrived at the summer home and made preparations to unpack, Lilly gave us a small tour of the house ending up in the house's only bedroom; a fairly large room with a double bed near the window and a smaller single bed near the corner. She then dropped a bombshell by announcing that she herself would be using the convertible futon in the living room to spend the night on before casually walking out of the room, leaving Hanako beet red and me baffled at this uncharacteristically unsubtle move on her part. I later questioned her about it, but she replied by saying she wasn't forcing us to sleep in the same bed, and the sight of Hanako in her nightgown wasn't anything new to me. When I realized that in order to continue the discussion I'd have to get into how far along Hanako and I were in that area, I decided not to paint myself into corner and dropped the subject while I was still ahead. I was, of course, a gentleman, so Hanako was given the double bed while I spent the first night in the smaller one. All in all, it was still a pretty comfortable place to sleep.
Still, the question how far Hanako and I were in "that" area lingers on my mind. We have kissed each other of course and sometimes shared a tight hug, but I'm not really sure if that was any indicator on the rest. We slept together once, but Hanako merely initiated that because she thought it was the only way to prevent me from drifting away from her, and she was so uncomfortable during the whole experience that it is clear to me in hindsight that she certainly wasn't ready for the act itself.
Is having that kind of intimacy something Hanako will ever be doing for her own enjoyment to begin with? We have never mentioned that night we spent together again after we started dating, and I don't really know how Hanako sees sex. She isn't exactly a flirty person or someone who I'd expect to come onto me of her own. How open to sex is Hanako when the threat of losing our friendship isn't looming over her? Would she reluctantly offer herself to me again if I took the initiative out of fear that I might lose interest in her otherwise rather than because she wants me? The only way to avoid that would be to leave the initiative up to her, but that could again cause the risk of her making a move on me because she feels she has to. If anything, our night together made things more complicated. I wonder if there's an opportunity to talk to her about it without her freezing up in embarrassment. If anything, I've learned over the last few weeks that making assumptions about Hanako isn't always the smartest thing to do.
I gently sit upright to look at Hanako. It's too dark to see her face clearly, but the fact she doesn't react to me staring at her suggests she has her eyes closed.
"You weren't sleeping, were you?
"No, just relaxing a bit."
Feeling a little playful, I pick up one of the straws that broke off when we sat down here and use it to gently tickle the side of Hanako's face. She doesn't react. I carefully move the straw closer to the center of her face. When there's still no reaction and I start tickling her nose, she lets out a gasp, opens her eyes, puffs out her cheeks and blows the straw upwards. I bring it closer to her face again and for a second time she blows it away. We repeat this little charade a few times until she gets tired of it, sits up and playfully snatches the straw away.
"You're m-mean, suddenly tickling my nose like that."
"It wasn't exactly sudden. You just didn't react before."
Hanako thinks for a moment, then suddenly slumps her shoulders.
Why does she suddenly sound depressed? Did I do something wrong?
"H-hey, what's the matter?"
"You t-touched the right side of my face, d-didn't you?"
"I…I…don't r-really feel anything there. Not anymore…"
I feel the urge to punch myself. I really should have spotted that landmine from a mile away, and yet I happily pranced right onto it.
"I-I'm sorry, Hanako."
"It's t-the s-same for my right shoulder and arm and…*sigh*..well, y-you've seen it for yourself."
I have. But I hadn't really thought much about the fact that a not insignificant part of her body was devoid of the sense of touch.
"You can't feel anything in any of those areas?"
"A-around some areas, I can f-feel it when you press hard enough. B-but nothing s-softer. N-not any pleasant sensations anymore."
I wrap my arms around her. I start realizing why Hanako often hugged me so tightly when we exchanged kisses. Since the sensation on her back and shoulders was partially numbed, she had the tendency to press herself against me to maximize the sensations she was feeling from the front.
"I-It's p-probably for the better though. It c-could have been w-worse. I-It's better to feel n-nothing at all than to be in c-constant pain, i-isn't it?"
That's true, but that can't feel like much of a consolation right now. I don't think it's going to do much good offering her sympathy. What she needs me to do right now is cheer her up. I think for a moment. I have an idea that might work, even if it's a bit of a gamble. It might also end up backfiring on me, but I decide to take the risk. I sit a little bit closer to her.
"You know, maybe it's not as bad as you think it is."
Hanako looks at me with a puzzled expression, clearly having expected a different response. Keeping my left arm around her, I gently move my right hand downward to a point just above her hip and start tickling her side. Hanako's puzzled expression gets uncomfortable and she suddenly lets out a forced giggle. I smile inwardly. This was the reaction I was hoping for.
"H-hey, t-that tickles."
I give her a mischievous grin and keep going. Hanako's body begins to squirm, and she starts trying to push herself away from me.
"D-don't do that."
I let her try to get away for a moment, then unexpectedly let go of her, causing Hanako to fall backwards. Before she can sit upright again, I move over to her and quickly straddle her.
"Hanako, I bet you still have plenty of sensitive spots left."
I quickly reach down and start tickling her left side again, drawing out another giggle.
"And I won't stop until you admit that."
She moves her arm down to shield herself, so I quickly move my hand and start tickling her neck instead. One more involuntary giggle is the result.
"I don't even have to look very hard, Hanako."
When she moves her arms up to ward off my hand, I swiftly go for her armpit instead.
"Hi-hee hee-sao, c-cut it out hee hee hee."
"Admit it and I'll stop."
She tries to buck her hips in an attempt to knock me off, but I barely even feel it. As she lowers her arm, I grab it and start tickling the lower part of her arm…
"hee hee hee."
…then her collarbone when she yanks her arm away…
"P-please *snort* st-stop."
She's now giggling uncontrollably.
..then her tummy…
…then her ribs just beneath her breasts.
At this point I'm using both hands to tickle several areas at once. Hanako is literally crying with laughter. I realize I'm taking a bit of a risk right now. If one of her flailing arms accidentally hits me in the chest, I'll probably go out like a light and I doubt an ambulance could get here very quickly. Still, seeing the usually subdued Hanako like this is an interesting experience.
"Hahaha st-stop, I hee hee a-admit hee hee it! I admit it!"
I immediately stop tickling her, get off of her and sit across from her as she tries her hardest to catch her breath.
"I never knew you were this ticklish."
Hanako's now panting as if she just sprinted a kilometer uphill.
As her breathing slowly returns to normal, she sits up and wipes the tears from her eyes. I half expect her to angrily walk away, but instead she just sits there.
"I think this kind of proves my point, don't you agree?"
Not willing to let her back down, I reach out and make a tickling motion in the air with my fingers. Hanako immediately shivers, crosses her arms in front of her chest and lets out an involuntary giggle.
"Th-that tickles. D-don't get near me."
"I didn't even touch you just now. Anyway, don't you agree?"
She doesn't say anything, but she carefully leans forward and gives me a kiss on the lips. As unorthodox as it may have been, I think my method of cheering her up worked. I've never heard Hanako laugh like that before. I hope that someday she'll be able to laugh like that without being forced into it.
"I'm okay now. Just d-don't do that again, promise?"
"It's a big temptation, but okay. I promise."
"Shall we go back now? I'm a bit tired after all this."
"Lead the way."
We slowly walk back to the summer home at the far end of the wheat field. As we approach the patio, which is pitch-black due to being in the shadow of the building, we hear Lilly's familiar voice from somewhere.
"Welcome back, Hanako, Hisao. Have you enjoyed your walk?"
I am about to ask Lilly where she is when I hear a soft thud followed by a startled yelp. Seems like Hanako, who was walking slightly ahead, has already found her.
"I-I'm sorry, Lilly. I didn't see you."
"My, is it that late already? Please wait here for a moment."
We hear measured steps head towards the house followed by the sound of an opening door. A few seconds later, a light near the patio door flicks on as Lilly emerges and heads back towards the chair she was sitting in before Hanako nearly tripped over her.
"We'll be going inside, Lilly. Care to join us?"
Lilly picks up a discarded book lying near the chair and holds it up for a moment.
"I only have a few pages left. I will be with you in a few minutes. Please make yourselves comfortable. And ah…Hanako?"
She sends us a playful grin.
"Can you retrieve the bottle we opened this morning? I believe a glass before bedtime will help us sleep all the better."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:36 am
"Come in, please!"
After I hear the reply to my knocking, I hesitantly open the door leading into the 'office' where I have my sessions every other week. Office isn't really a good word to describe it. Den or living room seem more appropriate. Miss Yumi has very peculiar tastes when it comes to her work place.
"Good day, Miss Hanako."
"G-good day, Miss Yumi."
As I enter, Miss Yumi gets up, approaches me and we exchange greetings and polite bows.
"May I have the honor of getting you some tea, Miss Hanako?"
"I-I humbly accept, Miss Yumi."
The little ritual we practice at the start of every session is a bit old-fashioned, just like the room and Miss Yumi herself. But it serves its purpose well. Since it's exactly the same every time, I can simply repeat the phrases I always use without having to think too hard about how to respond. (Which usually causes me to start stuttering)
A small bowl of tea is gently placed in my hands, and after a small bow, we both take a careful drink. When I was admitted to this school, the head nurse explained to me the teachers were not going to make a fuss if I felt anxious and wanted to leave class to catch my bearings. However, he also mentioned he was assigning me one of the therapists at school for sessions outside of school hours. I sensed that they expected me to go along with this in return for the lenience I'd receive in regard to my school attendance, so I reluctantly accepted.
My first therapist was a middle-aged man with thick glasses and a scruffy beard. He was polite enough, but also really intimidating. I always felt a bit like a research specimen during our sessions. Eventually I was referred to another person; a rather young man with a stubble, sneakers and an awful sweater. He was nice enough, but I always felt uneasy around him. The third person was Miss Takawa, who was new to Yamaku at the time. She told me I could start calling her Miss Yumi as a sign of trust once I felt we established such a thing and since a few weeks I've been calling her that.
"Well then, shall we start?"
Miss Yumi gives a small nod, and I place the first black stone onto the game board. Miss Yumi takes one of her white stones and puts it in place with a dull tap.
"So, Miss Hanako, how have you been sleeping lately?"
"Not t-too badly."
We usually have an agreement that only the person whose turn it is is allowed to speak. If I want things to slow down, I can simply wait a bit before placing my next stone.
"That's good to hear. May I suggest we try a week without sleeping pills again and see if things remain that way? The worst weeks should be behind us for now."
"If you say so."
Miss Yumi is an enthusiastic Go player, and ever since our third meeting we've been playing as part of our session.
"If we can get you your daily eight hours of sleep again without any medication, then that's a goal we should not pass up. If you still have bad dreams three weeks after…that day…you could try some herbal tea. I happen to know a recipe that tends to work very well."
I don't think I actually relax while playing games, as Miss Yumi thought at first. It's quite the opposite…I grow more focused than usual. But since I get to focus on something other than my anxiety, my head tends to be clearer, and I'm less nervous in my interactions.
"If you were a little older, I could recommend a few sips of sake as well, but I don't think that'd be a good idea right now. If the principal were to find out, these old bones would be dragged onto the street in a heartbeat."
I suppress a small giggle. While Miss Yumi is always a bit formal, she's not always serious and is quick to fill the silences with some small talk whenever I don't have much to say myself.
"So, how is life in the dorms these days?"
"S-same as always. Except the girl in the room next to mine has moved out recently."
"I see. Have you ever spoken to her?"
Not that I can remember. SHE tried to speak to ME though, around the time I moved in here. Or rather, barged into my room and pretended living next to each other was enough to make us instant buddies. I've kept my door locked ever since.
"N-no. I haven't."
"So I suppose you can expect to get a new neighbor soon. I doubt the housing department will leave that room empty for long."
That would be too much to hope for.
"Maybe even someone nice."
Hopefully nice enough to ignore me instead of staring at me.
"That's not a bad move, Miss Hanako. You're getting much better at this."
She's just flattering me. While it's nice to play against her, I haven't beaten her a single time. She's a formidable player and doesn't feel the need to hold back for her opponent's sake.
"I have the not-very-scientific belief that it's possible to deduce certain personality aspects of a person through their playing style while they're still learning the ropes of a game."
What does that say about me? Has she been analyzing me through this? Like a creative variation of a typical question form?
"Your defensive playing style fits your personality, Miss Hanako. Am I right to assume your favorite chess strategies also focus on defense?"
That's a pretty good deduction. Am I really that predictable?
"But pure defense will never win you anything. At best, it results in a stalemate."
Isn't that still better than losing? Is she saying I should go on the offensive instead? That'd just get me beaten sooner.
"S-should I play aggressively then?"
"Playing aggressively doesn't suit you. It would be better for you to stick to what comes naturally to you and improve upon it. A good offensive player forces opportunities. A good defensive player takes advantage of opportunities as they arise."
Are we still talking about Go here?
"We could practice it if you'd like. I'm going to leave you a few openings now and then and it's up to you to spot them and exploit them as quickly as you can."
She smiles as her eyes scan the board.
"You might find that games like these and life in general have quite a few parallels."
I just nod and try to focus on the result of Miss Yumi's latest move. Am I already supposed to look for openings?
"By the way, Miss Hanako, I almost forgot to tell you that I will be on leave for the next two weeks. So our next session will be in twenty-one days. If anything happens, you can always contact the head nurse here. I have no plans to take any trips, so he should have no problems getting in touch with me in the unlikely case of an emergency."
That news makes me feel sad. I didn't think about it at first, but I've come to enjoy these sessions. I can be on my own just fine most of the time without feeling miserable, but now that I'm being told I'll have to wait for three weeks before we'll get to talk and play games again, I suddenly start to feel lonely.
She said she's not going to be away from home.
Should I ask if I can visit her sometime? Just to play a few more games?
What if she rejects me?
She's an adult. She has been for a long time. She's different from my old schoolmates. We get along well. She doesn't mind my scars.
"Is something bothering you, Miss Hanako?"
My social anxiety, which usually remains subdued during these sessions, has just returned in full force and is threatening to choke me. As my breathing starts speeding up, Miss Yumi places her bowl in front of me and then gets up to get the kettle from the brazier in the corner.
"Don't force yourself, dear. Take a sip, a few deep breaths, close your eyes and think of a clear sky or flowing water."
Just a few sentences. I can do this.
"M-Miss Yumi…c-c-can I…c-c-come o-over n-next…w-week and p-p-play a…a g-game w-with y-y-you?"
Miss Yumi merely looks at me with an unreadable expression on her face. Or rather, stares at me.
"Come over next week, you say?"
Don't tell me she didn't understand. Did I really cut such a pathetic figure? I gather all of what's left of my rapidly vaporizing determination and force myself to smile at her.
"M-m-Miss Yumi…c-c-can I b-be…b-b-be f-f-friends w-with you?"
I exhale deeply. I said it. I didn't think I could do it, but I said it. But strangely enough, Miss Yumi doesn't react. As I look at her, I still see that same neutral expression on her face. Just when I'm about to ask her if she's heard me (I don't think I could bear to repeat my question), she slowly starts speaking.
"Miss Hanako, your friendship is the second most valuable gift in the world you can offer another person…and a priceless gift it is."
Her gaze suddenly lowers and shifts to one of the corners of the table. A feeling of dread starts to well up inside me. Miss Yumi shuts her eyes for a few seconds and then forces herself to look right at me.
"I am very sorry that I cannot possibly accept it."
"Of…of course not."
I try to think of something more to say. Some way to change the subject. But I can't. Of course she wouldn't want me around. Who would want to spend time with a useless person like me? She's only tolerating me because she's being paid for it.
I have to get out of here.
I feel a lump in my throat. I desperately try to swallow it.
I have to get out of here.
I squeeze my eyes shut, but I can't prevent tears from rolling down my cheeks.
I have to get out of here now.
Go somewhere. Anywhere. Away from here.
Far away from here.
Miss Yumi's stern voice snaps me out of it. When I look at her, I notice she has a tissue in her hand which she offers me while her eyes look sadly, but compassionately at me.
"Before you draw your own conclusions, please let me explain."
Explain? Is this where she's going to make up excuses? Tell me she's not worthy or something?
"I'm not refusing your gift because I don't enjoy spending time with you or because you're not a sweet and caring girl. I do and you are. I cannot accept your gift because… a friendship between us would be inappropriate."
Inappropriate? You know what's inappropriate? Your friendliness! Playing games with me and acting all interested in me! Pretending that you care! It's just a facade. Another tool to pry me open so you can take a look inside and determine just how broken things are!
I'm trying to restrain myself, but suddenly I feel furious. Before I can stop myself, I hiss a reply to her.
"I-I'm j-just another br-broken human being f-for you to f-fix."
I regret those vitriolic words the instant they leave my mouth, but Miss Yumi doesn't flinch. Instead, she refills the tea bowl and calmly looks back at me.
"Supporting your recovery, or 'fixing you' to use your own words, is what I'm here for. It'd be disingenuous of me to pretend otherwise. I am a therapist after all."
I freeze. That's not the reaction I expected at all.
"Miss Hanako, the desire for friendship you expressed just now is undeniably a good thing, and I'd greatly encourage you to hold onto it, but not all friendships are undeniably good. Some friendships can be downright unhealthy. And friendships with therapists are the unhealthiest of them all."
"I…I don't understand."
"Friendship is a bond of mutually accepted equality, Miss Hanako. True friends are equals. Two people cannot be equals if one of them is being paid to spend time with the other. Two people cannot be equals if one has learned the history of the other through a case file. True friends are willing to share both each other's joy and each other's grief."
"And you… can't?"
"As your therapist, I will be here as long as you need my help, but when you stop requiring that assistance… when you start getting better, people like me will start backing out of your life in order to shift their attention to those more in need of their presence. It's what a therapist does. It's not something a friend would ever do."
"So… Are you saying we cannot be friends? Ever?"
"I believe that a good therapist will never try to become your friend, and a good friend will never try to become your therapist. No person should try to fulfill both roles for you. I believe I can serve you best as a therapist because we work well together… unless you can no longer believe in me after today."
"I…I'm not sure."
"Please let me assure you right now, Miss Hanako, that still I believe in you. Just because I cannot be your friend doesn't mean I'm going to give up on you. I believe that you'll get the friendships you desire in time."
"Because I learned one more thing from watching you play."
"That you're not a quitter, even though life, like me, hasn't been going easy on you. And because quitting is not in your character, you'll eventually come across the right opportunities."
Now I believe she's merely trying to cheer me up. I really need some time alone at the moment. I get up to leave and Miss Yumi lets me go without protesting.
As I open the door and turn around to bid her farewell, Miss Yumi performs what has to be the deepest and most prolonged bow I've ever seen from her, and when she rises I'm shocked to see an expression of genuine sadness on her face.
"Truth be told…I've been forced to have this talk with several people over the years, and it still breaks my heart every time I have to repeat it. I'm truly sorry, Hanako."
For a moment I forget my own sadness and disappointment. Then, her smile is back and the moment is lost as her words echo in the hallway.
"I hope to see you here again in three weeks. Please take care."
My head understands her words, but my heart is still feeling miserable.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:36 am
"Hanako. Are you still awake?"
"I…had a bad dream just now. I couldn't get back to sleep right away. Then I heard you tossing and turning."
"Sorry about that."
"You don't have to apologize."
A silence. Should I try to talk to Hisao some more, or would he dislike being kept awake? This is the second consecutive night we spent sleeping in the same bedroom; a result of Lilly's match making mood. I was given the double bed Lilly's parents must have used in the past while Hisao has been using the smaller bed in the corner.
"H-Hisao, d-do you want to talk for a bit?"
I'm wondering if Hisao is thinking about the same thing I am right now. Even though we're girlfriend and boyfriend, we're currently not exactly acting as a couple. Are we supposed to right now?
"Umm…I w-wouldn't mind if you got a little closer."
"Like sit on the edge of your bed? That would indeed talk a little bit easier."
"Y-you c-can lie n-next to m-me if you want."
"I-if you don't mind."
I hear the sound of shuffling steps slowly coming closer. Due to the heavy curtains covering the windows and the absence of street lights outside, the room is pitch black. I hope Hisao won't bump into something like I did when I nearly knocked over Lilly earlier this night. As the shuffling stops, I move a bit to my right to give him some space, and a moment later I hear him get into the bed.
This feels awkward. I try to make conversation by asking the first question that pops into my mind.
"H-Hisao, do you often have trouble sleeping?"
"On occasion. It's my medication. It sometimes messes with my sleeping patterns. Sometimes I just wake up in the middle of the night, and sometimes I can't fall asleep no matter how tired I feel."
"How about you? Do you often have bad dreams?"
"S-sometimes. A-about the accident or a-about elementary school. It used to be worse than it is now."
"You've been getting better?"
"Therapy is helping a bit. Though I still take sleeping pills sometimes during periods when things get especially bad, I'm trying not to rely on them too much."
"I met Miss Takawa a few days ago."
"I know. She asked me if she could meet you."
"She seems nice. A bit odd, but nice."
Another silence. I want to say what's on my mind, but I'm not sure how to put it.
"Hisao… How has your h-heart been lately?"
"Not bad. I've responded well to those early morning jogs."
"Nothing happened like… during… that… night?"
I feel him freezing for a moment. We never mentioned "that night" again after we started dating. Even the memory is still painfully awkward for us both.
"No… Not even a small flutter. With luck it'll stay that way. Look at today. We walked to town and back in warm weather, and we had another long walk this evening. I'm not saying I'm in perfect shape yet, but I'm slowly getting better at handling physical activity."
"Because… we're… in a r-relation right now, but I thought you… were worried about your heart and erm…"
I hear him sigh. He probably understands where I am going.
"You want to know why I picked my own bed if I wasn't worried about my heart."
"…we have shared a bed before."
"It's pretty confusing, isn't it? We just started dating. We haven't done anything besides kissing and hugging. And yet we've lost our virginity to one another. Sharing a bed shouldn't be a problem, right? We've gone further than just sleeping next to each other."
"It…is a bit confusing."
"I wasn't sure how you felt about physical intimacy beyond what we've done so far. I don't want to feel the way I felt last time ever again."
"I d-don't understand."
Hisao takes a long pause.
"…I feel that last time, sleeping with me was just a means to an end to you. You didn't want the experience itself, you just wanted me to see you in a different light. I did something to you that you didn't really want. Something very intimate that you didn't really want. Afterwards, when I learned your motivation, I felt like I had my way with you. Like I took advantage of you."
I had no idea he felt this bad about it. It's true I let him have sex with me, but I didn't feel like he forced me to.
"…I… don't really see it that way. I… feel it was me who was t-taking advantage of you. I had ulterior m-motives I didn't tell you about. At least not until later."
"Even so, the whole thing was painful for you, wasn't it?"
"That… last… part was kind of painful, to be honest. But… I've read that… it… hurts for most girls during their first time, so I don't think it was your fault. And there was one thing I enjoyed about the whole thing."
"What was that?"
"People often recoil when they see even part of my face. You… saw much more of me that night. But you still… wanted me."
"Your scars really don't do much to diminish your beauty, Hanako."
He says it with such sincerity that I can't help but smile. I'm still not quite used to the idea of being attractive to someone, but it always feels good when Hisao is flattering me. It makes me want to ease his anxiety in return.
"Hisao… What happened that night… It wasn't the right t-time. But for me, it was at least with the right p-person. I'm happy it was with you. As awkward as it was, it was with someone I r-really, really liked. That's what's important to me. So p-please don't feel bad about this anymore."
I hear him shift, and I suddenly feel a soft kiss on my… nose? I giggle. It has to be tough to kiss someone when you can't see your hand in front of your face.
"Hanako… Have you ever thought about… you know… what it'd be like if we went a step further?"
I feel my cheeks burning when he asks me this question. It seems he's trying to find out if I have a sex drive without actually having to ask me directly.
"I'm not really sure… Not too long ago, I was still considering intimacy something that other people had, but I w-would never have. So I told myself it was something I neither needed nor wanted. But when you showed me the scar on your chest and allowed me to touch it… I found out I enjoyed the physical contact. It really surprised me when I discovered that aspect of myself."
"Was it a pleasant discovery?"
"I… don't really know. I'm still in the process of getting used to the idea. I… do occasionally wonder what it would b-be like if we… became more intimate. But when I think about it for too long, I still get a bit scared. How about you, Hisao? Aren't you scared you'd get heart trouble if you got too carried away?"
"I'm kinda trying to lower the chances of that happening. At this point, I think I should be able to handle something not too intense."
"…Are you… proposing something?"
"Until now, I simply assumed you weren't up to it anyway, but then I realized I should at least make the effort to ask if you'd like to…"
"…l-like to what?"
"Like to make out."
I smile. I realize I still come across as fragile and shy despite my new-found resolve to try and become more confident. I appreciate the fact Hisao is at least making the effort to find out what I really feel and want instead of making assumptions about me, even if they're probably largely correct.
"W-Why so sudden?"
"Circumstances, I guess. We have a big room and a big bed all to ourselves right now. The only person within a mile is Lilly, who's a pretty heavy sleeper and isn't going to barge in on us. We don't get this kind of convenience and privacy at Yamaku. It kinda feels like a shame to waste the opportunity. But on the other hand, I'd hate to do something you're not ready for… again."
I take some time to consider Hisao's words. I enjoy kissing and hugging him. It turned out that I'm not quite as frightened of physical contact as I'd always thought I'd be. I'm admittedly a bit curious. Hisao's right that right now would not be a bad opportunity. The fact that it's too dark for him to actually see me might make me feel more at ease too. But if I want to relax, I have to be sure about one thing.
"W-we c-could g-give it a try. But I… I'm not too sure what I… am or am not… ready for."
I hear Hisao shifting a bit next to me. I then feel him touching my arm and then bringing my hand to his face.
"Any time you feel like it's too much, just pinch my cheek really sharply, and I'll stop right away. Got that?"
"Also, it's probably best if you take the active role."
"Ah… M-me t-taking…?"
Judging from Hisao's tone, he likes that idea, but I'm not so thrilled myself. I'm not exactly the most pro-active person in the world, and having this rely on me might make for a very passive experience. Still, since I was the one who voiced reluctance, it makes sense to do it this way. I lean over to the nightstand, pick up and put in my hair clip and turn my head in Hisao's general direction.
"Ummm…w-what should I do now?"
"Could you lie on top of me?"
I take a deep breath, feel my way over to him, carefully straddle him, lie down and adjust my position until I'm fairly certain my face is about on the same level as his.
"Now just take your time and try to relax."
I rest my head on his shoulder, letting his left cheek brush against my own and wait for my heart to stop racing. I'm not sure how long we spend lying like this. Two minutes? Five? Just as I start wondering if this hadn't been a bad idea all along, I feel a sensation on the back of my head.
He's running his hand through my hair.
So much for my active role.
It feels nice though.
I gently raise my head a bit, so his hand ends up caressing the back of my head. He whispers to me.
"Do you like that?"
Having received my consent, Hisao brings up his other hand and starts using both to stroke the back and sides of my head. As the feelings from his touch wash over me, my body starts to relax.
This is nice.
It feels like that hug I shared with Lilly when she came back.
So much better.
Am I supposed to return the favor?
Would he like it?
Maybe I should try it out.
I move my body a bit to get more comfortable and raise my head a bit more, then place my hand on the side of his face. As Hisao resumes stroking my hair, I nervously start running my fingers through his, hoping he'll start feeling the same thing I am.
"That feels good, Hanako."
His encouragement makes me feel a little bit more confident, and I gently lower my head, letting my forehead rest against his. As I lightly start stroking his neck with my fingertips, his breathing speeds up ever so slightly, and I let out an awkward giggle as I feel his breath brush across the left side of my face. Apparently Hisao is eager to return the favor as his right hand slides down to the nape of my neck and starts caressing it.
This is more comfortable than I thought it'd be.
It also feels more intimate than that time we actually had sex.
After what feels like an hour of petting and caressing, I turn my head to the side. So far Hisao hasn't taken much initiative, content to let me determine the pace - a role I'm slowly growing into. Deciding to take another step closer, I lean in and kiss him on his left cheek. For a second there's no reaction, before he unexpectedly turns his head, causing his lips to touch mine and making me pull back with a surprised gasp.
As I get ready to return the kiss, a playful idea gets into my head. I carefully approach his mouth with mine until I can feel his breath tickling my lips, stopping what I think is barely an inch away from his face. I quietly count to three in my head and then place an unexpected kiss on his right cheek. As he turns his head again, I swiftly move my head back just a bit so my lips remain just out of his reach. I blow gently on his lips to tease him, then move my head and plant a kiss on his left cheekbone before retreating again as his lips attempt to catch mine.
This is fun.
I move my head again to go for his other cheek, but as I bring my lips down again, I'm surprised to find his own meeting me. As I quickly move back again, I hear a soft chuckle. Determined not to let him catch up to me in this little game of tag, I hold my breath to prevent him from tracking me, then swiftly place a kiss on his right cheek again.
And then on his left cheek.
Near his right eyebrow.
Now he starts holding his breath too to avoid giving himself away, but I won't have any of that. Bracing myself, I gently wiggle my body a bit, causing him to exhale sharply as it rubs against his.
Another kiss on his right cheek…
One on his left ear…
"I-I give up already!"
I giggle at his mock-desperate claim of surrender. I wouldn't have minded keeping this up a little longer, but it looks like Hisao wants to move on.
"Please keep still, Hisao."
I limit myself to a few quick pecks on his mouth first, but when I feel his arms wrap around me I move in for a longer kiss, this time welcoming the touch of his lips. I feel him open his mouth just slightly as we press our lips together. When I carefully pull away after kissing his lower lip for several moments, I feel no anxiety or fear, just a little nervousness and more than a little anticipation. I move in again, this time going for his upper lip. This time he starts returning my kisses.
We're really getting into this.
We mumble a quick apology to each other after we accidentally clash teeth during a slightly too enthusiastic kiss.
I wonder if I should…
During the next kiss, I softly tickle his lower lip with my tongue. As we press our lips together, I bashfully move my tongue past his lips, only to retreat with a gasp the moment it meets his.
"Go ahead, Hanako."
Attempt number two then. I do my best to relax and slip my tongue into his mouth again. This time I let his tongue touch mine, though it's mostly passive contact. Is there a right way to do this? It looks so easy on television.
Attempt number three. I try to stroke his tongue with mine a bit. Am I doing this correctly?
As I clumsily explore his mouth with my tongue, I feel his hand stroking my back. It's nice, but he's sticking too much to a scarred area. I doubt he can feel this with my nightgown in the way.
"A little lower."
Our kisses are starting to get more feverish.
He uses his hand to gently push my head aside and kisses my neck, causing me to shiver.
I wildly ruffle his hair with my hands as I accept his tongue into my mouth.
I return the neck kiss he gave me earlier. His body is starting to wiggle under me.
The sensation from his hand and his tongue is causing me to start rubbing my body against his as well. I start wondering where this will end.
"I'd like… Would you want to…"
I know what he wants to say.
"…g-go a-all the way?"
"Yes. Do you…?"
Part of me would probably like that. But another part of me is still afraid. Afraid of being… penetrated again. Afraid of the pain and awkwardness that came with it last time. And above all… afraid of not being able to enjoy it. Before this night, I might have ignored that fear. Last time, me enjoying it wasn't a priority or even a concern for me. But now that Hisao has told me how awful he felt afterwards about our last night together, I can't bear to sleep with him under false pretenses again. Especially considering how much effort he's made this night to adjust things to my pace. I decide that killing the mood is better than betraying his trust.
"I'm s-sorry, Hisao. I c-can't do it y-yet."
He sighs. That was to be expected.
"I understand Hanako. We've already gotten really far."
That's the problem. We've gotten this far and now I'm blue balling you. That has to be frustrating. Please don't pretend it's not. Please don't pretend to be understanding.
"I appreciate you being honest about this. It's okay."
Except that it's not okay. I felt that bulge in your pants just now while we were grinding against each other. And now you're going to sleep on a dissatisfied note. Or worse, sneak off to the bathroom when I'm asleep to hand yourself that happy ending I can't give you.
A bold idea suddenly pops up in my head. Maybe there IS something I can do.
I want to thank him for tonight. Make him feel good.
It's embarrassing, but not any worse than the intercourse we've had before.
I can do this.
The hardest part is bringing it up. I have to act quickly.
For you, Hisao.
I seek out his lips again and give him a long kiss in an attempt to salvage the mood before it vanishes completely.
"Hisao… I… ummm… I could..."
"…if you'd like… I c-could…"
Do it, damnit. Do it before you start thinking too much about this.
"…I c-could… s-s-stroke y-you… d-d-down t-t-there… m-make you f-f-feel g-good."
Say something already before I break down and start apologizing for saying this.
"Would you do that, Hanako?"
"In that case… I'm all yours."
Giving him another quick kiss, I move off of him to give him some room and grin as a thought comes to me.
"H-Hisao… I-I think we should take off your c-clothes. Those pajamas you're wearing are b-borrowed, aren't they?"
"Yeah, getting these soiled might call down Lilly's ancestors from the heavens to place an ancient Scottish curse on me."
The ridiculous mental image that remark conjures up combined with the tension I was feeling before is too much for me to bear, and I snort with laughter. When I catch my breath, I can hear the rustling of his pajamas as they're being taken off. I softly stroke his leg, and as my hand runs across his boxers, I whisper a final request for confirmation.
I nervously take hold of his boxers, and he lifts his hips as I take them off before dropping them over the side of the bed. I pull the covers back up to his chin, lie on my side next to him, wrap my left arm around him and sneak my right hand down to his abdomen. Making an attempt to get back in the mood as it was before I got cold feet, I seek out his lips with my own and start kissing him again as I gently tickle his stomach. The fact that he's naked, vulnerable and leaving himself in my hands (and the fact we can't see each other) gives me enough confidence to take the lead. As I start caressing his thighs and hear his breathing accelerate, I suddenly think of something. Letting up my kissing, I move my head to the side of his, playfully kiss his earlobe and then whisper in his ear as I place my hand on his chest. His heartbeat is fairly quick, but steady.
"Hisao, if you start feeling d-distress or chest pain or… anything alarming, just say stop and I'll stop immediately. That or just pinch my side. Okay? My left side."
I resume my kisses and my stroking of his thighs. I feel his breath halt for a moment when I carefully run a finger up and down the length of his member.
Then two fingers, one on each side this time.
Then I wrap my fingers around him. I slowly move my hand, playfully squeezing every now and again. As he starts moving his body in tandem with my motions, I start speeding up.
A pleased sigh.
As Hisao's breathing becomes even more irregular, I lean in and start frantically kissing the side of his neck. I can tell by the movement of his hips, his breathing and the occasional stifled groan that he's near his limit. As I prepare to give him a final nudge…
"Stop! Hanako, stop, stop, please…"
I quickly let go of him and listen as he struggles to catch his breath. Is he going to have an episode? Did I go too far? I let my hand rest on top of his chest, but his heartbeat, although rapid, seems steady.
"H-Hisao!… Are you… Did I…?"
"It's… okay, Hanako. I'm... perfectly fine."
"Then why did you ask me to stop?"
"I just didn't want it to end yet."
I breathe a sigh of relief, settle down next to him again and kiss his cheek.
"P-please don't scare me like that anymore."
We share a short moment of silence.
"Hisao, d-did you like it so far?"
"Yeah, it felt really good. You seem to be having fun as well, Hanako."
I giggle cheerfully.
"I am. I really like making you feel good. It f-feels good pampering you. This probably feels as good to me emotionally as it does to you physically. Both types of fun are rewarding."
"Can't we have both?"
I reply with a kiss and reach down to pick up where we left off.
"It s-sounds like you're ready for me to continue."
We soon get back into the rhythm.
This even gets me a little turned on.
I can do this for as long as you like, Hisao.
"Hanako, w-wait a bit…"
Does he want to say something?
He puts his hand on top of my own as an indicator to stop.
"Hanako…I was actually serious just now."
"When we were making out earlier, I felt good both from giving and receiving. I'd like to keep this going."
"What do you mean?"
"If you…ah…were to switch places with me, I think we can both…you know…"
"The last time we shared a bed, when I tried to…um…get you ready for intercourse…did that feel good?"
I feel awkward thinking back on that. I didn't exactly hate it, but good was too strong a term. The circumstances were less than ideal back then.
"I…I think l-last time I was t-too nervous to enjoy it much. B-but it d-didn't hurt."
"Maybe I could help you relax this time."
"By leaving things up to you and following your lead. That worked very well before. We can stop any time it becomes too much."
"D-do really want to do… this… with me that badly?"
"I won't press you if really don't want to. But if possible, I'd like this to be something I can experience together with you."
I think for a bit. I can't ignore the fact that I warmed up to making out pretty quickly, despite being nervous about it earlier. Would this be the same? Can I do this without freaking out? Hisao entrusted himself to me. I'd like to give him the same level of trust.
"O-okay, let's… try… together… then."
I sit upright and hesitantly pull my nightgown over my head before dropping it onto the floor. Before I can change my mind, I whisper to him.
"G-g-go a-ahead, Hisao."
I lie back and raise my bottom just a bit. I blush heavily as I feel my underwear being pulled down. I wonder if Hisao felt this vulnerable when I took off his.
"S-so, now what?"
"Could you lie on top of me like before?"
I get on top of him again and am immediately overwhelmed by the sensation of his body against mine. Even when we had sex last time, we didn't get this close to each other. I feel his body warmth like never before.
"Try to relax."
I once again rest my head on his shoulder. I try to remember what helped me relax before.
"C-could you stroke my head again like you did earlier?"
His arms wrap around me. I don't feel them on my upper back very well, but the sensation of my chest being pressed against his is all the stronger for it. I feel his hand stroke the back of my head. As we lie there, I slowly feel my tension ebb away.
"Hisao, isn't this frustrating for you? I-I got you really aroused before, and now you're being forced to slow down again because of me."
"I'm not bothered by it, Hanako. I was the one who suggested to slow down and get you more involved to begin with, wasn't I?"
I nod even though I know he can't see it and seek out his lips. I try to speed up my pace a little bit for his sake, and soon we're back to the intense kisses we shared just before I started pleasuring him. As I pull away for a moment in order for us to catch our breath, he breaks our embrace.
"Hanako… When you think you're ready, could you lie on your back next to me?"
I swallow, gather my courage and slide off of him. He rolls on his side, wraps his left arm around me and starts stroking the side of my face with his other hand.
"I'm going to leave the rest up to you."
"What do you mean?"
"Could you…guide me?"
What does he mean by that?
Should I tell him what to do?
I place my hand on top of his and gently guide it down to my neck. As I let go, Hisao begins stroking the side of my neck.
So that's what he meant.
Following in my footsteps, Hisao starts kissing me in order to increase the stimulation. I take his hand again and speed up the motion slightly.
I slowly guide his hand downward until it rests on my collarbone. He starts running his hand across, stroking my left shoulder and then heading back. I start moving my upper torso in response to the sensation.
This feels really nice.
I suddenly notice that his hand is slowly edging down towards my breasts.
Very sneaky, Hisao.
I quickly take his hand and guide it upwards again. The response is a disappointed huff. I let out a giggle.
"Y-you can stroke my chest, if I can stroke yours."
I put my right hand on his chest and softly run it along his scar, smiling at the memory this brings up. When I feel his hand slide down to my breast, it feels a bit awkward, but I'm no longer afraid.
As we fondle each other and a very pleasant feeling starts spreading through my chest, I realize why Hisao wanted me to participate in this so badly.
It really does feel better to do this together.
I work my way up to his neck and am pleased to find out Hisao's hand follows suit. Looks like I found a new way to guide him.
I move down his collarbone and across his chest again. And once more the favor is returned.
Then I slide my hand to his lower belly. Both our stroking and breathing becomes heavier as we get closer to each other's private regions.
I kiss him passionately as we start caressing each other's inner thighs. We both took a major step earlier this night and another one is only a few inches away from my fingers.
I… I'm ready for this, I think.
I once again wrap my fingers around him and gasp as his hand slides over my most intimate area.
"Are you alright, Hanako?"
"Just… let me… get used… to… it."
I spread my legs a little bit more and take hold of his hand.
A little higher.
A little bit to the left.
A little slower.
"C-could you try… continuing… like… this, Hisao?"
The last time Hisao did this to me, I merely felt a tingling sensation that caused my body to become aroused, but didn't do much to ease my nervousness. This time, it's much stronger, and I reel from each sensation his hand sends through my abdomen. I'm getting so absorbed in the experience that I almost miss him calling out to me.
I quickly let go of him. Judging from his heaving breath he wouldn't have lasted longer than a few more seconds.
"D-do you… hahh… want to take a… (gasp)… break, Hisao?"
"I'll take some time to catch my bearings, Hanako. You just lie back and enjoy."
He continues to stimulate me, and as I hang back and focus completely on my own pleasure, the feeling becomes so intense I arch my back and let out a soft moan.
This feels so good.
I start gyrating my sensitive area against his hand.
"F-faster…just a little bit."
I put my hand on his and speed up the pace a bit.
He starts kissing my collarbone and left breast.
I love this.
I guide his hand to make the strokes shorter and firmer.
"H-Hisao… l-like this… ahhh…"
I don't think I'm going to last much longer. The sensation has grown so overwhelming I can barely think straight.
My breathing is ragged and shallow.
I grab hold of Hisao again. I want to do the final stretch together with him.
We're getting there.
He leans over and starts kissing my neck.
I feel how he starts making thrusting motions with his hips.
The muscles of my abdomen and inner thighs start twitching.
He playfully licks my earlobe. That's more than I can take. My body makes a bucking motion, my hips tense up and I feel three… four shocks between my legs, each of them sending a delightful shudder up my spine. I squeeze my lips shut, but can't prevent myself from letting out several stifled moans.
As my climax subsides, I become aware of Hisao again who's still rapidly thrusting his hips. Eager to let him follow suit, I increase the pace of my strokes even more and gently lick his neck. Suddenly, I hear a muffled groan followed by the sensation of something wet hitting my belly. Hisao's body relaxes and slumps against me. For a moment, all that's audible in the room is the sound of our heavy breathing.
"Hisao? Are you… alright?"
"I-I'm fine… I think."
He shifts and I suddenly feel the covers being pulled back.
"Hisao… You aren't going to…?"
Just then I feel something soft rubbing against my stomach.
"Handkerchief. I didn't want that stuff to dry up on your tummy."
I giggle. That sounded so sweet.
"You're a real gentleman, Hisao."
He pulls the sheets back up, and I snuggle up against him. Laying my head on his chest, I can hear his heartbeat. Still swift, but steady. I sigh contentedly as he puts his arm around me and strokes my head once more.
"What were you about to ask before?"
"Ummm… I was afraid you wanted to sleep in your own bed after this."
"Don't be silly."
"Hanako, can you do something for me?"
"What is it?"
"Please still be here when I wake up next morning."
I give him a quick kiss.
"Hanako, did you…"
"I-I enjoyed this, Hisao. Thanks for being so patient with me."
"Me too, Hanako. And I don't mind the slow pace. Gotta watch the old ticker, after all."
I think he was just being polite there. How long did this whole thing take? And how many guys would really want to do the long-winded approach of one baby step at a time until their girlfriend would finally manage to keep her nerves in check? I don't have any personal experience, but I'm pretty sure most guys would get bored with the slow pace and get the desire to quickly skip to the end. It makes me appreciate Hisao all the more.
Tomorrow morning will probably be very awkward, but I promise myself to wake him up with a smile tomorrow.
Hisao's breathing has already changed to the slow and steady rhythm of slumber, and just before I join him, one final though goes through my mind. Just before he nudged me over the edge, for only a single second, I wanted to go further… wanted him to go further. I smile. With luck, it won't be too long before I'm ready to take another step with him.
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:37 am
Ten more minutes until lunch break. We've already completed the assignment we were given, so now I've taken out one of my library books and am trying to finish a chapter before the school bell rings. Truth be told I'm still a little tense, so it's not going as quickly as I had been hoping for. The reason for the tension I feel is the fact I just completed my first group assignment in class (the occasional assignments Hisao and I do together notwithstanding). Or rather, my first group assignment that didn't end in disaster, like some time ago in science class, when I was struck with a panic attack. And Hisao wasn't even part of the group I worked with today, or things probably would have been less awkward.
Today in Japanese class, we were instructed to work in groups of three people maximum and write a short piece on parliament elections. Hisao immediately got up to join me, only to be pushed back into his seat by Misha and being forced into a heated discussion about having dodged a student council assignment the other day. (I don't think it was meant to be a public argument, but Misha is very easy to eavesdrop on.) I was familiar enough with Shizune and Misha (as well as Hisao's playfully tense relationship with them) to figure out that they were going to use that group assignment as an excuse to drag a promise out of him to make up for it somehow, meaning the chances of Hisao doing group work with me just dropped to exactly zero. A suspicion confirmed by an apologetic shrug on his part.
Just as I got ready to start the assignment on my own, I noticed Hisao was making a gesture with his head towards a point to my right. I followed his gaze and noticed my two neighbors on the right side were the only students not part of a group of three yet. My eyes grew wide as I realized his intention. Was he telling me to join some other group just like that? I quickly shook my head and gave him a begging look, but he just made a gesture towards Shizune as if to say 'matters are out of my hands'. Later on, I started wondering whether he was really unable to ditch the student council duo or whether this was a subtle attempt on his part to help me widen the circle of people I could have social interaction with.
I took another look at my neighbors only to quickly look away when they caught my gaze. I looked back at Hisao again, and this time he was smiling at me. I knew that expression; I came to know it as his 'everything will be alright'-smile. It didn't do a lot to inspire confidence in me this time, though. In all my time in this class, I could count the words I exchanged with my neighbors on one hand, and I had no clue why they would even want to work with me after I spent the better part of two years trying to avoid even basic interaction with them.
As usual when faced with an unexpected social situation, my mind completely froze up, and I couldn't come up with even a single way to formulate that simple request that most people could make without even having to think about it. The fact that my neighbor is a very outgoing person herself didn't exactly ease my mind.
That got their attention. The girls looked at me, and when I didn't reply, they looked at Hisao who gave them a quick nod. My neighbor gave me a cheerful grin.
"Looking for a group to work with, Ikezawa?"
I gave them a timid nod.
"No probs. Feel free to tag along. Three know more than two, right?"
As I moved my desk over to theirs, my neighbor Naomi wasted no time in making conversation.
"Bet you were disappointed you couldn't work with Nakai this time, weren't you? You two usually do assignments together these days. Heh, I guess the powers that be decided otherwise, didn't they?"
Am I really supposed to answer all of that?
"You're usually not big on group work, aren't you? Didn't something happen that time before in science class? Don't worry, stuff like that happens to the best of us. But you know that, don't you? You're usually stuck with the front row seat when I short out."
The last statement was accompanied by a cheerful wink.
Too many questions!
While I was still reeling from Naomi's verbal machinegun fire, her neighbor Natsume cut in with a question of her own.
"Japanese is one of your stronger subjects, is it not?"
I responded with another meek nod. It's true, Japanese is probably my best subject. It was one of the benefits of being a bookworm. The fact that I was fairly confident I'd be able to pull my weight on this assignment was one of the things that made the whole thing slightly easier.
"Great, then we'll finish this all the sooner."
Naomi seemed eager to begin, and I quickly nodded in order to avoid more conversations. We divided the workload into three parts and got to work. While writing my section of the piece, I occasionally observed my new group mates. Natsume and Naomi remind me a bit of less extreme versions of Shizune and Misha. Natsume wears glasses and has a stern appearance, but isn't as bossy or forceful as Shizune. The most striking part of Naomi's appearance is her hair which, while not dyed like Misha's, is bleached to a distinct light blonde color. Her personality is a bit like Misha's as well - up-beat, loud and a bit hyper, though Naomi's volume control button doesn't seem to be permanently stuck on the max setting. Also, like Shizune and Misha, the two seem together constantly.
We finished the assignment with a good amount of time to spare and my group mates had started on a piece of homework I already finished the other day. If I had been working with Hisao, we'd probably have spent the remaining time talking with one another, but I don't think I'd be able to have small talk with my new group mates… Keeping semi-normal interaction going with them had already drained most of my energy, and the tension I felt during our working session isn't fading nearly as quickly as I hoped.
I look at Naomi from behind my book, startled by her sudden exclamation, and see her wrestling with a pair of compasses. She's been playfully fiddling with them over the course of the entire assignment and now she seems to have jammed them somehow.
"They were never meant to be used to grind little pieces of your eraser into powder."
"I know. I know. Now can I just…"
"I left mine in my dorm room. I already finished that question this morning before heading to classes."
She lets out a disappointed sigh.
After a few more seconds of trying to get her compasses unstuck, Naomi suddenly turns to me, causing me to instinctively raise my book as if to shield myself.
"Hey Ikezawa, don't you have a pair of compasses I could use? Just for a sec. I'll be really, really careful with them. Okay? Just to complete this little graph. You'll have them back in the blink of an eye. Pretty please with sugar on top?"
"I-I d-don't have any of t-those."
"You don't? Then how did you take care of that problem where we had to draw up that pie chart as part of the answer?"
"I t-t-typed it up."
I sigh inwardly. I don't think I'd be able to finish a verbal explanation without it taking another hour, so I reach into my bag and just show her the answer sheet I put together the day before, neatly typed out on one of the school's computers. I used the word processor's graph features to generate the pie chart.
"Oh hey, that first answer is totally different from what I had. I wonder if I missed something or if you were simply over thinking the… Eh, never mind. That's pretty neat you put together your answers like that. Do you often use computers to type up your homework?"
Why is she so interested?
"S-s-sometimes, b-but not v-very often."
I mostly use the school computers to put together essays or other homework that requires a lot of writing. The scar tissue on my right wrist sometimes hampers my movement a bit, so I'm not a very quick writer. Typing out my homework can be a big time-saver at times. The only downer is the fact the computer lab has no quiet little corners, meaning I only use the place when it's nearly deserted, which isn't very often.
Naomi seems satisfied with my answer, and I return to my book. As I turn another page, I'm starting to notice something is different. Naomi and Natsume are no longer working on their homework, but are speaking to each other in whispers too quiet for me to make out, and they occasionally look in my direction.
I wonder if it's about me. I get very uncomfortable. Are they gossiping about me? Both are members of the newspaper club which is responsible for writing and printing the school newspaper, and Naomi in particular loves to keep on top of the local rumors floating around. Is acute indiscretion an officially recognized condition? If so, she'd probably be diagnosed with it. As if to confirm my suspicions, Naomi suddenly addresses me with a conspiring smile.
"Hey, Nakai is still your boyfriend, isn't he? I mean, you guys haven't broken up yet or anything, right?"
I visibly reel back from the impact of this blunt question and barely manage to shake my head.
"W-we're s-still d-dating."
"You know, as of last week you're officially dating a geek. You're not put off by nerdy traits in your guys, are you?"
Your guys? She's talking as if I've been dating boys ever since I enrolled here. I know what this is about though. A new club was formed last week and our homeroom teacher Mutou is in charge of it. It's a science club, of course… The only kind of club he'd have interest in setting up. And I'm currently dating its sole member. It's a bit weird, but Hisao said the club's main activity, reading and discussing scientific literature, has been pretty fun so far.
"It's kinda sad there's still only one member though. I suppose you're not joining to flesh out membership?"
I did actually offer to join, but Hisao shot that suggestion down almost immediately. "Science isn't really your thing, Hanako," he told me. "It'd just feel like class to you. If you want to join a club, you'd be better off finding something that actually captures your interest." I couldn't really argue with that. Unlike Hisao, who seems to have a knack for deciphering Mutou's convoluted lectures, I'm not exactly a star pupil in science class, and it's hardly my favorite subject.
"N-no, I'm n-not."
"But you won't be able to hang out with your boyfriend after school hours, because he's in a club and you're not, right?"
What is she trying to get at?
Natsume, who had remained silent during the whole interrogation put her hand on Naomi's arm to indicate she wanted to say something.
"What Naomi is trying to ask you is if you'd be willing to help out the newspaper club with an emergency situation for a few days."
"Hey, I was still getting to that point!"
Is this a veiled recruiting attempt? And why me? There's probably dozens of other students more suitable.
"Yeah, you probably know we're both members there. Most of the members write or collect stories for the school newspaper, but we also have someone to put them together on the computer before we send the whole thing to the copy shop. At least, we usually do."
"Unfortunately, the girl who usually does the job is out of commission for a little while. She injured herself a few days ago and certainly won't be able to help before the deadline."
"Yeah, she broke her hand after tripping outside her dorm room. She has this thing called os…osto-something. Anyway she breaks easily. And now we need someone who can do the data entry and some minor editing jobs in her place for a few days."
"B-but w-w-why me?
"There aren't that many students here who aren't already part of another club or don't have other tasks like class representative duties to tend to and who are also capable with computers. When we saw the way you made a digital print of your homework, we thought you might be able to help us out."
"Yeah, I mean, it's not a really complex task. And there's not a lot of distractions there either. The place the club uses has a small side room where we keep the computers and archives."
I really don't know about this. The idea of getting involved in a club with nothing but people I'm unfamiliar with sounds terrifying.
"You don't have to decide right now, you know? But it'd be good if we got a yay or nay before the end of tomorrow."
While I'm still fumbling with my words, the school bell sounds, and most people immediately start getting up. Hisao collects his things, quickly gets away from Shizune and Misha and approaches my desk.
"Hey Hanako. Sorry about not being able to team up. Did you complete the assignment?"
"Y-yes, we even managed to finish ahead of time."
"Great. Let's head to the tea room, then."
Phew. Saved by the cavalry.
"S-sure, I'll be with you in a second."
As Hisao starts heading towards the exit, Naomi suddenly addresses me again.
"Hey Ikezawa, just to reassure you; this isn't a recruiting attempt, though we always welcome new members of course. But if you'd be willing to help out the newspaper club, we'd be really thankful. Think about it, okay?"
Why is she shouting like that? I'm sitting right in front of her.
Without waiting for a reply, Naomi and Natsume gather their belongings and walk off, past Hisao who has turned around and is looking at me with a curious expression on his face. Wait… Did he overhear?
"That sounded pretty interesting, Hanako."
I can only sit there with my mouth agape as I realize that my cavalry has just been turned into Naomi's cavalry instead.
"Were you really asked to join a club?"
As expected, the main talk of our lunch break was Naomi's proposal. Lilly was understandably surprised to hear of this sudden development.
"I-it's not really about joining. They have a deadline for the end of the week and need some help."
"Have you already decided what to do?"
I haven't. On the one hand, I must admit I'm a bit curious. On the other hand, Naomi and Natsume, with whom I've never even really interacted before, are the most familiar people in there, and I can't really say their presence is a calming factor for me. While I don't think Naomi is the kind of person to hold a grudge, the fact remains that if I mess up or disappoint somehow, classes will become much more uncomfortable. Naomi and Natsume will still be my neighbors until the end of the school year.
"N-no, I haven't."
"Someone told me not too long ago that it's important to seize opportunities if they're handed to you on a platter like this."
Hisao has decided to jump into the fray too. I roll my eyes at his remark. Those are the exact same words I used last week to convince him to give Mutou's science club idea a chance. At first he was reluctant, afraid he'd have less time to spend with me. The last thing I wanted to do was hold him back, so I did my best to convince him to give the whole thing a try. I knew the subject interested him, and I hoped this would also encourage him to make more definite plans for his future. He consistently scores the highest marks in class in Mutou's subject, and I genuinely believe that he'd do very well if he went for a career in that direction.
"I-I know I said that last week. I'm not ruling the opportunity out r-right away."
"You could choose to see it as a sign that fate is extending you a helping hand."
By breaking somebody else's? That's kind of a cruel way to motivate someone. Fate must know how easily I can be guilt tripped.
I merely nod. I don't believe the work itself will give me much trouble. What scares me is the idea of being thrown into a group of unfamiliar people who might stare at my scars, who might be put off by my stammering (which always gets worse whenever I'm feeling nervous), my shyness and inability to make conversation. A few weeks ago, I was still the 'shy kid who kissed her first boyfriend in public' to people, but tomorrow I might be the 'shy kid who panics at the most mundane things' once again.
"Anyway, if you're considering it, it might be best to go this afternoon. I could pick you up afterwards when I'm done with my club meeting. If you're nervous and wait until tomorrow, you might lose sleep over it."
That's a pretty good point. Knowing myself, I'd probably mull over it all night long, and I'd only become more prone to messing up.
"O-okay, I'll give it a t-try after classes t-today."
Lilly claps her hands excitedly upon hearing my words.
"Wonderful. I hope you two will be willing to join me for some tea tonight. I'd really like to hear how things played out."
I smile. It's been a while since we last sat together in Lilly's room to talk and relax. Having something to look forward to will make things easier.
"T-that would be nice."
"We'll be there, Lilly."
"So while the classroom is the place we use as an editorial office, most of the editing takes place here. We have two computers here, though only one is regularly used. The other's more like a digital archive. You can take a look at it later for examples of how we've been doing things. And here's the cabinet where we store most of our equipment. It isn't very large as you can see. Oh hey, you're not claustrophobic, are you?"
"N-n-no, I'm n-not."
Naomi was visibly surprised when I showed up at their club's classroom after school, but wasted no time giving me a brief tour. Good thing only she and Natsume were around when I arrived.
"I think Jun, the girl who is usually doing this, has some templates saved which she uses for the various pages of each issue. But that's not really the number one priority we have at this point. The most important thing to do now is to get all the stuff we have digital. By the way, do you have any questions so far?"
"Ummm… s-so I j-just t-type up the a-articles you wrote?"
"Eager to get started, huh? Neat."
More like eager to end this one-sided conversation.
Naomi opens the nearby cabinet and fishes out several small digital recording devices and a flash drive. Putting them and a small pile of hand-written notes on the nearby desk, she makes a sweeping gesture over it.
"Here's what we have so far! Jun has already made a folder for the upcoming issue and a shortcut on the desktop. This memory stick is from Kaoru. He likes to type up all his articles himself, so all you have to do is copy them to the right folder and then print me a copy to look it over."
She takes out one of the recorders and picks up a small USB cable from the desk.
"Several of our members use these to compose their contributions. Hideki's completely blind and not too techno-savvy, so he just dictates his articles. Natsume uses these too whenever her joints are hurting. Like… the last few days. Anyway, just plug one of these in with this cable here, and the application for playing the contents should start automatically. It'll be easier than rewinding and replaying manually. Always check the sections at the very end first. They often contain comments on whether to omit or alter certain portions. And the written notes here just contain articles and interviews by the rest."
"I-I'll s-start p-putting these in then."
"Cool. I'd do this myself, but I can't sit in front of monitors for very long for a while. Nurse's latest orders. I can be a bit sensitive to them. They sometimes cause, you know, short-circuiting."
I know alright. Naomi's reason for attending Yamaku is a pretty heavy case of epilepsy, and over the years, she's had several harsh episodes right next to me in class. The first time she fell out of her chair and started thrashing around on the floor got me so riled up I couldn't sleep for days. I'm still not completely used to it.
"Anyway, be sure to let the computer do a spelling and grammar check on everything to save ourselves some trouble later. You have any questions, Natsume and I'll be in the other room."
Having left Lilly's room, I unlock the door to my own bedroom and prepare to kiss Hisao goodnight and retire for the day when he stops me.
"Can I come in for a little while?"
We go in, and he sits next to me on the bed.
"You're going back to the newspaper club tomorrow, aren't you? Even though you said you didn't know yet."
"I… I think I want to at least finish what I started today."
That isn't the only reason. I also want to start feeling more reliable. For a long time, I've felt like a useless person, unable to be there for others. Today, I had an opportunity to deconstruct that belief, but my social anxiety nearly ruined it for me. Even though Naomi and Natsume were friendly, I felt on edge all the time. By the time we went back to the dorms, I felt exhausted. Even though we just had tea with Lilly, I'm still tense all over.
"You look tired. And tensed up."
"D-do you think I s-should skip tomorrow?"
"I don't think I can make that decision for you. But if it helps, I might be able to help you relax a little bit. Do you want to?"
He sits back a bit, spreads his legs and gestures me to sit in front of him. I smile.
I sit in front of him, drape my hair over my shoulders and gently pull the shoulders of my nightgown away, causing it to slide down to just above my breasts. I let my chin rest on my chest and try to relax. I hear him rub his hands together for a bit and then feel one touch my exposed left shoulder.
"Wow, your shoulders and your neck are really stiff this time."
"I'm… not very good with people, so situations like these will probably always cause me stress."
"Even though people were friendly today?"
"I-It's not something rational. I really wish it was. It'd be a lot easier to control."
He starts carefully rubbing and kneading my neck and shoulders. We've been giving each other these little massages for a while now, and I've really come to enjoy them. While I can't feel the sensation of his hand touching and rubbing the skin of my right shoulder, I still feel the result in my muscles there afterwards. It almost feels like I'm challenging my condition this way.
"But it'll get less as you get used to it, right? You used to be awkward in my presence too, remember?"
"Y-yes. It will get less as long as I can manage to keep going. At least, I hope it will."
"Then we'll keep helping you relax afterwards. Lilly and me. We'll just repeat this evening tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow. Until it's no longer necessary."
"T-thank you, Hisao."
We remain silent for a few minutes as Hisao finishes massaging my shoulders, neck and upper back. He moves back, gives a quiet nod to me, and I lie down and let my head rest in his lap. I close my eyes as his hands start massaging my scalp and temples.
"Does it feel good?"
"Do you have any plans for the upcoming weekend?"
"Would you like to go on a date the upcoming Saturday?"
"Great. We'll have a bite to eat at the Shanghai around six and then be on our way."
"Do you already have something planned?"
"Yep. I was already planning it before this whole newspaper club business came up."
"What is it?"
Hisao finishes his massage with a ruffle of my hair. I get up and fix the shoulders of my nightgown.
"Loosened up a bit?"
"Yes, it really helped."
As I turn around to face him, Hisao gives me a playful wink.
"If you want me to give you a more extensive massage…"
As I grasp the meaning behind his remark, I reflexively turn my head away although I doubt my attempt at hiding my extensive blush is successful. Lately there have been a few times we started with a mutual backrub and ended up… doing… what we did that night in Hokkaido.
"N-n-not t-this t-time."
"C-can I return the favor, Hisao?"
"You don't really need to. I'm not feeling tense right now."
As he gets up from the bed, I grab hold of his hand.
Hisao gives me an extended analytical stare that makes me nervous, but then gives a quick nod, sits down in front of me and starts unbuttoning his shirt.
"Alright then, Hanako."
"Nice! You got all content digital now?"
"Great, that was pretty quick overall."
It was more work than I expected. Especially the audio recordings took a while to type up. But now all articles and interviews are saved as documents.
"Could you print them all out? The pictures and templates for all the pages too. And then come and sit here next to me."
"I-I'm not done yet?"
"I can't force you to do more than you want, but there's still something else to do and we're getting to the part that I think you'll like."
I simply nod and return to the computer room. A few minutes later I return to Naomi with a stack of paper containing everything I digitized over the last two days. Naomi is usually loud and somewhat chaotic, but in her role of editor-in-chief she becomes a bit more serious and structured than usual and I have an easier time keeping up (and putting up) with her.
"So here's the templates we have for each page of the newspaper. Now we're gonna have to see what articles go where. We have the front page for the main article, five pages for internal news, three pages for external news, one page for advertisements, one page for columns and one page for sponsor-related stuff."
"So n-now what?"
"Each article has a number. So now we take a few empty sheets of paper and each try to come up with a layout that'll get us the articles in the places we want."
"T-two layout proposals?"
"It's nice to have a second opinion. Just try to estimate how much space each article will take up and how much redundant content each article has that can be cut or shortened."
We spend the next hour trying to come up with our own layout. I do my best not to look in Naomi's direction in order to avoid copying her idea. After I hand in my proposal, she puts the two sheets of paper side by side.
"Looks like we have similar ideas on a lot of stuff. But I didn't think of putting that article about the exposition into external news instead of internal."
"I-I thought i-it could fit b-both. I-it's being organized b-by a teacher from here, b-but t-together with an ex-external p-party and n-not on the school grounds."
"Maybe. Maybe. It'd save us from having to severely truncate that story about the baseball tournament. Okay, we'll go with my layout with the exposition story moved from page five to page eight instead. Could you paste the contents into the template pages? You'll run outside the borders in several places, but we need to know what articles to trim or reword a bit. You can fiddle a bit with the pictures on page two, five and six as long as the faces remain recognizable. Let's get started."
I quickly get to work. We have one and a half day to get everything done. I'll have time to relax this evening, but until then, I feel pressed to work as swiftly as possible.
Barely breathing, I wait as Lilly runs her slender fingers across the last page of the newspaper's Braille edition. Since she appears to be getting close to the end, her fingers must be near the staff section right now. Suddenly, her fingers stop and skim over a section a second time. It looks like she read the part that bears my name.
"Assistant Editor: Hanako Ikezawa."
Lilly breaks into a dazzling smile as she reads the line I knew would catch her attention. A smile that proves very infectious.
"Hanako, this is great."
I nod humbly, but in truth I'm very proud of the result. It took a lot of effort, but we managed to meet the deadline and get the newspaper printed today. Everyone at the newspaper club was very satisfied with this latest issue. Tomorrow, the student council will be distributing it among the rest of the student body, but I couldn't wait that long and took three copies in advance. One for Hisao, one for myself and a Braille edition for Lilly.
"Hey Hanako, is it difficult to create a newspaper in Braille?"
I nod my head.
"The newspaper club has software that can convert normal documents into a file type that a Braille printer can work with. I've used it myself yesterday. It's a lot of work, but there's a member at the club who can read Braille and helps us with this. I just operate the s-software according to his instructions."
Hisao laughs and playfully ruffles my hair.
"I didn't know my girlfriend had this nerdy side to her."
Before I can think up a reaction of my own, Lilly is already eagerly pouncing on his remark.
"Wouldn't that make her a perfect match for the current president of the science club, Hisao?"
Hisao's only reply is a mock-offended huff that makes both of us burst out in giggles.
"I'm not going to argue that point."
"A wise decision, Hisao."
"So Hanako, do you have any plans to continue this?"
"T-this was only a temporary solution to meet this week's deadline. But they said they'd welcome any help I could offer them."
"It sounds like they want you to stick around."
"I-I might give it another try next week. Maybe."
"Sounds like a great plan. Where were they this afternoon anyway? The club's classroom was deserted when I dropped by."
I smile a bit sadly at that.
"After a new issue is printed and handed over to the student council for distribution, the club always goes into town to relax and celebrate the release in one of the coffee shops there."
Lilly frowns a bit at my explanation.
"And they did not invite you to come along as well?"
"They did. It's just… If I went along, I don't think I'd be able to relax enough to have fun. All I'd be doing would be watching the others have fun."
That was pretty much the gist of it. This week, I've been forced to communicate with the club members in order to get things done, and I found that as long as the conversation remained strictly about the tasks at hand, I could manage with a bit of effort, but in the face of any small talk, I'd quickly freeze up. I didn't think I'd add much to the social event the club was planning, and it'd be better if I didn't go and attend. I can be on my own just fine, but being at a celebration and being the only one not having fun never fails to make me feel terribly lonely. I felt pretty good about the release and didn't want to do anything that might ruin my mood.
"Maybe if you spend enough time there, they'll grow on you."
We spend the rest of the time making small talk with me occasionally answering questions about last week's activities until Lilly lets out a small yawn from behind her hand that we take as a cue to retire for the night. As Hisao and I rise to return to our dorm rooms, Lilly navigates her way around the table and approaches us.
"Hanako, it seems unfair that the rest of the club got to have a celebration, and the person who helped them out of a difficult spot did not. Maybe you can see this little tea party as your own private celebration."
"I-I think I'll do that."
Suddenly, Lilly gets close to me and wraps her arms around me in a warm embrace. I let out a startled gasp.
"…I think you did a terrific job this week."
"Lilly's right. You really did."
Without warning, Hisao also hugs me. For a second, this weird three-way hug takes me off-guard. Then I return the embrace, wrapping one arm around each of them and gently pulling them closer. It really feels nice. It feels like the way things felt in Hokkaido while we were staying there.
A small disabled family.
I suddenly feel a lump in my throat. I want to laugh and cry at the same time. Are Lilly and Hisao feeling the way I'm feeling right now?
I sniffle briefly.
I love you. I love you both so much. Please let me be here for you the way you're here for me.
We break the embrace and I quickly wipe my eye. As Lilly sees us off, she smiles at me.
"Enjoy your date tomorrow."
"Thanks. I'm sure we will. And um… Lilly… I… um… really enjoyed our time together this week. W-we should hold these tea ceremonies more often again."
For a split-second Lilly's expression seems sad, but before I can react the door closes, and the moment is gone.
"Can I come in for a little while?"
We go in and he places his hands on my shoulders.
"I thought I felt it earlier. You're not nearly as tense as you were during the last few days."
"Today I didn't have much stress, just the printing process and delivery of the papers - and then the tea ceremony with you and Lilly."
"So I guess you won't be needing a shoulder massage today."
"I-I'm not sure yet."
I doubt I need my shoulders or neck loosened up, but I don't want him to leave yet.
This week was tough.
But we're going on a date tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it.
A fitting conclusion to a stressful week.
I kinda made another important step this week.
Maybe I've earned a little something extra.
Maybe we've both earned something.
"Ummm… T-that e-e-extensive m-massage you o-offered earlier t-this w-week…?"
"That offer is still valid, Hanako."
"…s-share o-one t-together?"
"I'd love to."
He removes his socks and shoes and sits on my bed. I open one of my drawers, take a few tissues to avoid us messing up my blanket too much and then turn off the lights. I feel my way over to the bed, position myself in front of him and lean forward for a kiss.
"I'm all yours, Hanako."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:37 am
"The right one, focus on the right one!"
I aim my gun and a moment later the cyborg who just ambushed us from the nearby niche goes down in a hail of sparks. In the meantime, Hisao is struggling to hit another cyborg shooting at us from a vehicle straight ahead, but he has difficulty getting a clear shot due to several allied soldiers running ahead of us and blocking the line of fire.
"Cover me, Corporal Ikezawa!"
I giggle, more than eager to play along.
"A-affirmative, Sergeant Nakai."
We take aim at the main attacker and unleash a torrent of bullets onto his head and chest.
At the mechanical announcement, we both drop the gun-shaped controllers we've been holding while the next mission starts loading up.
"Have you played these kinds of games before?"
"Before I had my heart attack, I sometimes visited game centers with friends. These rail shooters were among the kinds of things we used to play. The ones I played were much more primitive than this one though. Technology sure speeds along."
As another droning announcement indicates we're about the start the next level, we take up the gun units again and ready them.
"You know, I never suspected that the next time I'd be visiting a game center, it'd be as part of a date."
I smile. An arcade center isn't exactly a place the average teenager would take his girlfriend to, but I guess I'm not exactly the average girlfriend either. In a way, it was a pretty clever idea on Hisao's part. While there are quite a few people around, the hall itself is rather dark so my scarring isn't very noticeable, especially since I'm also wearing my hat. And while we're playing games, there's no need for small talk.
"I…I really like it so far."
This time we're on top of some vehicle chasing an enemy truck.
"Have you played many video games in the past, Hanako?"
Several enemy troops appear on the roof of the truck and start shooting at us. We quickly return fire, each of us trying to focus on different enemies.
"N-not many. We had an old Super Famicom at the orphanage that was donated by one of the staff members whose son was given a more recent system for his birthday. It was pretty popular with the other kids, so I didn't get around to using it very often."
We clear the roof of the truck. Now what?
"They have a retro section here as well. We could check it out later. We might run into some familiar titles."
Suddenly explosive charges are being tossed at us from inside the truck. A big blast and our life meters drop down by 20%.
"Hey, how the heck are we supposed to deal with that?"
We both try shooting the vehicle, but nothing happens. Another charge is tossed and now our life meters are at 60%.
"T-the tires perhaps?"
Again, nothing. Another charge gets tossed, but as Hisao shoots at it, it explodes prematurely and the enemy truck shakes from the blast.
"We're supposed to shoot the charges before they reach us!"
Another charge gets tossed. This time I intercept it and the truck shakes even more.
"Good shot, Hanako."
"They're always coming from the same point."
Another charge is blown, but this time the truck starts moving from side to side.
"Oh come on!"
We miss the next two charges and now we're at 20%. Hisao gets the next one and the back of the truck ignites.
"D-did we do it?"
Then one more charge is thrown from the burning truck, the screen turns red and a big countdown appears.
I hastily reach for my purse and take out a coin, so we can continue. But as I bend down to slide it into the slot…
Something hits me in the head, causing me to drop the coin. I quickly get down on my knees to retrieve it before it rolls under one of the cabinets. As I grab it and look behind me, two things draw my attention.
One is the arcade cabinet we were standing in front of with a big "GAME OVER" message on the screen.
The other is my boyfriend, also kneeling on the floor and looking at the screen, then looking at me. His one hand is holding a coin as well. His other hand is rubbing his forehead.
As the ridiculousness of the situation sinks in, I press my hand to my mouth in order to stifle a burst of laugher that would surely attract the attention of the other people around us. Hisao merely chuckles while wearing a silly grin on his face.
We both did the exact same thing at the exact same time.
Hisao lets out a resigned sigh.
"I don't know about you, but I don't feel like playing through those previous stages again. Let's go and do something else."
I look at Hisao as he makes his way past the rows of arcade machines with me in tow. He's not wearing the usual sweater vest he usually has on when not wearing his school uniform. Instead, he's wearing a shirt I picked out for him during our shopping trip in Hokkaido. I kinda like the way it looks on him, though I suspect he's also wearing it to stand out less in our current environment. As we reach a quieter area, Hisao suddenly stops. This corner of the hall contains several air hockey tables.
"Wanna play a little match, Hanako?"
I walk over to the table closest to the corner and insert a coin. The table hums to life, the display on the rail around the playing field lights up to reveal two zeros, and a cool breeze starts to blow on the table's surface. I look around to confirm no other people are in the immediate vicinity and use my hair clip to move my hair lock out of the way just enough to prevent it from creating a blind spot in my peripheral vision. I pick up a mallet, take the puck from the tray beneath my goal and place it on the table.
"Bring it on."
I launch the puck towards him. He hits it towards the right railing. I deflect the puck with more luck than skill. Then he sends the puck straight ahead before I can react.
I fish the puck out of my tray and place it in front of my mallet again.
"Hey Hanako, it wasn't necessary for you to pay up back there."
I bat the puck across the field. It ricochets off his mallet and goes straight towards me again. I aim for the left rail and hit the puck towards it.
"But you were the one who paid for the first credit."
tic - TSCHAK
"I offered to foot the bill for this entire visit, didn't I?"
"Y-you really don't have to."
I launch the puck towards him again, but this time he tilts his mallet causing the puck to get stuck under it.
Isn't that officially a foul?
"You'd rather I didn't or you really don't want me to?"
"That day we started our relationship, you were worried that you were useless. That you weren't able to do anything for the people you cared about. Do you still feel that way?"
He takes his mallet off the puck and gently bats it in my direction. I stop it with my hand, take aim and hit it towards the rail near me, causing it to fly across the field in a frantic zigzag, but he catches it and hits it back in a similar manner. I try to deflect it, but accidentally bounce it into my own goal.
"I'm not really sure. I… don't… think… I… do."
He picks up the puck and launches it towards the right rail, but this time I deflect it towards the left rail in time. He hits it under the same angle and we repeat this pattern several times until I change the angle just a little bit and the puck slides into his goal.
"I don't think there's need to doubt yourself. I mean, we often study together. You supported me in getting into the science club. And I have lots of fun hanging out with you."
"S-so, isn't everything okay then?"
He bats the puck hard into my left corner so it bounces out of my reach before I can react. Then the right corner. Then the left again. Then the right. As I move my mallet to the left in order to catch where I predict the puck will go next, he sends a straight shot right into my goal.
"There's something I noticed lately. Something about our relationship."
I try the zigzag shot again. He deflects it, so I try the zigzag on the other rail. This breaks through his guard.
"W-what is it?"
"Whenever I help you with your science homework…"
"…you insist on doing some Japanese exercises with me in return."
"Whenever I give you a shoulder rub to ease your stress…"
"…you insist on returning the favor, even if I'm not stressed myself."
"Whenever we go on a date…"
"…you always insist on paying at least half. Even if I say the whole thing's on me."
"What's wrong with having a give-and-receive relationship?"
Hisao takes the puck out of the tray, but doesn't immediately place it onto the field.
"It feels off sometimes. As if you're keeping a tally. Trying to carefully balance things out each time. Making sure you never receive more than you give. That's not a give-and-receive relationship. That's more like a give-and-pay-back-relationship. I enjoy doing things for you, but only if you don't see those things as debts that must be paid off as quickly as possible."
I fall silent as I try to recall those moments and what I felt at the time. Was it fear? Fear of us once more slipping into a caretaker-caretakee relationship if I didn't actively prevent it from happening? Fear of me depending more on him than him on me? Fear of being deemed useless? I feel embarrassed upon being called out on this, as if I got caught with my hand in a cookie jar.
"You have faith in me, don't you Hanako? I'm not gonna walk out on you just like that. I feel there's a whole lot more between us than just a list of favors and counter favors. This isn't how intimate relationships are supposed to work."
I know that, of course. Just like I know that whenever I have to pass through a crowd, the odds of everyone in there noticing my scarring at exactly the same moment and all of them staring at me at once is pretty close to non-existent, but I'm still terrified of it happening. None of my anxieties really make sense from a rational point of view, but that doesn't make them any less real for me. If Miss Yumi is to be believed, anxieties don't go away overnight just like that, nor can they be dismissed with logic. What was it she said? Something about the heart not listening to reason, only to experiences?
I watch Hisao place the puck back on the table and prepare for another assault. We pass it back and forth several times before it slips past my mallet.
"I'm not saying I don't enjoy getting a backrub in return on occasion, but it shouldn't be mandatory."
"I really enjoy the lunches you bring along for me every so often. I'm not sure if you were expecting…"
"No, no, no, no, no… I really d-don't need you to r-return the favor. I r-really enjoy m-making them f-for you."
As I blurt out a denial of his suggestion, the puck zips into my goal slot. Looks like Hisao made his winning point.
"Just like I enjoy doing things for you on occasion. Giving and receiving can both be fun in their own way. I don't think we should keep score… Trying to keep things exactly even will only make our relation appear rigid and unnatural."
I nod. I understand what he's trying to tell me.
"I-I have faith in you, Hisao. Do you also h-have faith in me?"
"I do, Hanako."
"I-I'm trying, and I promise to t-try even harder from n-now on."
Hisao walks over to me and puts a hand on my shoulder.
"That's enough for me, Hanako. Thanks."
He gives me a sly grin.
"We could give a try right now if you like."
"Ummm… what do you mean?"
"Would you be okay if I foot the bill for the rest of the evening? Or at least the majority of it?"
Not really. I really want to show Hisao I got the point he was trying to make earlier, but I want to share in the costs too, if possible. Suddenly, an idea pops into my head.
"Ummm… I have another idea. W-we could play rock-paper-scissors before we start a game. The winner p-pays until we move on. S-so if you win every contest, you cover the entire evening."
"And if you win every time, everything'll be on you, right?"
"That's right. But I p-promise I'll accept the outcome, no matter w-what it is."
"Okay then. But perhaps we can do something more practical than rock-paper-scissors. Something that never results in a tie."
"What do you suggest?"
"How about flipping a coin?"
We decide on sides and then head over to the retro section Hisao brought up earlier.
"See anything you like?"
"Hmmm…let's try that one."
We walk over to the machine, Hisao looks at the coin slot, then at me and gives a nod. I take a coin from my purse, toss it up, catch it and place it on my left hand.
"That's your side. We should pick four credits for cooperative games and three for competitive."
I slip three coins into the slot, and we both press our respective start button.
I think I remember how some of the moves are meant to be done.
As the announcer calls the start of the fight, Hisao's character lets out a roar and flies at me immediately.
Ouch. He's not kidding around. Pulling the stick away makes you block attacks, right?
He approaches me again, but this time I deliver a kick to push him back. Hisao is stronger and faster, but I've got better reach.
He moves in again and we trade several blows. I manage to grab him and throw him away from me.
I think it was a quarter-circle motion with the joystick.
After two tries, I manage to shoot a projectile at him. He jumps over it, but I manage to nail him with a kick as he lands.
The game's announcer confirms my victory. The second round begins, and I manage to block another flying attack from Hisao.
I'm getting the hang of the projectile motion and start shooting a stream of fireballs at Hisao in order to keep him at bay.
He gets a few hard blows in after jumping my projectiles, but I manage to regain the upper hand after a successful throw.
"When we left Lilly's room yesterday, I noticed she looked sad for a moment."
I start shooting fireballs again, this time of varying speed in order to keep him on his toes and manage to wear him down enough to win the second round.
"Are you sure?"
"It was for a split-second. Before she closed the door."
We're back at the character select screen and Hisao picks another fighter to play with.
"Why would she be sad?"
"I'm not sure. All I said was that I'd like to have these kinds of tea parties more often."
The second match starts and I try the strategy I used to win the last battle, but this time Hisao shoots my projectiles out of the air with his own.
"I wouldn't call that a particularly depressing statement."
The round ends with a timeout after a long fireball war that I lose after messing up the motion a few times.
"I'm… a bit worried, Hisao. I wonder if Lilly is really giving us space to be on our own or if there's something that's bothering her."
"Something that's bothering her?"
This time I try to be more aggressive and trip him up by sliding under his projectiles. It works a few times until Hisao starts throwing projectiles at my feet instead.
"C-causing her to spend less time with us than before. She's often missed lunch in the tea room these days in favor of class representative duties, and until this week, we haven't really been to her room either."
"Well, she has been scarcer than usual lately, but I'm not sure if that means something's on her mind and if so what it could be that bothers her."
I try to switch to jumping attacks, only to find out my character is much too slow for that tactic, and I end up losing the second round as well after being knocked out of the air several times.
"I s-sometimes wonder if she… likes you too?"
I take a moment to pick my character for the final match and decide on a speedier fighter.
"Lilly having feelings for me?"
She never admitted it, but the last time I asked her she ended up reversing the question instead of answering it.
The first round is quickly devolves into a slugfest with me taking some time to get used to fight without projectiles and Hisao taking some time to learn how to deal with a faster opponent. The round ends with us taking a simultaneous blow that depletes the last of my energy.
"If t-that were true… being with you and me would be p-painful for her, right?"
The second round ends more favorably for me as I start figuring out a pattern in the altitude of Hisao's projectiles and am able to evade them with slidings and quick jumps long enough to whittle down his health.
"I'm not sure if that's the case. If Lilly was interested in me, she'd probably have flirted with me or something. I don't think she'd stay completely passive."
No, that's more like my strong suit.
"U-unless she held back f-for my sake."
The final round once again devolves into us trading blows with me trying to capitalize on my longer reach as much as possible. For a while the outcome appears to mirror the result of the first round until I manage to barely escape his attack with a quick jump off the wall and slam Hisao into the floor after landing behind him.
"I don't think we should jump to conclusions, Hanako. When she came back from her trip, she seemed genuinely happy for us. Let's just ask her on Monday. Until then, try not to think about it, okay?"
I really hope I'm wrong. If something is on Lilly's mind, I want to help her get through it, but if it's my relationship with Hisao that's bothering her, I really don't know what I could say to her to cheer her up.
I'm not really interested in taking on the single player mode, so after Hisao's timer runs out we simply leave my fighter to be beaten into submission by the CPU opponent.
"That was pretty fun. Where to now?"
We spend the next hours, among other things, beating up cyborg soldiers with ninja weapons, navigating monster-filled dungeons in search for food and treasure, popping balloons with harpoon guns, popping bubbles with monsters inside and watching the attract mode of every cabinet in the area. As we leave the retro corner, Hisao points to a big cabinet with two motorbike-shaped seats in front of it.
"Want to take part in a little race, Hanako?"
"That was close."
I let out a slightly frustrated sigh. It sure was. Hisao and I crossed the finish line with only a 0.3 second difference on the clock. I'm pretty sure I can do better next race. But as I prepare to push the start button in the center of the handlebar, Hisao stops me.
"Hey Hanako, why don't we try the single player race? Might be fun too."
How are 'we' supposed to participate in the single player mode? You can only take part in the race with one bike.
Hisao taps the back of his motorbike with his fingers.
"Hop on board before your countdown's finished."
"I-is that okay? Those s-seats aren't made for two people, are they?"
"We'll be fine. Those seats can handle some weight. I mean, have you seen the size of some of the regular visitors here?"
I quickly move over to the seat Hisao is sitting on and sit down behind him. It's still a tight fit because the seats have a depression in the middle for the player to sit and it's not quite made for two pairs of hips. I don't think either of us are sitting in a particularly stable or comfortable position. As Hisao's screen lights up to reveal the starting line and seven other bike riders in front of us, I wrap my arms around him tightly.
A few minutes later we cross the finish line dead last. Steering turns out to be extremely tricky since it's impossible for us to lean left or right in precise tandem, meaning most of the turns we make are too late and too wide.
"I don't think this is going to get us very far."
"True, but wasn't it fun?"
It was. Throughout all the bumbling, colliding and zigzagging on straight parts, due to repeatedly overcompensating for each other's movements, I had to make several supreme efforts to hold back my laughter.
"We have one credit left. Want to switch places and try it again?"
I get off the seat, move in front of him and try to get comfortable. As I press the start button and Hisao hugs me from behind, a thought springs up in my mind.
"Ummm…Hisao? W-was this whole thing j-just an excuse to hug in public?"
He laughs at my observation.
"No, just an extremely welcome addition."
The second race goes slightly better, and we end up being sixth. This is more due to us getting better at predicting each other's movements than it is about steering skills. It's still not enough to get us to the next race, but I don't think we should keep putting coins into this thing until we're good enough to get in first.
"So, what do you want to do next?"
The peaceful corner of the coffee shop where we decided to take a breather after leaving the arcade is a refreshing change from the bustling of the crowded arcade hall. While my difficulty with crowds hasn't raised its head enough to ruin my fun this evening, it still feels good to relax in a quiet place for a while.
"Sorry it took so long."
Hisao returns from the counter holding a bottle of soda and a cup of hot cocoa. He sits down next to me, puts the soda in front of himself and shows me a frustrated frown for a moment before giving me the cocoa.
"The couple in front of me took ages to make up their mind about their order. I was about to give up and take you somewhere else."
"It's okay. I had someone to keep me company."
We both look at the plush puppy we liberated from the crane game near the arcade's entrance through our combined efforts.
"We could have obtained several other stuffed toys for the number of efforts it took us to get this specific one."
"He's special. I'm sure he'll feel at home at Yamaku."
What's 'special' about the dog in question is actually the fact that his left eye is missing. It probably got damaged at some point. When I noticed that, I made a special effort to obtain him despite the fact he was lying pretty far away from the crane's starting point.
"A new member of our little, disabled family, huh?"
"I'm still deciding whether to let him live in my room or let Lilly take care of him."
"Maybe you should leave him with Lilly, so he and I don't end up becoming rivals for your affection."
I giggle at this weird idea.
"I think I have more than enough affection for both of you."
"So, have you already decided on a name for him?"
"Hmmmm…I think I'll call him 'Niji'."
"At the orphanage… they had a dog that some of the children there took care of. 'Niji' is what they called him."
"Were you one of those children?"
I shake my head.
"You don't like animals? I've once heard that a lot of people who… well… are not good with other people tend to form strong bonds with their pets."
"I… do like them. At least, I think I do. It's just… Everyone who wanted to take care of him was also tasked with walking the dog every few days. And that dog… really liked being outside and running in the park and playing with other dogs. But I… d-didn't really like going outside. And w-walking your dog tends to make other people approach you for s-small talk, so… ummm… I thought he w-was in better hands with… other children."
"That's a shame, Hanako. That dog missed out on a great friend. And so did you, most likely. Maybe you could reconsider it once you have a place of your own in the future."
"That's probably still far off, but… thank you, Hisao."
"Hey Hanako, are you enjoying our date so far?"
"Y-yes, I am. I… wouldn't mind going back to the game center some time. There were still many games we didn't get to play yet."
"Great. Good. I'm happy to hear that. I wouldn't mind going back there myself either."
Why is he getting nervous? And what does he mean by 'so far'? Won't we going back to Yamaku yet?
"H-Hisao… Did you have more planned? Does it have to do with that backpack you've been carrying around all the time?"
"The backpack contains, among a few other things, my medication."
His medication? Why would he take that along? Wait a second…
"H-Hisao, d-d-do you mean…?"
He takes a deep breath, realizing it's probably too late to dismiss the issue and then looks me in the eyes.
"H-Hanako, would you like it if we… spent the night together somewhere around here?"
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:37 am
As I step out of the bath, I can't help but thinking that this is like one of those romance novels where a guy and a girl go out, have dinner and a date and then spend the night at a hotel consummating the relationship. After taking a break at a coffee shop near the game center we visited, I expected us to return to Yamaku. Then Hisao proposed spending the night at a hotel nearby. And that's exactly what we ended up doing.
We ended up splitting the costs (Hisao didn't object this time) and got a nice room on the eighth floor with a soft carpet, a double bed and a clean bathroom. Hisao took a rather quick bath, but told me I could take my time, and I was happy to take some time in order to get myself cleaned up. As fun as the game center has been, the smell there wasn't exactly heavenly, and I felt like the odor of perspiration rubbed off on me. Well, maybe some of it is my own. The cabinet in the bathroom contained a few small flasks of fragrant shampoo that I gratefully made use of.
Consummating the relationship.
Hisao never said anything specific, but I'm not so naïve as to believe we're merely here to sleep in a bigger bed. Nor do I think we got ourselves a room far from the noisy dorm rooms in order to just give each other a 'helping hand' in the dark, like we've done a few times before now. If we go all the way tonight and I can manage to enjoy it, we'll be closer than before. If not, we'll probably spend the next few days apologizing to each other.
I put on the soft bathrobe that Hisao left here for my perusal. It feels very nice to the touch.
Where are all the other towels? I saw Hisao carrying some of them. What exactly is he planning?
I walk over to the place where our clothes are piled up and fish my hair clip out of the pockets of my pants. I apply the clip, say a little prayer for good luck and leave the bathroom.
The first thing I notice is that the room isn't quite like I expected it to be. I thought it'd either be completely dark or the lights near the bed being lit, but neither is the case. None of the lights are on, yet I can still make out the interior somewhat, particularly near the window, due to the curtains still being drawn back. I also notice the room's pretty warm. Did he turn the radiator up?
The second thing that stands out is the fact that nobody is sitting or lying on the bed. Hisao, who's wearing a bathrobe similar to mine, is sitting on the floor near the window, in the spot illuminated by the moonlight and lights from the city.
Does he want to do it on the floor? Isn't that uncomfortable?
Hisao looks in my direction and beckons. As I approach him, I notice he's spread one of the blankets on the floor and put the towels he took from the bathroom on top of it, creating what almost looks like a make-shift picnic blanket.
"A… A moonlight picnic?"
"It kinda resembles it, doesn't it?"
A little bit, though it'd be a pretty shoddy picnic. No glasses, no napkins, just a bottle of… What's in there anyway? And what's in that large flat bowl nearby?
I walk over to Hisao and sit next to him, still trying to make sense of things.
"What do you have there? Where did that bowl come from? And what's in the bottle?"
He gives me a sheepish grin.
"The stuff from the bottle needed to be mixed with some hot water, so I got this bowl. It's actually a fruit bowl. As for the bottle…"
Are we going to be intimate or practice science together?
"…in a way, you could call it lubricant and in a way…"
LUBRICANT? Does he plan to skip foreplay? Or is he planning something else…?
My expression must have given me away as Hisao puts his hand on my shoulder as if to reassure me.
"Relax, we're not going to do anything weird."
Are you sure about that?
"Anyway… You enjoyed the shoulder rubs and massages we've shared, didn't you?"
"Y-yes, I did."
"I was thinking we could do a more… intimate… massage. That stuff in the bottle is a special type of massage gel."
"D-didn't you just say it was lubricant?"
"It's both actually. Its main purpose is to act as a massage lotion, but since it's so smooth and slippery, it can double as a lubricant."
I try to digest what Hisao's saying. He has put more thought into this whole thing than I expected. A massage… So we'll be rubbing that stuff on each other? That explains why we're sitting on the floor and why he has covered the area with towels.
"Where did you get this?"
"A little shop in the city last weekend. I was actually going for some ordinary massage lotion, but the guy behind the counter said this was the ultimate experience for a couple. I didn't tell him we were fairly new at this though."
Couple. I really like the sound of that word.
"I tried to get some more information about this kind of thing, but… heh… Most sites that came up wouldn't make it through the computer lab's content filter."
That's not exactly reassuring.
"So…ummm…H-how does this w-work?"
"Do you want to try it?"
"Y-you went through a lot of effort to arrange all this."
"We can stop at any time you want."
I meekly nod. Hisao pulls me closer in a gentle hug and carefully puts his lips on mine.
"We can start with this."
As his right hand starts stroking my head and his tongue starts playing around with mine, I close my eyes and try to push my insecurities to the back of my mind. I'm not completely sure how well I'll be able to relax in the spot we're in. The curtains are drawn back, but we're on the eight floor. People couldn't possibly peek inside from the other buildings and even if they were watching, the room itself is dark, so all they'd see was the reflection of the lights on the window, right? This is the first time since that one night in my room we'll be able to see each other pretty clearly. Obviously if the room were pitch black, we'd end up toppling the bowl with lotion sooner or later.
Parting his lips from mine, Hisao breaks his hug, gives me a quick kiss on my left cheek and holds out the bowl to me.
"Do you want to sample a bit, Hanako?"
I dip my finger into the bowl in an attempt to get an impression of Hisao's concoction. The substance is more a liquid than a gel, clear and not all that much thicker than water. I stir the mixture a bit and don't meet much resistance. I hold my finger under my nose and sniff shortly, but don't smell anything. What surprises me most is its temperature.
"Yeah, I mixed the gel from the bottle with hot water, and I've been covering the bowl until you came out of the bathroom. You don't think it's too hot, do you?"
"…w-what would you l-like me to do?"
Hisao puts the bowl away, moves off the blanket and points at a small bump beneath the towels.
"I've put the small cushion from one of the chairs there for you to rest your head on. Could you undo the belt of your bathrobe and then lie down on your stomach?"
Nervously, I remove the belt of my bathrobe and lie down, putting my head on the pillow beneath the towels and laying my arms at my side.
"Yes. Now just take a deep breath and relax."
I inhale deeply and then slowly exhale, trying to slow the nervous beating of my heart a bit. I feel my hips being pressed down as Hisao straddles me. He takes the shoulders of my bathrobe, slowly pulls them aside and slides it down until just beneath my waist. His hands gently run through my hair before moving it to one side, exposing my back. He then slowly strokes my neck and shoulders.
"I'm going to apply some gel. Don't get startled."
I hear a few soft splashes, and feel a trail of liquid running down my left side. I let out a soft gasp as something warm and wet hits my back and his hands start rubbing the wet substance on my neck, all the way up to my jaw line, before going down and proceeding on my shoulders. The sensation is different from the shoulder rubs I'm accustomed to. His touch is a lot softer and more gentle than the usual kneading.
"Is… Is it okay to… you know… rub that… stuff… in my burn scars?"
"It shouldn't be harmful. The bottle says it's made out of seaweed leaves and is completely water-based. The shampoo you used to wash your hair earlier is probably more aggressive than this stuff."
"If you say so…"
"Hanako, could you put your arms by your side so your palms are facing up?"
I do as he says, and he takes my right arm gently in his hand, rubbing it in top to bottom. For the most part, I don't feel much of it, but I shudder a bit when he reaches my hand and starts caressing my palm with his fingers.
"That's not unpleasant, is it?"
I bite my lip to keep myself from laughing when he rubs in and then strokes each of my fingers.
"I-it tickles a bit."
He moves to my left arm next, carefully working his way down. He chuckles when I let out a surprised gasp.
"Do you like having your elbow stroked?"
Does he expect me to answer that?
He ends his caresses with my left palm and fingers, obviously enjoying the reactions his touches get out of me.
"Can you place your arms in front of you now?"
He moves back to my shoulders before spreading his hands to stroke my armpits…
I giggle. That really tickles.
…and my sides.
I let out a content sigh to let him know how nice this feels.
As he spreads and rubs the gel all over my back, it leaves a warm and comfortable sensation behind. My entire upper body is now covered in lotion and Hisao's now firmer strokes slide across my skin without much resistance, even in the scarred areas. Hisao seems content at just stroking my shoulders, neck and back for now. Is he waiting for a cue from me?
"Hisao…Should I… turn around?"
"Just a little while longer, Hanako. There's one spot left to go."
I feel him move back just a little bit and the next moment I feel my bathrobe being pulled down further, exposing my bottom. I swallow hard, but don't resist as he starts rubbing, stroking and fondling my buttocks. I don't exactly hate it. In fact, I kind of like it, but what makes me feel awkward is the fact I just KNOW he's staring. It makes me nervous. Not only is my right buttock pretty heavily scarred, but I also have rather small hips for my size.
"A-are you s-staring?"
"Sorry. I can't exactly say it's a bad view."
Having finished applying the gel, Hisao raises his hips in order to allow me room to turn around, but before I can get up, he kneads my buttocks one last time and then gets off me. I pull my bathrobe up a bit, turn around and lie back. Hisao straddles me again, holding a handful of gel in his cupped hands that's gently trickling upon my stomach.
I can feel Hisao's hands spreading the warm gel across my neck and my collarbone before they move down to my breasts, stroking them gently, then more and more firmly.
My breathing gets heavier as his hands pet and fondle my breasts, running my erect nipples between his fingers in a way that certainly would have hurt if they hadn't been this slippery, but now feels really good. After covering my belly, he gets off me, gently takes my ankles and lays my feet onto his lap.
I can't help but giggle again. The soles of my feet are so ticklish that I have to use all my willpower to prevent myself from accidentally kicking Hisao, but the way he lovingly fondles each separate toe feels wonderful. He carefully raises my legs, letting my ankles rest on his shoulders, and starts stroking my shins and the back of my knees, causing me to make a sound that's part giggle and part moan. As he slowly, teasingly, moves down to my thighs I cannot help but remember how I was depressed not too long ago because part of my body is numb to sensations. Hisao told me that evening that I still had plenty of sensitive spots left and this night I realize more than ever how right he was about that. Even in the last few minutes we've found several sweet spots I never knew I had.
"Is it okay?"
I respond with a reassuring nod and brush aside the parts of my bathrobe still covering my body. He takes another handful of gel, I close my eyes and moments later I can feel his hands moving from my thighs down to the place between them. But instead of merely the rubbing he usually does, he starts stroking and massaging it with both hands. My breath catches due to the sensation.
This feels… different from the other times I've allowed him to stroke me down there. He notices my reaction and starts trying different strokes while keeping a close eye on my face. Long, swift ones…
"What way do you like best?"
Short, swift ones…
Too much direct stimulation.
Slow firm ones….
Swift circular ones…
Slow circular ones…
"Seems like you like this one in particular."
I nod my head, too embarrassed to admit it with words.
"Do you want me to keep going?"
"S-stop for a moment…"
I take a second to catch my breath. This has felt wonderful, but I feel a bit bad that right now I'm the only one having a good time. Usually, I try to do the final part together with him, his arousal often acting as a catalyst for my own.
"Can I r-rub you in first?"
He nods and lets go of me, letting me move aside before taking up the spot I was occupying before. He loosens his belt and lies down on his stomach in front of me. For a moment I consider putting my bathrobe back on but then decide that doing so would feel really uncomfortable with my entire body covered in lotion. The room temperature itself is high enough for me to comfortably continue without my bathrobe, though I'm a bit squeamish about the part where he'll be able to see me rubbing him in.
Did he decide to let me go first so he could be massaged by a naked girl?
Pushing these thoughts aside, I straddle him, pull his bathrobe down to his waist and use my cupped hands to gather some gel which I drop on his back with a soft splash. Then I realize I'm not really sure on how to proceed. Hisao probably secretly read up on this stuff beforehand. Maybe I should just to try and copy him as closely as I can.
Hmmm… The neck and shoulders first, right?
Then the arms.
I giggle at this surprisingly cute reaction and make a mental note that he likes having his upper arms fondled. I have to keep that in mind.
The back next.
"That feels really nice, Hanako."
He actually has a pretty nice back.
I move to pull down his bathrobe, then change my mind and carefully take it off altogether and start kneading his buttocks.
"You're not staring, are you?"
I am, of course.
I swallow nervously as I finish with his butt and raise my hips so he can turn around. This is going to be the most awkward part. As he turns around and I gently sit down on top of him, I notice he's staring. Not a quick, sneaky peek, but a thorough almost analyzing look. Uncomfortably, I cross my arms in front of my breasts, even though he's not looking at them specifically.
"P-please don't stare at me like that."
"You're looking really beautiful, Hanako."
"D-don't say that."
There's something about his tone though. It doesn't sound like he's making some random compliment. He sounds somewhat serious.
"Could you stand up for a moment and take a look in the mirror on the far wall from here?"
"D-do I have to?"
"Just really quick."
I reluctantly get up. I hate looking at myself in mirrors, even when not wearing my badly damaged birthday suit. At least the mirror is rather far away and it's fairly dark. I look and then it strikes me that I can still see my body fairly well. Or at least, part of my body. Specifically the part of my body that isn't scarred. Of course the scar tissue is still there, but due to the rough texture, it doesn't reflect the nearby light very well despite being covered in lotion and merely appears as a dark area covering part of me. The other parts of my body and my freshly washed hair, on the other hand, are accentuated like never before, sparkling in the moonlight coming through the window due to the gel turning my smoothened skin into a semi-reflective surface. A little befuddled, I slowly turn around once. A chuckle comes from my boyfriend who's still in the same spot as I left him.
"I don't mind if you want to keep admiring yourself in the mirror a little while longer, Hanako."
My mood lifted, I get back on top of him again, taking a handful of lotion to apply to his chest. He's still looking me over like before, but for the time being, I actually feel a little bit beautiful. I lovingly fondle his chest and nipples, tickling his scar while applying the gel and watching with playful amusement whenever I reach a spot that forces a reaction out of him. My caresses have already made him pretty aroused and while stroking his feet and legs, I try my hardest to look at my hands instead of at his crotch in order to avoid embarrassment. With only one more spot of his body to cover, I straddle his upper legs, take a handful of gel and start stroking his member; first slowly and carefully, then faster and firmer.
I'm having very mixed feelings right now. On the one hand, this is great fun. Previously, I only had aural feedback to rely on while getting him off. Seeing the subtle changes in his expression as I change the pace and firmness of my touches and watching the pleasure on his face as a result of my caresses is wonderful. On the other hand, seeing his… thing… right in front of me makes me more than a little nervous.
Is that really going to go inside of me?
Well, I know it's possible since I didn't tear the last time, but it certainly hurt back then and not just when he put it in.
Part of the reason he purchased that lotion is probably to make it go smoother.
"Hanako, could you stop for a moment?"
He looks at me with an inviting look in his eyes.
"I think we're more than ready for the next part."
How can you tell?
"Just... give me a moment."
Maybe it'll feel better if I do it myself.
Lower myself onto it and move back up if it hurts.
"Hey, don't look so scared. You're probably going to love this."
"Just lie down on top of me."
I carefully lie down on top of him, my chin now hovering closely above his chest.
"Could you move up a little bit so we're at the same eye level?"
I brace my feet and push myself up his body a bit…
…only to find out that the lotion covering us reduced friction between our bodies to such an extent that I completely overshoot my mark and his nose ends up between my breasts.
"My eyes are down here, Hanako."
I giggle at that remark.
I hastily push myself down, again sliding slightly too far, causing me to end up back where I started.
"Looks like you're picking it up pretty quickly."
I push myself up again, more gently this time, and now we level out well.
"P-picking what up?"
"Applying the lotion was just preparation."
Preparation? I'm a bit puzzled. What am I picking up? Sliding up and down? Suddenly, I have a bright moment. I smile bashfully.
"You w-want me to g-give you a f-full b-body massage?"
"This gel is made specifically for that purpose. That's why it's so extremely slippery. Do you want to give it a try?"
I nod shyly. The prospect of an extended massage sounds infinitely better than the prospect of intercourse right now. I push myself down a bit until just beneath his chest scar, then slide upwards again until I look him in the eyes once more where I am rewarded with an approving nod. For a third time I slide down and up on top of him, this time a passionate kiss being my greeting. For nearly half an hour, we go on like this; kissing, rubbing our bodies against each other, me softly pushing myself off to drift back and forth on top of him and he occasionally raising his upper body or hips to let me slide on my own. I'm enjoying the extensive body contact immensely and am surprised at how smoothly I'm able to move despite my scar tissue. Neither of us says a word the whole time, the only sounds our excited breathing, the occasional soft moan and our awkward laughter throughout. As we get more and more passionate in our movements, I can feel him pressing his loins up against mine. Our slip-and-slide fest, while certainly enjoyable, isn't the most efficient way to stimulate our most sensitive areas and I'm considering getting off of him and finishing the job by hand. I already found out that I can probably afford to be a bit rougher this time without the risk of hurting him. Just as I prepare to follow up on that plan, another idea flashes through my mind that might excite him more than the usual way we tend to end our intimate moments.
"…could you…do something…?"
He looks at me with a puzzled expression for a moment but then complies while doing his best not to look too uncomfortable. I move myself up a bit, take hold of his erect member, point it at the ceiling and then move down until it's resting against my crotch. I carefully close my legs, then cross my feet and squeeze my thighs together as tightly as I can. Hisao tenses up and lets out a loud groan in response.
Did that feel good or did I just really hurt him?
"…can you… try moving?..."
I lean on my arms, pressing myself against his base and with a bit of trial and error find an angle that allows me to enjoy the friction as well. As I start swaying my hips, Hisao wraps his legs around mine and starts caressing my neck and chest with his hands.
This is… pretty good.
This almost feels like we're having intercourse.
Expect I'm the one doing the thrusting.
Hmmmm… really good…
Because I have my back arched I can't see Hisao's face very well, but I can tell by the sounds he's making that he's getting close.
Good thing my inner thighs are still slippery or he'd be groaning in pain right now.
"S-slow down… hah… slow down a bit…"
I can tell his heart's doing fine right now. From the look of ecstasy on his face, I can tell he's feeling really good and trying his hardest to hold back. I consider slowing down, but then speed up the movement of my hips and try to get as much stimulation for myself out of it as I can.
"Ugh… H-H-Hanako… W-what…"
For a second it seems like he's going to protest, but then he gives in and starts thrusting his hips himself until reaches his climax in a frenzy of frantic grinding.
After Hisao catches his breath, I let go of him, and we sit upright, still in a bit of a daze from our unusual experience together. Now we're sitting on the floor next to the bed, Hisao leaning back against it and me sitting in front of him and gently leaning back against his chest. Hisao has one arm wrapped around me and is softly caressing me with the other.
"Hanako… Why did you just…?"
Is he bothered by the fact I just pushed him over the edge?
"You w-were looking like you were f-feeling really good, so I thought it wouldn't be a problem to go on. If your heart was acting up, you wouldn't have asked me to just s-slow down."
"It's not that, it's just…"
I follow his gaze as it rests on the towel I just used to wipe my thighs clean after his ejaculation.
"…what we did just now wasn't exactly safe, even if the odds are very low of you getting… you know... pregnant from this."
"It's okay. You've been… exercising in order for us to be… intimate, so I w-wanted to do something too. I've been using… p-protection so you wouldn't h-have to and this would feel b-better for you."
"Huh? You mean to say that you're on the pill? Since when?"
"Wow… I didn't imagine you making the effort to get them."
"I h-had… help."
That is to say, Lilly obtained them for me. I realize I'm probably not allowed to get a hold of them that way, but Lilly was the only person I dared to approach. Thankfully, she was a really good sport and willfully bought my blatantly transparent excuse about troubles with my menstruation without asking any further questions.
"But why didn't you tell me?"
"I w-wanted to tell you when I was… r-ready for it."
"I understand. That probably wasn't today, was it? I saw your frightened face earlier."
"I d-don't… really know."
"It's okay. This night has been really wonderful so far. I'd hate to see it ruined because we end up doing something that causes me to hurt you."
Maybe that's part of the problem. I had a really good time just now, and tonight's been very good on the whole. How am I supposed to relax in the first place if he's implying the evening will be ruined if I can't enjoy it enough? And if I can't relax, it'll only become more likely that I won't be able to enjoy it. It's like a vicious circle.
"Ummm… That's… a problem…"
"You'll f-feel bad when I can't relax and e-enjoy it… S-so I can't relax b-because I don't want you to feel bad."
"I see. That makes sense. So I can't relax if you can't relax, and you can't relax because I can't relax. It's like a feedback loop."
"What do you suggest?"
"I… d-don't think a little discomfort is enough to ruin this wonderful night. I'm… not going to break."
"Then let's give it a try. Well, once I'm up to it again, that is. In the meantime…"
He places his legs in front of mine, preventing me from closing them. Then he takes a bit of lotion and starts fondling me with both hands while kissing the left side of my neck and earlobe. I gasp and giggle at his attentions.
"…let's get you warmed up a little."
Our earlier actions already got me 'warmed up' quite a bit, but I'm not going to refuse a chance to be pampered by him a bit more. I sit back and let out a little cry as his left hand sneaks down and starts fingering me. For a while he keeps quiet, content to just listen to my heavy breathing. Then he moves his lips to my ear and softly whispers to me.
"Hanako, I want you to try and relax as much as you can."
I can feel how his right hand slowly moves down as well.
"W-what are you… hmmm… g-going to doWHAAAA!"
Before I realize what's happening, his right hand has reached my lady bits and he's slowly pushing one of his fingers inside me. I let out a yelp and reflexively grab his arm though because we're both still pretty slippery, I can't get enough grip to pull it away. He keeps his finger in place for a second and then slowly pulls out again, causing me to exhale in relief.
"Sorry, did that hurt?"
I don't think it did. It felt really weird and awkward, but it wasn't exactly painful.
Upon hearing my reply he pushes back in…
I try to suppress a gasp, but fail.
"Try to relax your muscles, Hanako."
…and back out. Then back in again…
"Don't hold your breath. Just keep breathing in and out normally."
…and out. I nod weakly and try to focus on the sensation his other hand instills in me. At first, my body jumps each time he pushes forth his finger, but as he continues with what he called my 'warming up', I slowly manage to relax and enjoy his touch again, even as he slightly speeds up the movement of both hands. Upon seeing that my signals of discomfort are disappearing, he whispers in my ear.
"You're doing well, Hanako. Now…let's try with two..."
As the sensations of the last contraction die down and Hisao ceases providing the intense stimulation I just endured, I breathe a long sigh of relief. Hisao moves his legs away, wraps his arms around my waist and lets me catch my bearings while kissing my heavily flushed cheek and softly chuckling a bit to himself.
"P-please d-don't laugh at me…"
It wasn't as obvious when we were still keeping the lights off, but being pleasured can draw some pretty entertaining reactions out of people. It's really best not to think too hard about how you must have looked to someone else afterwards.
"I recall you laughing to yourself while I was making faces."
I guess I'm not in a position to say anything.
I give him a quick kiss back as a quiet admission of guilt and then look at him expectantly.
"Can you get onto the bed?"
I unsteadily get to my feet and lie down upon the bed. Hisao takes the pillow we used as a head rest earlier and carefully places it under my hips.
We're still completely covered in seaweed gel. This bed's gonna be a major mess afterwards. Good thing we won't be the ones who'll have to change the sheets.
For a moment we just look each other in the eyes. A mutual look of uncertainty, then one of mutual reassurance.
"Don't be afraid."
"I won't be if you aren't."
I close my eyes and he gently spreads my legs, stroking the inside just a little and then I feel the sensation of something just a little larger than his two fingers smoothly sliding into me. For a moment we both take a surprised look at the place where we're joined now, and Hisao makes a few reluctant movements to check for signs of discomfort on my part. When those signs fail to occur, we share a little laugh of relief, and Hisao lowers himself and lies down flatly on top of me. He grabs hold of my shoulders and slides up my body as far as he can until we can look each other in the eyes.
"I'm not too heavy, am I?"
The weight of his body on top of mine makes me pretty much unable to move anything other than my arms and legs, but it's a small price to pay for the extensive body contact we can have this way. I raise my legs, letting them rest on his calves and wrap my arms around him. He slowly starts grinding his pelvis against mine, and I do my best to adapt my movements to his, tilting my hips until the friction starts feeling good. It takes us a bit of effort to find a workable rhythm, my scar tissue occasionally hampering us a bit. Fortunately, since we're still really slippery from before, it's a lot easier than last time.
I lie back and close my eyes, basking in the amazing sensation we're experiencing, wiggling my upper body as much as Hisao's weight allows me to in order to increase the stimulation. This couldn't be more different from the last time our bodies became one. The last time, we were distant, neither of us really knowing what we were feeling, whether we really wanted this and whether the other really wanted this. Our bodies had minimal contact, and we experienced more than a little bit of discomfort, physically and emotionally. Now we're entangled in each other, closer to each other than we ever have been before, and I feel this union is as both an emotional and a physical one.
With each moment, our movements become more instinctual than before, more desperate than before. As I feel my orgasm approaching inevitably, I tighten my arms around him as strongly as I can as if to draw him into myself, and when I lose control and the first convulsion hits my body, I let out an involuntary cry that contains both physical pleasure and emotional joy at the same time.
After our climax, Hisao uses the last of his strength to slide off of me and roll on his back. With some effort, I manage to pull up the covers and press myself close to him before every muscle in my body relaxes and a feeling of bliss washes over me that makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time. Despite already knowing that he came through our act of passion in one piece, I place my hand on his chest as if to acknowledge his heart remained steady.
Hisao's already slipping away into slumber, and I find myself getting sleepier by the second as well, but I still want to say something - something to thank him for the moments we just shared. I softly kiss his cheek in order to get his attention and whisper in his ear.
"Thank you, Hisao. That was a very memorable first time."
"Yes. First time making love."
Posted: Fri Sep 19, 2014 4:37 am
"So, no lightheadedness, chest pains or tingling feet this morning? No irregularities during the weekend?"
The nurse casually slurps some coffee while asking me the typical routine questions, to which I respond with the typical routine answers.
"None at all. I set a good pace this morning. The coach was pretty pleased."
"No problems at all? Are you sure?"
"Uhuh. Why would I suddenly get complications? I've been sticking to the schedule, and I haven't had a single flutter since I started training."
"Emi said you tried to skip our check-up this morning."
I roll my eyes. I did indeed try to go straight to my dorm room to shower and get dressed, but Emi wouldn't have any of that.
"I have some homework I have to look over before class, and I figured I could afford to skip this once. This whole thing has become such an automated routine for both of us, I sometimes wonder if it's still necessary."
"I can't blame you for thinking like that, but the moment we start making these sessions optional, we're setting you up for adopting bad habits. I've had this kind of thing with Emi a little while back, and in the end she came down with an infection and had to get around in a wheelchair for a while. And in her case, it wasn't even potentially life-threatening. I can't really afford to take those kinds of risks with you."
I had a feeling my excuse was going to provoke a lecture like that. I learned long ago that the best thing to do is just nod and agree whenever the nurse drops the lame jokes and gets into serious mode.
"Now, if you just take your shirt off and let me check your heart beat, you can go back to your homework in a minute."
I shrug and instead of taking my shirt off, I simply pull it up until my chest scar is completely revealed. The nurse frowns a bit at this deviation from the usual protocol, but then gives in and presses his stethoscope against my chest without further questions.
"Well, I'm not picking up anything out of the ordinary. Although…"
He shows me a mischievous smile and presses the stethoscope against my chest again.
"You just wanted to go straight back to your dorm because of homework?"
"Yes. Is there something wrong with that?"
The nurse's smile turns slightly wicked as he taps the chest piece of the stethoscope.
"It's just that your heart rate just said something else. You're not exactly a good liar."
"It's nothing related to my heart. Isn't that enough?"
"Fine, fine. Let me check your heart beat one last time and then you can go."
Eager to get it over with, I lift my shirt again, but the nurse shakes his head.
"I'll go with a different angle this time. Your back."
I consider protesting, but can't make up a valid excuse in time, so I let him lift up the back of my shirt and press the chest piece just left of my spine. He listens for a second, then takes off the stethoscope and gives a satisfied nod.
"Your heart rate sounds steady enough. Must have been the additional exercise that did it."
Either this guy is extremely sharp or he simply has a dirty mind. If there were still any doubts in his mind about the origin of the thin, red marks on my back, my wincing expression probably blew those right out of the water. If his grin were to get any wider, the top of his face would probably fall off.
"So, your girlfriend's a scratcher, eh? It's always the ones you least suspect."
"D-don't you have any shame at all?!"
I turn around and prepare to leave before he comes up with more ways to fluster me. Before I can turn the doorknob, I hear him call out to me.
"Hisao, can I have just one more moment?"
I turn around and the nurse motions me to sit down again.
"Sorry about the joke. You can't deny that the opportunity was too good to ignore. If I upset you, we can talk tomorrow."
So he's not gonna drop it. I might as well get it over with now. With an emphasized sigh, I sit down in the chair in front of him.
"You started sleeping with her?"
"If I say no, are you going to take out the stethoscope again?"
He grins an amused grin, then shakes his head.
"You're not very good at keeping a poker face, Hisao. I think I can do without it for now."
"I realize there are regulations here, but it didn't take place on the school grounds."
At least not this time.
"I'm not going to give you a hard time over that. Enforcing those regulations isn't my job. Watching over your health is."
"You're not gonna demand a check-up after every time we…, are you?"
He laughs out loud at this, before winking at me.
"I could, if you'd like me to."
"Not freaking likely."
"Heheh, probably not."
His grin fades and he puts on the stern face again.
"The only thing I'd like to know is if your heart ever acted up during one of those times. I'm sure you are aware of the fact that it's not completely without risks."
"I had a brief moment during our first time. That was before I started working out. It was over after a few seconds."
He briefly nods.
"If you're able to handle your current training regimen, you're probably able to handle that kind of stuff as well, though it might be smart to let your girlfriend take the active role if you start feeling tired and avoid actions that place too much strain on your body at all costs. Just be sure not to ignore the warning signs and stop if you feel something's off, no matter how tempting it may be to continue. Keep the big head in charge at all times."
"My girlfriend's very vigilant about that kind of stuff. She noticed it the first time too. She'd definitely stop me if she suspected something to be wrong. She even thought up a safe word I can use if my chest suddenly starts hurting."
"It's a relief to hear she's looking out for you."
"You're more laid-back about this than I expected."
He chuckles. I suspect this is not the first time he's having this kind of discussion with a student.
"I prefer the term pragmatic. When kids become adolescents and develop a healthy sex drive, they're not gonna pay much attention to a preachy guy in a white coat telling them to stop having fun. Might as well make sure they at least go about it in a responsible way."
His smile disappears for a moment.
"But if something does happen, even if it's a minor red flag, I want you to bring it to my attention immediately. That's not a mere request."
His grin returns as he gives me a playful pat on the shoulder. It's kinda unsettling how quickly this guy can switch back and forth between being immature and authoritive.
"I promise I won't try to embarrass you."
He tries his best to look trustworthy, though I'm not completely sure how well he'd be able to keep that promise.
"Well, that's all. See you tomorrow."
I nod, get up and head for the door. As I'm about to leave, the nurse gives me one more sly look.
"By the way, Hisao… Applying the chest piece to someone's back is part of monitoring the lungs. For the heart, you always put it on the chest. Always. Since it was immediately obvious that you were trying to hide your back, I needed to make up a little excuse. Didn't think you'd fall for it."
He lets out a maniacal laugh before turning back to his computer, leaving me flabbergasted.
As I finish setting up the pawns, a delicious smell teases my nostrils.
"Wow, that smells pretty good."
Hanako beams at my words and speeds up unpacking the lunch she's made for the two of us. Hanako making lunch for us both has become a regularly recurring event, and other than one instance where the food she cooked tasted… not really bad but definitely a little weird, I don't really have anything to complain about. I probably should return the favor more often, but I know Hanako enjoys indulging in her domestic side, and I enjoy experiencing this side of her.
"Aren't you going to pour the tea?"
I notice Hanako has finished preparing the tea, but isn't really getting ready to serve it yet.
"I'd like to wait for Lilly if that's okay with you."
"Why don't you have a seat in the meantime?"
She approaches the table, takes a moment to decide and then sits down next to me, putting her hand on top of mine.
"Can I have one little bite, just to sample?"
"Just one then. Could you open your mouth, please?"
I roll my eyes. Does she really enjoy this kind of thing that much?
"I know how to use chopsticks. I've been using them for a large portion of my life."
I open my mouth slightly and Hanako uses her chopsticks to pick up a piece of chicken and put it into my mouth. When I close my mouth and she withdraws the chopsticks, she has a childish smile on her face.
"It tastes very good. I can't wait to taste the rest."
"When Lilly gets here."
It's nice to have a few moments together. After we came back from our date yesterday, we both had to focus on finishing homework, and due to my running sessions each morning, we can't see each other before class either. After class, I have club activities to tend to, and Hanako's decided to help out the newspaper club for another week. I stroke her hand for a bit before noticing her other hand is fixed on the lower part of her neck. I remember she was in a similar posture for the entire duration of class. I give her an amused smile.
"How's your hickey, Hanako? Is it still visible?"
She flushes profoundly at my question before meekly nodding.
"I-it w-was when I c-checked this m-morning."
Despite her posture, I'm sure the hickey on Hanako's collarbone wouldn't be visible to anyone unless she removed her blouse in front of them. I made sure not to leave it in a place that her school uniform would leave exposed.
"You know, when I suggested giving you one in return for those marks on my back, I was speaking in jest. There was no real need to go through with it."
When we woke up that morning in our hotel room, we first spent our time lazily cuddling in bed and feeding each other the sandwiches we bought for the occasion at the coffee shop the night before. It wasn't until we went to take a bath together in order to wash off the lotion residue that Hanako noticed the red marks on my upper back. She didn't remember leaving them and I didn't remember receiving them, so they must have been made while we were too much into the heat of the moment to notice. Regardless, Hanako immediately started stammering apologies, causing me to jokingly point out I could leave a little mark of my own so we could call it even and drop the matter. I didn't expect her to latch onto that remark as strongly as she did, so in order to settle the matter I gave her a small suction mark on her collarbone. I had the impression that at the time, she didn't exactly hate receiving it, embarrassing as it was.
"It's o-okay. Nobody n-noticed."
My thoughts return to my check-up with that demon of a nurse this morning.
"I wish I could say the same."
I roll my eyes.
"It might be a good idea to avoid the nurse for a week or so."
I relate my experience in the nurse office to Hanako. When I finish my story, the result is a muffled giggle - except the sound isn't coming from Hanako but from beyond the doorway. We turn towards it and are mortified to see Lilly standing there. Her hand is raised in front of her mouth, but her shaking shoulders make it obvious she's bursting with laughter on the inside. Hanako lets out a soft, desperate whimper and promptly shuts down, covering her face with her cupped hands in embarrassment. I let out a gasp myself but manage to collect myself enough to greet Lilly. Something tells me I won't be able to count on Hanako for the time being.
"You kinda picked an awkward moment to join us, Lilly."
Lilly makes an apologetic gesture while still trying not to laugh out loud.
"It appears that I did. I won't be here for very long however, so perhaps things won't be uncomfortable for too long."
"You're not joining us? Class rep duties again? It's happened pretty often lately."
Lilly simply nods.
"Perhaps I'll be able to make up for it tonight. I came here to invite you to join me in my room this evening. Akira will be coming over and it would be nice to hang out together."
"That sounds like a good idea. We'll be there."
"Wonderful. Until tonight then."
With a polite wave, Lilly walks out of the room, and I turn to Hanako, who's still in the same position as she was when we first noticed Lilly, as if time had stopped around her.
"Ummm… Hanako. She's gone. Let's… just… have our tea now and play a little match."
Hanako, still covering her face, manages to give a nod and stiffly gets up to get the teapot. Fifteen minutes later I score my first easy victory on her in two months.
"We could just ask her directly."
"I-I know. But I'm… afraid she'll just smile and dismiss it."
"So now the plan is to ask her sister behind her back?"
"I-I don't really like it either. B-but I'm a bit worried."
After I finished my homework for the day and headed over to Lilly's dorm room, I ran into Hanako who was waiting outside the girl's dorm building and who wanted to take a little walk with me first. And now we're standing near the school gate, waiting for Akira to arrive.
"I realize Lilly's been absent from lunch more often than usual, and we didn't have many get-togethers until last week, but does that that really suggest that there's something wrong? She could simply have more than usual class rep duties to tend to."
"I don't think that's the case. I-I asked one of her classmates today, and he said things weren't any busier than usual in class. Nothing out of the ordinary happened recently that could result in more work for her."
"You asked one of her classmates?"
That's an interesting development. Despite the fact that Hanako has become quite a bit less passive than she used to be while being around me, she still has a tendency to try and avoid interaction with most other people and is still uncomfortable around the people with whom interaction is unavoidable.
"H-he's a member of the newspaper club and c-came over to submit some material to me, s-so I asked him if he thought things were busier than usual in class."
"Were you nervous?"
"I w-was, but him being blind made it a bit easier to talk to him."
If what Hanako's saying is true then Lilly is either using her class representative duties as an excuse to be on her own or something's on her mind that acts as a distraction. Either way, Hanako's hunch might be worth looking into.
Upon noticing us, Akira greets us with a friendly wave.
"Nice to see you again. It's been a while since we last saw you. Have you been busy?"
"Extremely. And that's probably not gonna change much in the upcoming weeks."
"I hope you at least enjoyed your time off in Scotland then."
"Meh, best thing about it was our folks' beachside home."
As Akira and I are exchanging small talk, I start noticing she's sneaking the occasional glance at Hanako, which is strange since Akira knows Hanako dislikes being stared at. And it wasn't just me who picked it up.
"Ummm… I-is there s-something o-on m-my…"
Hanako gasps before she can finish her sentence, and we have a mutual moment of clarity as we both realize what it is Akira is looking at, or rather, looking for. Hanako's eyes grow wide in an expression that's a mixture of desperation and horror. I myself am mostly just annoyed.
"Look, her blouse is covering it up, so could you stop looking for it already?"
Akira laughs heartily at my reaction.
"Looks like I got busted. Sorry. I wasn't sure of its exact location. Lilly obviously couldn't tell me."
"Lilly told you about this, huh? I hope she didn't merely invite you for a chance to poke fun at us."
"She didn't invite me, I invited myself. And no, it wasn't to poke fun at you. Though if it makes you feel better, I've had a few crummy weeks behind me, and that silly little story cheered me up for the day. Besides, it's not a big deal. Take this from someone with experience in attending meetings with one of those things peeking out from under her collar."
While part of me is eager to satisfy my morbid curiosity regarding the 'experience' Akira is talking about, I haven't forgotten the reason we came here in the first place, and I eagerly take advantage of the opening she just gave me.
"Crummy weeks, huh? Is it about something that also involves Lilly?"
"Huh? What makes you think that?"
"We both feel like Lilly's been a bit more distant lately. Like something's on her mind that she doesn't like to talk about. Seeing that you two share so much, we thought maybe you had a clue."
Akira looks pensive for a second, then smiles.
"Why don't you join us? You can ask her yourself."
"We were already invited, so let's go to her place together then."
"An arcade center, huh? That's a pretty unusual destination for a date."
Since lunch today got so uncomfortable, we decided to use this opportunity to tell Lilly, and Akira, about our date last weekend. At least the first part. They already knew more about the second half than they needed to know.
"We had a pretty good time. She may not seem like it at first, but Hanako has quite the competitive streak."
"W-we didn't just play competitive games though. We also teamed up in a lot of games. Both are great fun in their own way."
"Did you win that little fellow over there as well?"
Akira has noticed the plush dog sitting in Hanako's lap. Hanako nods enthusiastically.
"Yes, he was lying in one of the crane games. I thought he was adorable, so we made an effort to retrieve him."
"A dog who's half blind. Talk about ironic."
"Hey Lilly, do you like animals? Have you ever had a guide dog in the past?"
Lilly responds to my question with a cheerful smile.
"That issue came up a few years ago, but ultimately, we decided against having one."
"Yeah, keeping the place in order was already enough work for the two of us without having to tend to an animal as well."
"Ummm… Well, this one is not a guide dog, but here's very sweet regardless. Would you like to adopt him, Lilly?"
Lilly is visibly surprised by Hanako's offer.
Lilly takes the little dog from Hanako and briefly examines it with her hands in order to determine its appearance.
"My, how cute he is. Thank you very much, Hanako. Does he have a name already?"
"That's a very nice name. I'll be sure to take good care of Niji for you."
"Why are you giving her gifts? It ain't even her birthday yet."
"Hmmm… She has been… seeming… a bit blue lately. I thought she could use some extra company."
"Awww… Isn't that sweet? What do we say now, Sis?"
"Somehow you lecturing Lilly on etiquette, even in jest, feels extremely wrong."
Judging by Lilly's and Hanako's chuckling, I'm not the only one who feels that way.
"Oi, I can speak formally if I have to. I just choose not to in my free time."
A nod from Lilly affirms this. I'm not exactly sure what Akira's profession is, but her suit indicates a job where her usual overly casual language probably wouldn't be deemed as very appropriate. I could ask her, but right now Hanako's gaze towards me tells me she's expecting me to help her capitalize on the opening she just created.
"Lilly, about what Hanako said earlier… I noticed it as well. If something's bugging you, you could tell the plush dog, but remember we're also here for you.
"Thank you, Hisao. I appreciate it."
Looks like she's not gonna take the bait.
Akira's tone has changed from the light-hearted one she usually uses, and for a moment we can see her carefully contemplating and measuring her words - a trait that until now we thought belonged exclusively to the younger of the Satou siblings.
"…don't you think now would probably be a good time to tell them? I certainly think so myself."
So not only is there something, but Akira has known about it too.
"Before we left Scotland, you told me I had to determine my choice and the right moment to tell others myself."
I can tell that Lilly's not happy with her sister butting in. Her tone is polite as usual, but also a little irritated. Akira is unfazed, however.
"Yeah, but your friends are worried about you, and keeping 'em in the dark doesn't seem like the right thing to do."
"What's more, I went over to uncle's place yesterday and told Hideaki, who may have told his sister about it. I realize the odds of it happening are slim, but you wouldn't want your friends to learn the news from Shizune, do ya?
That remark makes Lilly visibly cringe. I was quite surprised when Hanako revealed to me that Lilly and Shizune are first cousins. Seeing how Akira herself doesn't seem to be bothered by their hostility, she probably doesn't pay the feud between her sister and her cousin much heed. Still, she mercilessly used it to her own advantage just now.
"…very well then…"
Lilly takes some time to determine what she wants to say, occasionally fidgeting with Hanako's puppy as she does.
"As you know, our parents live in the city of Inverness in Scotland. It's the town where the head office of our family's company is located. Father decided to move there six years ago in order to fill the executive position that opened up there, which resulted in Mother moving there as well. Akira and I stayed behind for the sake of her job at the Japanese branch of the company and my education."
"Is education really that much better here in Japan than in Scotland?"
"I'm not really sure, though our family has good ties with Yamaku here. The family's company is among its donors. Anyway, Akira and I were summoned there to visit an aunt of ours who had fallen ill. It was the first time in six years we met with our parents again. While we were there, our father gave Akira a job offer at head office. He talked to some people at the legal department there and recommended her for a position. A position she has decided to accept."
So Akira is migrating. Despite not having siblings myself, I can see how this would affect Lilly's mood. Since her parents moved to Europe years ago already, Akira must have been the closest thing she's had to a parental figure.
"So… You're… leaving? Permanently?"
I can tell Hanako's trying to sound casual, but she doesn't really do a good job at hiding the sadness in her voice. Akira is one of the few people Hanako gets along well with, despite their contrasting personalities, so this news doesn't just mean Lilly loses a sister in a way, but also Hanako losing one of her few friends. Akira gives a grim nod back.
"That's the gist of it. I've already broken up with my boyfriend. There's no way a long-distance relationship between us would work out. If the choice had been completely mine, I would have picked a better time, but sometimes things just happen outside your control, and the best thing you can do is roll with the punches."
"You're kinda making it sound like you didn't have a choice in this at all."
"Don't get me wrong, it's still my own decision. But a side effect of the old man's recommendation was that my current career was pretty likely to hit a dead end if I declined. There were still plenty of steps on the corporate ladder I wanted to take, but in the end my promotion could have taken place under far better circumstances."
"So when exactly are you leaving?"
"Around the time your summer break starts. I've been working hard to try and tie up all the loose ends here over the last few weeks. I'd be lying if I pretended it hasn't been stressful."
Loose ends? Are we a loose end as well? What about Lilly? Hanako, who has been quiet for some time now, suddenly speaks up again.
"I-I'm going to m-miss you, Akira."
"Same here. It was fun hanging out with you guys. It's nice to see my sister has such good friends here."
One thing still is still troubling me. Lilly spoke of a decision earlier. And I can see I'm not the only one who wonders about that.
"L-Lilly, w-what was t-that decision you mentioned b-before about?"
Lilly pauses for a few seconds before speaking, clearly not completely comfortable.
"The truth is, Hanako, that my parents also summoned me back. They want me to move back in with them when Akira transfers…"
Despite the fact I'm not really that surprised by Lilly's revelation after she brought up Akira's departure, this news still hits us like a bombshell. Not too long ago Hanako and I were still talking about how it felt like the three of us were like a small family. And now, one member of that family is about to leave for good. Or is she? Taking a sidelong glance at Hanako, I notice she's looking at me with a desperate look in her eyes. She wants to know whether this is final or not, but obviously isn't sure whether she's prepared for the answer. I decide to ask the question for her.
"So, Lilly, will you be leaving too?"
"…I…haven't made my decision yet, Hisao. In fact, I wasn't really planning on breaking this news to you two until I made up my mind. I didn't want this matter to ruin the joy of your newly-found relationship. Especially since I'm still in the process of trying to decide."
"I'd be the last one who'd want to rush you Sis, but that process has been going on for quite some time, and I'm not getting the impression there's much progress. It'd be nice if I knew whether to cancel your ticket or not."
"You have a ticket already?"
"Yeah, proof that the folks are eager to help her make a decision."
Akira looks at us with a weary smile.
"Well, now you know the gist of it."
"Are you here to help her make a decision as well?"
"Naw, just to catch up on things. It's been a while since we've met face to face. I feel I've already influenced her decision too much as it is."
Upon hearing that, Hanako slowly rises to her feet. I notice she's looking very tired.
"W-we'll give you two some time alone then."
I get up as well, but before we leave there's one more thing I want to address.
"Lilly, speaking of which… We initially thought you were being distant in order to give Hanako and me some space…"
"That was still part of the reason, Hisao. I genuinely wanted you two to spend more time together in order to deepen your relationship and grow closer. And it seems that's exactly what you and Hanako have done. In that regard, I have no regrets… But it is also true that this matter has been on my mind a lot and I've been needing time alone in order to sort things out for myself."
"Just take care not to get stuck in permanent worry-mode. Seeing that we know now, you can count on Hanako and me if you want a listening ear or a shoulder to support you. Both of us would happily sacrifice our 'time together' for your sake at this point."
I take a side-look at Hanako who's nodding fervently, before remembering Lilly can't see that and following it up with a curt but determined 'yes'. Lilly smiles happily at our pledge of support.
"Thank you, Hanako, Hisao. I will make sure to spend more time with you from now on out. Maybe it will indeed help to take my mind off matters. I hope you can forgive me if I don't discuss this subject a lot in front of you."
Come to think of it, I bet it's been the main subject of conversation between herself and Akira as well as her parents ever since she returned to Japan. She's probably really sick and tired of it already.
"T-that's okay, Lilly."
Without much more to discuss, we say our goodbyes to Lilly and Akira. As we leave the room, Hanako gives me a quiet goodnight kiss and enters her room without saying anything. I would have liked to accompany her, but I guess she wants to be alone for a while. I just hope she's not going to bottle up whatever she's feeling right now.