Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2015-4-1}

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Mader Levap
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Mader Levap » Fri Jan 31, 2014 2:13 pm

I do not think constraining yourself like that is good idea.
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Leaty » Fri Jan 31, 2014 2:14 pm

Like what? This isn't a quota, it's how long I expect the chapter to be.

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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Helbereth » Fri Jan 31, 2014 3:10 pm

Leaty wrote:Like what? This isn't a quota, it's how long I expect the chapter to be.
Indeed. Often when I start a chapter, I know how long it will be based on its outline. Usually I end up picturing a number nearer to 10k lately, which sometimes gets pushed up to 12ish, but that's because I know how I write.

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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Bad Apple » Sat Feb 01, 2014 11:50 pm

Leaty wrote:Meh. Not really.
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Is this a Fanfiction.Net feature or some writing software I've never seen before?
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Leaty » Sun Feb 02, 2014 4:01 pm

The former. It's buried in the profile settings.

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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Helbereth » Mon Feb 03, 2014 2:40 am

Leaty wrote:The former. It's buried in the profile settings.
An author can view a traffic graph that shows visitors and views, broken down by chapter. This is the view off my TD posting there(the other 24 chapters are out of view):
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Blank Mage » Mon Feb 03, 2014 10:41 am

Although not entirely accurate, since I'm willing to bet most people read it here.
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Helbereth » Mon Feb 03, 2014 2:15 pm

Blank Mage wrote:Although not entirely accurate, since I'm willing to bet most people read it here.
Well, yes. I know for fact that most of my readers probably do so here, largely because this is where I've posted everything first, and the same probably goes for Leaty. In my case, I had only posted the first 7 chapters there up until the end of January, at which point I dumped all the rest, so it hasn't had an update there in over a year - I didn't like the way the site was set up. Still, I've found it's useful to post there if only because they keep track of word counts and such, along with accurate traffic and visitor counts.

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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Mournful3ch0 » Tue Feb 04, 2014 12:31 am

Helbereth wrote:
Blank Mage wrote:Although not entirely accurate, since I'm willing to bet most people read it here.
Well, yes. I know for fact that most of my readers probably do so here, largely because this is where I've posted everything first, and the same probably goes for Leaty.
Yes. There are a multitude of reasons as to why people like me prefer reading it here.
1.) You can't easily lose track of stories.
2.) The layout is simple, and updates are bumped to the top when new posts occur.
3.) The background is a warmer theme that makes reading for extended periods of time doable.
4.) The content posted here is, generally, of higher quality than some of the works there.
5.) The community is far more active and helpful.
6.) You can find all works from fiction to art here, on the same site with the same theme.

Onwards and et cetera.
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Crimson » Wed Feb 05, 2014 9:56 pm

Just finished rereading this about a week ago and it's still as great as I remember it. The concept alone drew me in and the sheer quality of your writing kept me wanting more. Your use of vocabulary is commendable; not often I find myself having to look up a word here and there. Looking forward to seeing what you've got planned for the next update!

I wanted to put together a piece to accompany what I envisioned the CG of this route would be, but seeing as Iwanako has yet to pursue someone I decided that I'd do things a little differently and split the theme into two parts as opposed to just doing the one. Seeing as she's still caught up in quite a bit of turmoil, given her condition, I thought it would be best to kick things off with a relatively morose and sorrowful piece and then, once Iwanako has started to come to terms with her condition and becomes interested in someone, follow up with a happier, more exuberant theme.

Link: http://www.soundcloud.com/crimson-harmo ... kdown-pt-1

Hopefully it's to your liking! Keep up the great work. :D
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Bad Apple » Wed Feb 05, 2014 11:56 pm

Crimson wrote:Fan music awesomeness
Lovely piano playing -- nice and soft, no harsh notes. Just the way I like it. I particularly enjoy the turn past the 40-second mark. "Breakdown, Pt. 1" is vaguely reminiscent of "Painful History", I think. Was that intentional?

While we're at it, I just wanted to say your Katawa Bits set contains some of the most splendid 8-bit (16-bit?) tracks I've heard. While most bit renditions I've heard merely grind the original track through an audio filter and leave it at that, yours sound simply mesmerizing. Well done.
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Crimson » Thu Feb 06, 2014 12:27 am

@BadApple
Hey, thanks!
Interesting connection there. One of the earlier renditions of the track was very like Painful History, but I felt as though it wasn't going anywhere so I scrapped it. I hadn't noticed the similarity of the current one until you just pointed it out. Either way, it wasn't intentional, but it's cool that there is somewhat of a connection. Here's hoping that it's to Leaty's liking.

Thanks for the kind words in regards to Katawa Bits, too! I wanted to take an alternative approach to them and abandon the 'rules' associated with chiptunes. I actually started doing them to improve both my sheet-music reading capabilities as well as being able to tab by ear. I also wanted to put my own spin on them when it came to custom arrangements in some of the tunes. (Beginning of Painful History and the synth solo in Daylight, for example)

Apologies to both the mods and Leaty for getting a little off-topic there.
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Leaty » Fri Feb 07, 2014 9:49 pm

Crimson wrote:I wanted to put together a piece to accompany what I envisioned the CG of this route would be, but seeing as Iwanako has yet to pursue someone I decided that I'd do things a little differently and split the theme into two parts as opposed to just doing the one. Seeing as she's still caught up in quite a bit of turmoil, given her condition, I thought it would be best to kick things off with a relatively morose and sorrowful piece and then, once Iwanako has started to come to terms with her condition and becomes interested in someone, follow up with a happier, more exuberant theme.

Link: http://www.soundcloud.com/crimson-harmo ... kdown-pt-1

Hopefully it's to your liking! Keep up the great work. :D
Ho. Ly. Shit.

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This is really great. I think I've listened to it like fifty times. I can't believe somebody actually made music for my fic! I really like it; it reminds me of Theme of Laura (Reprise) from Silent Hill 2, and it really epitomizes Iwanako's character well. Thank you so much.

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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 11/20/2013}

Post by Crimson » Fri Feb 07, 2014 11:38 pm

Wow, really? That's incredible that you say that because I actually drew a lot from Yamaoka's work while I was doing that piece - particularly Promise, Not Tomorrow and none other than Theme of Laura itself - because I felt as though his music always captured the emotional depth of both the scenes and characters perfectly.

I'm really glad to see it is to your liking as the first few renditions ended up not really matching what I was going for, so it's good to see that this revision managed to hit home. It goes without saying that you're more than welcome and that I'm excited to see what the future updates will bring. :D
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Scene Thirteen

Post by Leaty » Sun Feb 23, 2014 7:14 am

Safe Reboot

I… can’t even think of anything to say. I’m splayed across the hospital bed like an abandoned doll, my upper body slightly propped up by my elbows, and all my thoughts seem fleeting and nebulous. Absently, I find myself staring at her… or what little I can see of her, as she’s still almost completely obscured by the door frame.

…Why is she here?

Hanako Ikezawa… Since I initially woke up in the hospital, she hadn’t crossed my mind even once. I liked her when we worked together the other day, and I felt like I’d taken a respectable shot at getting to know her, I guess, but I certainly didn’t think I made the kind of lasting impression you’d need to be visited in a hospital. All I did was enlist her aid on a group assignment in order to get away from somebody I couldn’t stand.

It’s not like I know anyone at Yamaku that well. When I told Mutou people could visit me, it was meant as an empty gesture. I only spent two-and-a-half days there, and those were days spent wandering around or oversleeping. Nobody really mattered that much, and I was all right with that. But now Hanako drifts into focus in the middle of my great emotional meltdown, and it’s such a non sequitur that I can’t do much more than appreciate how dumbfounded I am.

“Er… Hanako,” I manage to whisper out, “would you… like to come in?” I’m startled by the sound of my own overtaxed voice as I speak—it’s still hoarse from my earlier screaming, and noticeably quavering.

After a long pause, Hanako nods, finally beginning to take the first of some very tentative steps inside, her eyes still on me. She touches her arm nervously and glances down at the floor tiles.

And then the room once again falls into awkward silence, as though each of us is waiting for some kind of signal from the other that we don’t know how to make. She looks over her shoulder, and it makes me remember, vexedly, that she brought somebody along. Who that might be, I haven’t even the slightest idea.

“Miss Daidouji?”

A tall figure steps over the threshold, and for a second, I wonder if I’m even awake.

Who… Who is…?!

A Westerner—maybe—stands in the doorway, taller than Hanako and surely almost a head taller than me, with shimmering, voluminous golden hair collected into a ponytail spilling far down her back, and smooth, delicate features, like a figure in a pre-Raphaelite painting. She’s so preposterously beautiful that I nearly find myself wondering if Hanako hired an actress to pose as her friend before I remember how stupid that sounds.

“Y-yes?” My ravaged voice sounds so vulgar compared to hers, like an out-of-tune shamisen coming in after a Stradivarius.

She smiles, and something about it makes me feel at once both calm and insufferably frantic. “I apologize for barging in on you like this,” she says gently, her speech formal, giving a slight bow. “My name is Lilly Satou. I’m the class representative of class 3-2, and a friend of Hanako’s.”

“I… er…” I stumble over my own words for a moment, still too, well—‘discombobulated’ is the only word to describe it—to formulate any kind of thoughtful response. “It. Is. Nice. To… meet you.”

We are certainly on a roll today.

“A-and… please, call me Iwanako,” I add hastily, deciding at the last second to be congenial.

She nods confidently, her smile unyielding. “Of course. And I hope you will call me Lilly as well.”

Her speech is so refined. Under ordinary circumstances, I’d be able to keep up, but…

As I’m glancing between the two of them, desperately trying to figure out what in god’s name is going on, Hanako pulls a heavy-looking parcel out of her school bag and holds it out to me with both hands.

“W-we brought you b-books,” she stammers.

They brought me books. Brought me books? The words somehow don’t seem to make any sense, and I find myself blinking rapidly. “I… I’m sorry?”

“To help pass the time,” Lilly explains, her smile somehow taking on even more warmth. “I had… a chance to speak with Miss Hakamichi this morning, and she happened to mention that she helped Mutou bring you your classwork last night. It occurred to us you might get bored with only that, so we borrowed some books from the library on your behalf.”

I… but what… why are they…

My head rushes with blood as I sit up, and, gingerly, I collect the parcel from Hanako. When I unwrap it, a bounty of hardcover novels spill out, from what looks to be several different genres. More than enough to get me through the rest of the seventy-two hours I’ll be stuck in here.

…I can’t seem to reconcile this gesture with the context in which it was made, and even trying to think about it brings into sharp relief the migraine-quality headache that I’m still enjoying. Who are these girls, and why in hell would they care enough to do this?

I glance up from the books, studying the two of them. Hanako’s watching me anxiously, and Lilly continues to stand elegantly in the doorway, the serene, almost impossibly picturesque smile still present on her face.

To have two complete strangers wander over and do something like this for me… it’s utterly surreal. And I was griping about the lack of reading material only a few hours ago…

“I… this is… thank you so much,” I manage to say, finally remembering that manners exist and are a thing I’m still on the hook to have. “This is… just what I needed, honestly.”

My words make Hanako’s tense expression slacken considerably, and it makes me anxious that she was so anxious. Lilly simply nods, looking more than a little satisfied. It makes a lock of golden-blonde hair tumble against her cheek, and I almost forget to speak again.

“I can’t… I really can’t believe you went to all this trouble,” I whisper, baffled.

Lilly giggles, a sound I can only describe, absurdly, as like a kitten brushing gently against the strings of a harp. “Well, it was Hanako who selected the books. I simply came along.”

Hanako’s eyes are on me again, but her expression still seems a bit, well, troubled, for reasons I can’t quite pin down, and though it’s difficult to get my thoughts straight, I can’t get over this lingering feeling that I’ve forgotten something blindingly obvious. Lilly seems considerably more placid, but since she’s much more poised, it’s hard to read into that.

“Hanako,” I say, after a pause, “Thank you. This… really means a lot.”

She smiles and gives an almost imperceptible nod of the head. “You’re w-welcome.”

There’s a trepidation in her voice that makes my stomach tumble, and it only increases my suspicions that there’s something going on that I’m not seeing. Something very wrong.

Lilly speaks again before I can figure out what that is. “Would you like some company for a little while?”

For just a moment I think she means company in the ‘group of professionals’ sense, and wonder if she’s suddenly trying to sell me shares of stock. That reflects pretty accurately, and pretty sadly, on my mental acuity right now.

“…Huh?”

Her brow furrows slightly with concern. “You weren’t sleeping when we came by, were you?”

“N-no,” I say, quickly straightening myself out along the edge of the bed. “I was just lying down. I wasn’t doing anything important.”

Company. Like, spending time with me. The meaning of her words finally catches up to where it should have been all along… Wait, company? They want to stay here longer?

Running my fingers through my hair, I try to concentrate on some reason why I shouldn’t have company right now, but concentration isn’t working out. For whatever reason, I’m reminded of that plane that flew hundreds of kilometers on autopilot before crashing because everyone on board was dead of carbon monoxide poisoning. Or cabin depressurization, I can’t remember. It was a thing.

This is my opportunity to send them away if I want to go back to being alone, but… Do I even want to be alone right now? On one hand, I seem to be going stir crazy, but on the other hand, I don’t want to risk anybody else seeing me while I’m stir crazy. Or whatever kind of crazy. Not to mention brain damaged.

“Er, some company would be… nice,” I finally say, more in spite of my reasoning than because of it. “There’s… chairs along the wall there.”

I point to them, but Lilly continues to look in my direction. Or through my direction? She actually doesn’t seem to be…

Surprisingly, Hanako takes the initiative, moving to pull up the two chairs, Lilly sitting down as soon as one gets pulled behind her. Then Hanako takes the seat beside her, her expression still not particularly reassuring. It’s the kind of expression I’d make if I was trying not to notice a massive zit on my friend’s face.

I’m about to comment on it, but as I shift to sit up straighter, a mussed tangle of hair falls into my vision and I fuss over it mindlessly before another realization catches up to me: I look exactly as miserable as I feel. Every time she’s seen me before, it was after I put something like an hour’s worth of effort into my appearance, and I was wearing enough clothing and makeup to conceal or distract from my unhealthy thinness. But now, especially with this terrible P.E. uniform, the glamour has been lifted, and she’s seeing for the first time how awful I look.

“Eeeh, I’m sorry,” I interject self-consciously. I can’t help myself “I look like a mess… I wasn’t expecting company…”

Then Lilly giggles. “My, my, you don’t need to apologize for that. This is your hospital room, after all.”

Though that makes sense, it still completely fails to assure me. “Even so… I look like a trainwreck.”

The corners of her lips curl with impish amusement, and I instantly know that I’ve done something tremendously stupid. “Well, I’ll have to take your word for it.”

I gaze at her, vexed, before it finally dawns on me what she means, and then—

Tch—!

My eyes almost bug out of my head like a character in an old cartoon. If I’d had something in my mouth, I would be choking on it.

Not that it isn’t believable; it explains why she doesn’t track me with her eyes when I’m speaking, and, now that I look closer, her azure eyes have a faint sort of milkiness to them that I didn’t see earlier, but… How can anybody be so beautiful and not even…? Is she accidentally that gorgeous?!

It doesn’t… it just doesn’t... It’s not… I’m trying to wrap my head around it and the wrapping is too frayed to cover it completely. It’s such a startling thing that several awkward seconds pass as I try to fully contemplate it and I completely forget to break the silence before it starts to get odd.

“…Iwanako?”

“Oh,” I murmur, her voice jarring me back to reality. “Er, I didn’t actually notice you couldn’t see. I’m sorry for that, too…”

That makes her giggle again, and I wonder if I should be offended or not, and how stupid I must look. “Please, don’t worry about that. I don’t barge into hospital rooms just to make patients notice my condition.”

“Heh…”

The idea makes me smile, in spite of everything. She’s obviously trying to make me feel more at ease, and I appreciate it. It helps to distract me from this sinking feeling of dread I’m having, and I find myself looking back over to Hanako. She’s been awfully quiet, and though she’s looking at me, she’s not making eye contact. She’s looking downward at…

Oh. No. Damn it.

These obnoxious Yamaku Phys Ed shirts, for reasons unknowable yet terrible, have a bit of a V neck to them, and when I’m hunched slightly forward, the upper tip of my scar pops out noticeably. I didn’t even realize it until now, but... Hanako’s been trying to avoid looking at it since the moment she walked in.

It doesn’t take her long to notice I’ve figured it out, and that only makes things worse. She quickly looks away, staring determinedly at the drywall. I’m almost inclined to comment, but then I stop myself.

I guess that turnabout is fair play… I mean, I stared at her scars too, but still… Why did she have to see it? Anything would have been better. Even a rogue nipple would have been better.

I quickly move to straighten out my shirt, and it more deeply underscores how troubled and sensitive I am about the whole thing. It brings back into focus all the disasters I’ve been dealing with lately, and my expression sours visibly despite myself. As soon as it happens, I’m mad it did, because Hanako notices immediately and her whole body seems to tighten up in a way that makes me feel like a complete jerk.

“Oh, would you care for some tea?” Lilly’s voice comes in again, throwing me back off track. “I have some with me, if you can find some hot water somewhere.”

Tea? What? Why does she have tea with her?

Well… not that I couldn’t go for some right now. I need to mellow out, or I’m just going to feel even sicker.

“I… I’d love some tea, actually,” I answer. “There’s a hot water dispenser by the bathroom door…” Again, I gesture at it, before I remember how pointless it is.

“That should do nicely,” she answers, a flash of uncertainty touching her face. “Ah… Hanako… do you think you could, please…”

She trails off, and it takes me a moment to follow what’s going on before I remember that she probably has no idea how this room is laid out. She probably doesn’t even know I have a table. I don’t know that she could move around on her own without becoming oriented first.

“Oh,” I interject, moving to stand up. “I can…”

“N-no,” Hanako says, slight anxiety still in her voice. “I’ll do it…”

She gets to her feet much faster than I could, especially in my still-concussed state, so I don’t have much time to mount a polite protest, and I settle down, watching her. Though I expect her to take three of the polystyrene cups mounted in a stack on the side of the dispenser, she surprises me by going for Lilly’s satchel instead. She withdraws an object covered in cloth, and when she unwraps it I see, to my surprise, that it’s a sturdy-looking travel-size teapot.

They brought a whole teapot with them? But… why?

She fills it with hot water from the dispenser, and I try to help in my own way by adjusting both the overbed table and the bed itself to be a comfortable distance and in alignment with Hanako and Lilly’s chairs, so I can sit on the bed and face them across the table. As I do this, Lilly gingerly reaches forward and feels the contours of the table, apparently to judge its height and shape, and then withdraws three teacups from her satchel, setting them delicately on the table’s surface.

They brought almost an entire tea set to my hospital room. I don’t even know these people, and they brought a tea party to my room. I have no idea what’s going on.

Hanako returns to her seat, setting the teapot on the table, and Lilly thanks her, preparing the tea on her own. There’s a limit to how much formality you can achieve here—this is by no means an ideal setting to enjoy tea, and we don’t even have all the accoutrements you really need—but Lilly moves with a refined elegance regardless, looking wholly out of place amidst the oppressive banality of the hospital room.

The routine seems to distract Hanako from the earlier weirdness with my scar, and she seems to be relaxed again, but if we keep working each other up like this, I don’t know about her, but I’m going to lose my mind. It’s not like I have the exact coordinates on it as it is.

Hanako did mention having a friend before, now that I think about it. This must be her, but the contrast between the two is striking. Hanako always seems so nervous and shy, and there’s always sort of a jerky awkwardness to her motions, while Lilly seems to radiate a calm, extroverted confidence. I can’t really imagine how or why these two could have become friends.

As Lilly begins to pour my cup of tea, working around her blindness with one digit of what a romantic would probably call pianist’s hands, it hits me that Lilly Satou does a better Iwanako than I do. I’ve always aspired to being graceful and well-mannered, at least until my recent string of calamities, but this girl is so far out of my league that I feel self-conscious just being in the same room as her.

No, that’s wrong. I feel self-conscious because Lilly’s sitting almost precisely atop the smoking crater in the linoleum where Emi was standing when I gave completely into my baser impulses and raged like a maniac until she ran off.

Ugh. Ugh! God… I can’t do this. I just can’t do this. I can’t sit here and sip tea while that memory is still fresh in my mind. While I’m like… this, stammering like a drunkard and too distracted to speak like an adult.

“So,” Lilly says, her smooth voice ringing out, “have you been feeling better today?”

Have I been feeling better today…? That’s a hell of a question.

I don’t really know what she or Hanako knows about what happened to me. I can assume, but I don’t know for certain—and it occurs to me that the two of them might be in contact with Emi Ibarazaki, though they’re playing their cards close to the chest if this has something to do with her. I do think there’s more to this than what I’m seeing, but I don’t know these girls well enough to speculate as to what that could be.

“…Not really,” I answer, finally. That much is obvious. “But I’ll be fine,” I lie.

Lilly nods slowly, taking a dainty sip from her teacup. “I’m glad to hear that…”

She furrows her brow in a pensive expression, and I let the moment of silence stand, taking a sip from my own cup so I have more time to figure out what I should say.

The tea is like manna from heaven going down—I barely even take note of the fact that it’s English breakfast as I relish in the way it soothes my throat and warms my chest. Black tea isn’t really my bailiwick, but it’s been so long since I sat down and just enjoyed a cup that I don’t even care right now. It’s the most anodyne experience I’ve had in weeks.

It helps me clear my mind, too, and I realize I’m going to be at a disadvantage as long as I don’t know whatever they know. They clearly know something, and Hanako already got a look at my scar, so I may as well clear the air.

“…I have a heart condition,” I say, finally. “An arrhythmia. I… it hospitalized me for four months, and then my parents had me transferred to Yamaku.”

To say it out loud just feels so strange... I’ve never had to explain it to anyone before. I never felt like anybody needed to know before now. If my hand hadn’t been forced by Ibarazaki, no one would.

Lilly, for her part, just nods silently. I barely catch Hanako staring at me with a worried expression before she glances into her tea.

“I had heard something to that effect, but I wasn’t sure, exactly,” Lilly says softly. “I’m sure you don’t remember this, but I… encountered you yesterday, in the hallway, before the nurse arrived. I tried to speak with you, but…” She trails off, clearly uncomfortable having this conversation with a total stranger.

So is that why she came here? She saw—well, discovered—me in an imperiled state and was concerned? But still…

“It’s… I’m going to be fine,” I say. “I have a concussion, but I’m going to make a full recovery.”

Well, depending on your definition of ‘full’…

She seems slightly more surprised to hear that. “A concussion…” She shakes her head disbelievingly. “I…”

She pauses, apparently stopping herself from giving whatever expression of sympathy she was about to give. It’s an unexpectedly shrewd move. I don’t have any interest in revisiting what happened, especially not after what just happened.

“Well, it’s over now,” I say resignedly. “I won’t be here forever. I’m getting released soon.”

She gives a weak smile at that, but she doesn’t say anything. I guess this awkward conversation is awkward for her as well. Though I’m probably to blame, since I’m not doing a good job of concealing how miserable I am.

This is clearly as good a time as any for a change of subject, so I decide to do the honors. I’m really not in the mood to talk about my heart right now. Or anything in my skull, for that matter.

“So, Hanako,” I say, turning to her, “did I miss anything in class this morning?”

She pauses, apparently startled that I’m suddenly addressing her, then shakes her head. “I-I w-wasn’t there this m-morning…”

“Huh, really?” I pause for a second to ponder that. “Well, good for you, I guess.”

At that, Lilly smiles a bit more brightly. “Not fond of science class, then?”

“It’s better than being hospitalized,” I say dryly, “but only marginally.”

Lilly giggles again, and my eyes are drawn to the way her hands move to cover her mouth as she does so. It’s just… baffling to me how fluid and elegant she manages to make every gesture. I don’t think I could do that with years of coaching, and I say that as someone who took figure skating classes as a child.

“Oh, but don’t you like Mutou? He’s such a character.”

No.

“He’s… all right,” I say, and leave it at that. “Miyagi seems nice, though.”

“She is,” Lilly says, warmly. “She teaches my class, 3-2. She’s a very clever and kind person.”

“I got that impression, the few times I spoke to her.”

Miyagi is an energetic, coltish woman in her early to mid-thirties, who really seems to have a passion for teaching and interacting with students, which is refreshing. Her coursework is far too easy, but she’s pleasant enough to converse with, and very pretty in a boyish sort of way, despite always smelling a bit like cigarette smoke. So far, she’s my favorite member of the faculty here.

“Are you interested in stars? She supervises the astronomy club.”

“But… she’s an English teacher?”

She nods. “Strange, isn’t it? I heard there was even a dispute with Mutou over it. It’s hard to imagine.”

It really is. I try to picture them quarrelling, and I really can’t envision a scenario other than Miyagi steamrolling Mutou and just taking what she wanted. Miyagi's very proactive, and Mutou...

“On the subject of my class,” she continues, “Momomi says hello.”

It takes me a moment to remember who she’s talking about, and even then, the subject seems to come completely out of nowhere. I tilt my head like a baffled puppy.

“Momomi did?”

“She sits behind me,” she explains. “We’ve known each other for a little over a year, now. I mentioned in passing that Hanako and I were planning to come here, and she asked me to pass along her regards.”

I suppose it would make sense that they’d know each other, if they’re in the same year and they’re both, well, blind, especially if Lilly is the class representative. I just hadn’t given it any thought, until now. I hadn’t really given Momomi any thought.

Lilly doesn’t make me think of Momomi at all. Momomi moves and speaks much more… aggressively than Lilly, and her eyes are like bottomless pits, not the gentle sky blue of Lilly’s.

Of course, it probably isn’t fair to judge a blind person’s character by the look of their eyes, one way or the other…

“You and Momomi are friends?”

“Well,” Lilly says with a thoughtful smile, “I’d like to think so. She was a transfer student herself, actually.”

“Hmm,” I murmur. It isn’t that much of a surprise to learn; Matsumoto gives off the vibe of not really fitting in amongst her classmates, at least from the handful of times we’ve had a conversation. Her being a transfer student would make sense, though it’s troubling that she still doesn’t seem to fit in even after a year.

“At any rate,” she continues, “don’t be too offended if she doesn’t come by while you’re still here. She’s… not fond of hospitals.”

“Heh,” I say, wan amusement creeping into my voice. “I don’t think anybody is.”

That earns me the ghost of a smile from Hanako, who has otherwise been mostly silent for the last few minutes. She seems to be fairly comfortable around Lilly, so I have to assume she’s still unsettled because I look like I was only just recovered from being tied up in a basement somewhere.

“Hmm…” Lilly says, sipping thoughtfully, “I suppose you have a point.”

We pass the next few moments silently, though to her credit (certainly not mine), it’s a gentle, placid silence, not one I feel the urge to interrupt with my poor excuses for idle conversation. Even though we aren’t speaking, it feels nice just to enjoy the presence of other people, without having to suffer through a million clumsy gestures of poorly thought-out condolences. It’s just perfect in its simplicity; if I close my eyes it’s almost like how things used to be, back at my old school, when we’d just pass the time after school chatting nonchalantly and sipping tea.

And, glancing over at her, I decide I actually like Lilly a lot, though I still don’t understand what would drive them to come out here just for my sake. It’s ostensibly an act of kindness, though such an unusual one that I keep finding myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Like being suddenly invited to join a cult or something.

But my feelings go deeper than just suspicion… There’s this memory from my childhood that I still think about. It still haunts me to this day, especially at times like this.

I was in fifth grade, and this girl came to class one day, wearing a floppy, wide-brimmed hat. Headwear in the classroom was blatantly against the school rules, and, for whatever reason, I chose to make an example out of her for it. I kicked up an enormous fuss, refusing to stop badgering her until she took it off, and since I belonged to a pretty cliquey group of girls they all joined in on tormenting her about it. I told myself I was just enforcing the rules, but in retrospect I can see that I just felt like being cruel to another girl that day.

We brought her almost to the point of tears until the teacher finally noticed and stumbled out some excuse about how it was fine for her to wear the hat because it was part of her outfit. She continued to wear the hat for weeks afterward.

Later that year, on my birthday, our teacher informed us that she died. She’d had cancer.

When I found out, I broke down. I immediately recalled the way I had behaved, and nothing could get the memory of what I had done out of my mind. How could it? I was inconsolable for the rest of the day.

That afternoon, when I finally came home from school, I discovered that my parents had adopted the kitten I’d been begging them to get for months and months on end. I saw the earnest, affectionate expression in its eyes, and something in me just... snapped. I wouldn’t eat for two days afterward, wouldn’t leave my room other than to go to school. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle somebody doing something nice for me, after what I’d done. Of course, my parents had no clue what I was going through, and I felt far too ashamed to tell them.

It wasn't too long before they returned the kitten, because I never played with her. And when I found out, I felt guilty about that, too.

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight I can see how histrionically I behaved back then, but I’ve never forgotten that feeling of guilt. I’ve never forgotten hating myself so much that any act of kindness literally nauseated me.

For Lilly and Hanako to be here, for me, with the memory of the way I spoke to Ibarazaki still so clear in my mind… It’s almost too much to take. I think they’re both remarkable people, and I feel blessed and flattered that they actually seem to care, but I just don’t deserve it.

“…More tea?” Lilly asks, suddenly, tearing me away from my thoughts yet again. I note in passing that she has a tendency to ask a question right as I’m beginning to sink into darkness… But that can’t be intentional.

“Huh?” I stammer, surprised. It suddenly occurs to me that she realized my cup was empty simply by the sound of my setting it down on the table. That’s… pretty impressive.

“Er… yes, I would like some more, please.”

As she pours me a cup just as delicately as she did the first time, I decide to distract myself from my thoughts of cancer, cats, and collisions by glancing through the books Hanako selected for me. I’m not really a bibliophile, so I’ve never read any of them before, but all of them look interesting.

“I’m impressed, Hanako… these actually look like books I’d want to read,” I say, trying to keep the conversation light. “It’s a good thing you didn’t bring Anne of Green Gables, or I’d have to throw it off the roof…”

Hanako glances up at me with a nonplussed expression. “W-what?”

“Oh!” Lilly says, sounding disappointed. “You don’t like Anne of Green Gables?

“It’s absolutely the most insipid thing I have ever read,” I answer firmly. “Nothing happens in the entire story. It’s just four hundred pages of glurge.”

Her brow furrows, and she wrinkles her nose at me, offended. “That’s my favorite book…”

“What?” I stammer, my cheeks getting hot. “I… er… really?”

She goes silent, her face an expressionless mask for a long, agonizing moment. I feel my stomach flutter, and ponder how I could possibly mitigate what I just said...

...Until she drops the façade and giggles. “No. Not really. I don’t think I’ve read that book since I was twelve.”

I exhale, letting out a little laugh of indignation. Haha. Okay.

“That was mean! For a moment, I thought I’d really offended you.”

Lilly giggles again, and I can’t help but notice Hanako quietly cracking a smile beside her.

“Well,” Lilly says, bringing the teacup to her lips, “I do remember enjoying it. I thought it was sweet.”

I sigh, slightly melodramatically. “I could probably ramble for hours about how terrible it is. I think I’m the only girl in Japan who can’t stand it. It’s my cross to bear…”

“Um,” Hanako suddenly chimes in, “I d-didn’t like it either…”

I smile at her. “You’re just saying that to cheer me up.”

“N-no!” She shakes her head. “I r-really didn’t… I thought Anne w-was obnoxious.”

“Hee, really? That’s wonderful. We should form a club.”

“I think you might have trouble finding a supervisor for such a club,” Lilly says dryly.

“That’s all right,” I muse. “I think I’m done with clubs for the foreseeable future, anyway.”

“Well,” Lilly says, thoughtfully brushing a silken strand of golden hair out of her face, “I’m not a part of one, either. My duties as class representative don’t leave me with enough time.”

“I can imagine. I was class representative our first year,” I say wistfully, staring into my tea. “It… well… I wasn’t terrible at it, but… it just took too much out of me.”

She smiles more warmly, placing her index finger on her cheekbone. “I don’t know that it’s quite as bad as that here. But I’m fortunate in that I enjoy a good relationship with my classmates, and they’re usually eager to help out.”

She pauses. “Speaking of which… Would you happen to know what time it is?”

I glance at the clock. “It’s a quarter after…”

Lilly sighs. “Iwanako… I’m sorry, we’re going to have to get going soon. My class is working on preparations for the Festival, and I promised I would only be gone an hour.”

“I… oh. No… that’s fine,” I stammer. “I know that’s important.”

Well, to every student but me, that is. And now Ibarazaki, I guess.

“What is your class doing for the Festival?” I ask, finding myself trying to draw out the conversation as long as possible.

“A noodle stand,” she answers, giving a tired smile. “With any luck, we’ll be able to get the preparations finished before dinner.”

“Oh? That sounds nice.”

“I certainly hope so. We’ve put a lot of work into it. It should be a lot of fun,” she says, before something seems to occur to her, and she furrows her brow. “Will you be able to attend the Festival? Or…”

“I… don’t really know right now,” I sigh. “I’m expecting to be discharged on Saturday, but depending on how I feel, I might just be exchanging one bed for another…”

As soon as the words leave my mouth, the atmosphere in the room seems to almost visibly darken, and I immediately wish I could have taken it back.

I should have just said ‘yes’, even if it turned out to be a lie. Nobody would have even known.

“It isn’t really a problem,” I add quickly. “Even if I don’t have the energy for it, I’ll come up with something fun to do.”

Like sleep. Or stare at the ceiling.

However I felt about the Festival before, one of the saving graces of this whole misadventure is that I no longer feel obligated to attend it, or even to think about it. The two most vital systems in my body got injured on the same day. It doesn’t mean I’m a loser if I decide to stay in on Sunday.

And… I have to face the fact that I’m just not in the mood for fun and games right now, and I won’t be in two days, either. I’m not even sure I still want to attend this school. This just isn’t the right time for me.

Lilly still looks concerned, though, and it makes that awful feeling come back. She isn’t going to say it because she’s wise enough not to, but she does feel bad for me.

“You…” she says, hesitating. “You really haven’t gotten to experience much of the good side of our school, have you?”

Does it really bother her so much?

I shrug, again forgetting that the gesture is lost on her. “I don’t hold my bad luck against Yamaku. There are students running down the halls in every school in the country.”

Things wouldn’t be any better anywhere else, I almost say.

“Even so… I could understand you coming to dislike the school, after everything that has happened.”

After everything that’s happened? Nothing’s… really happened…

“The school… the school isn’t the problem,” I say, lowering my head slightly. “I’m…”

I stop myself. It hits me like a lightning bolt.

…the problem. That’s right, isn’t it? I am the problem.

The world is going to spin, my family is going to vanish, school is going to be in session, and idiots are going to run through the halls. But me? I never adapt to anything. I never move forward with both feet. And then I get surprised when I notice my sanity starting to slip.

When I’m left to my own thoughts, I can’t be trusted. Every single time I give myself time to dwell on what I’m going through, everything gets worse. Everything goes wrong. It happened over those long four months, and it’s happening again, and I don’t give people enough credit for seeing through me.

Spending the whole weekend in my room is the last thing I need to do. I can’t imagine a more surefire way to hurt myself.

“…It’s nothing,” I say, finally. “You know… I think I will be at the Festival. If it gets to be too much for me, I’ll find a shady place to pass out.”

And, I decide, I actually mean it. I’ll go to the damned Festival. Maybe if I pretend to be a normal person, I’ll believe it for a few hours.

That seems to make Lilly smile, at least, though Hanako is still flashing a nervous glance at me through her hair every few moments.

“I’m happy to hear that,” Lilly says, finishing off her tea. “You shouldn’t have to be alone.”

“I… suppose so,” I admit.

I thought I was used to it by now, but maybe I was lying to myself.

It occurs to me that perhaps that’s why I haven’t been able to return to the mellow, vacuous state I was in before coming to Yamaku. That perhaps that whole experience was predicated on a lie, and as soon as I got even the smallest taste of companionship, I realized how much I needed it, like a long-recovered drug addict accidentally taking a pain pill and going into withdrawal.

But even so…

Having finished my own tea, I stand up off of the bed, and spend the next few moments helping to wash out the teapot and teacups, which Hanako helpfully wraps and places back in Lilly’s bag. I’m still feeling woozy, but it seems that it’s finally beginning to die down.

As Lilly places her chair back against the wall, I see her withdraw an object from her bag, which extends out into a long, white, segmented cane. I guess that’s what she uses to navigate, since she doesn’t have a guide dog like Momomi. I wonder what kind of considerations go into using one versus the other.

Walking over to the doorway to see them off, I smile at them, more for Hanako’s sake than Lilly’s.

“Lilly… it was nice to meet you. And thank you both for visiting me. I… I hadn’t been having a good day before this.”

Lilly smiles, reaching out to gently place a hand on my shoulder. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Iwanako. I look forward to speaking with you again.”

“I do as well. Have fun with the Festival preparations.”

“We will. And I hope you enjoy the books.”

I give a lopsided smile. “I will,” I say, turning to Hanako again. “Thank you again for bringing them, Hanako. It really does mean a lot to me.”

She finally returns the smile, nodding gently. “I h-hope you like them.”

“Well… maybe I’ll see you on Sunday, then. Tell Momomi I said hello.”

We get through our courtesies and farewells, and they both turn away, headed down the hallway. Hanako stops after a step, though, and turns back to me.

“I-Iwanako?”

“Hm?”

“Why… why are you w-wearing that uniform…?”

“Long story,” I sigh. “I haven’t had the best track record with people’s good intentions lately.”

“Oh…”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s still better than a hospital gown.”

She nods. “I… I know.”

“Take care, Hanako. And thanks.”

I watch from the doorway as the two of them move down the corridor, eventually vanishing behind a corner. I continue to stand there for a few minutes at least, watching the empty hallway, trying to make sense of my thoughts.

It now dawns on me that I should have exchanged phone numbers with them. Now that they’re gone, the room feels colder, somehow, like the air conditioning came on as soon as they left. They probably won’t be back before I’m discharged, and I doubt anybody else will come by, either. That means I won’t be seeing anybody for forty-eight hours, other than the medical staff.

Forty-eight hours of nothing but quiet and solitude… My worst nightmare.

The best thing I can say is that I finally seem to have partially recovered from the state Ibarazaki left me in when she came here. I haven’t completely gotten over it… I won’t completely get over it, but at least talking to Lilly and Hanako has helped me begin to think straight again. Somewhat straight, anyway. My hands have finally stopped shaking, and I’m starting to breathe normally again.

So what now? I’ve got nothing but time, and nobody to spend it with. I can’t actually do anything, other than making a bunch of half-hearted resolutions I’ll already have forgotten by the time I actually get a chance to act on them.

As I turn back to return to my bed, my gaze falls upon the pile of books Hanako brought me.

Oh, right… I have these now. I suppose that settles it. All I need is for them to distract me from myself long enough to get the hell out of here, and then I can move forward from there.

I pull myself back onto the bed, raise the head all the way to the top, pick one up, and get tucked in for the next few days.

Thanks, Hanako…
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Friday comes and goes with very little fanfare. Other than the hospital staff, nobody calls, visits, or otherwise attempts to interact with me in any way. It’s boring, certainly, but it’s also nothing new, and, in a way, it’s comforting. Lately I’ve found myself disappointed by so many people that it’s almost relaxing not to have any more unpleasant surprises, even if that means being confined to a hospital room with nothing but a stack of books to keep you company.

My headache and the accompanying nausea have ebbed enough that I only really notice it when I try to stand up and walk around, but I feel dizzy enough when I do it that it’s not anything I feel safe doing alone. In the condition I’ve been in lately, falling again would most likely be disastrous to my health.

As part of my redoubled effort to keep my mind from wandering down dark corridors at all costs, I spend most of the morning and afternoon nose-deep in a book about a unicorn on a journey to find others of her kind. Based on the premise, I expected it to be fluffy and childish, but it turns out to be kind of a disquieting read, with a much darker tone than I’d have anticipated in a story about unicorns. I finally wind up finishing the book shortly before lunch, and feel somewhat troubled for about an hour afterwards, for reasons I can’t quite seem to pin down. Something about the themes, I think.

The second book I pick up is about an agent of a depowered federal government in a dystopian future where corporations control the entirety of the western world, and it’s pretty bleak and unsettling throughout. I don’t decide I like it until I’m a third of the way in, and even so, it takes most of the rest of the evening to finish it. It was a pretty compelling story, even if it was a bit complicated at times. It seems like the kind of story my father would enjoy for all the wrong reasons, if he was the kind of person who read books.

I’m not sure whether Hanako has a taste for fantastical literature or if it’s simply what she thought I’d like, but I suspect it’s mostly the former. Everything here is fiction, and not many of the titles she brought me are what I’d consider down-to-earth stories. Knowing how shy she is, I get the feeling that reading is very much an escapist activity for her.

Before my hospitalization, if I picked up a book, it was generally nonfiction. Most of the books I checked out from the library were either biographies or true crime, with maybe a smattering of historical fiction. When I opened a book, I didn’t want to escape the world entirely, I just wanted someone to prove to me that it could be more interesting.

Lately, though, I just haven’t been in the mood for reality. Maybe I finally found what it was that I needed to escape from.

It’s already dark by the time I get very far into the third book (something about a prisoner of war who travels through time,) so I decide to call it a night and go to bed. I’m leaving the hospital tomorrow, and not a moment too soon.
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Obviously, this one gave me a ton of trouble. Thanks to griffon8 and forgetmenot for betaing the chapter.

I'm still not sure how I feel about it—I may revise it again eventually, even—but I didn't want the hiatus to go on any longer, so I decided to pull the trigger. The problems with the scene, if there are any, are too nebulous for me to see clearly anymore, which probably means it's fine to publish, but if it's not, I'm expecting to hear about it soon enough.

So let's talk about Lilly. She's significantly harder to write than I'd ever have guessed! Part of the problem, I think, is that dropping in on a complete stranger in their hospital room isn't something she'd usually do. I think that it's justified, given the circumstances, but I've been wrong before. I think in the end I did get a grasp on her, but part of me remains skeptical. Part of my worry stems from this being a somewhat dialogue-heavy chapter, when most of the other chapters have been monologue-heavy, but I think it works here, and hopefully Iwanako's inner voice isn't tremendously obnoxious.

Again, keep in mind that there's a lot going on offscreen that I'm not showing. I hinted at some of it, and hopefully well enough that your imaginations can fill in the details. If something seems confusing, though, ask. I may not have communicated something correctly.

The next chapter should be about the same length as this one, maybe a bit longer, but it will cover a significantly longer stretch of time, so it'll feel faster, I think. I also have a much clearer idea of what's going to happen in it than I did in this chapter, so hopefully I don't take as long with it as I did with this one. I am happy as hell to see the back of this one.

As always, thanks for reading.
Last edited by Leaty on Mon Apr 13, 2015 10:13 pm, edited 19 times in total.

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