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

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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Leaty
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by Leaty » Tue Sep 02, 2014 6:35 pm

Was wondering if I should go ahead and say this, but I'm happy with myself, and I can't resist.

The update's complete, and sent to my betas. I swear on my mother's life that, barring a calamity, it will be published in under two weeks.

Believe that.

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dewelar
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by dewelar » Tue Sep 02, 2014 7:17 pm

Is this payback for the Emi stuff? Because now you're making me feel ashamed of posting two status updates myself over the past couple of weeks... :oops:

But, seriously, it's always good to hear that progress is being made on this story :D.
Rin is orthogonal to everything.
Stuff I've written: Developments, a continuation of Lilly's (bad? neutral?) ending - COMPLETE!

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AntonSlavik020
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Sep 02, 2014 7:35 pm

Looking forward to it. This might be my favorite story on the site.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

Best route
Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Leaty
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by Leaty » Tue Sep 02, 2014 7:48 pm

AntonSlavik020 wrote:Looking forward to it. This might be my favorite story on the site.
That always amazes me. I hope it continues to be after the next update.

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AntonSlavik020
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Tue Sep 02, 2014 8:49 pm

Leaty wrote:
AntonSlavik020 wrote:Looking forward to it. This might be my favorite story on the site.
That always amazes me. I hope it continues to be after the next update.
Well I'm a sucker for stories that aren't from Hisao's perspective(and bonus points if it's a girl), as well as AU stories, and this is a well written story that does both those things. Not to mention I like gxg(as long as it's a well written romance, which I'm sure this will be), so you basically combined a bunch of stuff I like into one story.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

Best route
Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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strange desire
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by strange desire » Fri Sep 05, 2014 1:43 pm

Even despite AntonSlavic's listed preferences, Mean Time to Breakdown is my favorite. It was one of the things that convinced me to get into a writing habit after a long time of hesitation, and I've enjoyed every moment of it since. It challenged me as a reader and presented a standard as a writer.

So, thank you, Leaty.

While other fics had me reaching for a metaphorical box of tissues or popcorn, MttB had me reaching for a real copy of The Little, Brown Handbook and a dictionary. As an aspiring pseudo-route writer myself, I find these far sweeter confections. (Sable has since become one of my favorite words, and I sneak it in where I can.)

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Leaty
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {updated 2014-2-23}

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 2:38 pm

strange desire wrote:Even despite AntonSlavic's listed preferences, Mean Time to Breakdown is my favorite. It was one of the things that convinced me to get into a writing habit after a long time of hesitation, and I've enjoyed every moment of it since. It challenged me as a reader and presented a standard as a writer.

So, thank you, Leaty.
...Wow, I'm flattered. These sorts of comments totally blow my mind and make me feel a lot worse about my update schedule :-\
strange desire wrote:While other fics had me reaching for a metaphorical box of tissues or popcorn, MttB had me reaching for a real copy of The Little, Brown Handbook and a dictionary. As an aspiring pseudo-route writer myself, I find these far sweeter confections. (Sable has since become one of my favorite words, and I sneak it in where I can.)
Heh. Well, I do hope you reach for the tissues or popcorn sometimes, too. I love vocabulary, though. I'm sure I probably drive some readers away with my word choices sometimes, but I literally can't help myself.

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Leaty
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Scene Fourteen

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:13 pm

You should probably reread the last chapter before looking at this. Yes, even if you just checked it yesterday. Browse through it.
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Extraordinary Rendition

I take a few steps back and give my appearance one final glance in the bathroom mirror. My uniform is on straight, my jewelry shines, my hair’s brushed out and my makeup is great as always… It’s wonderful, like a return to normality. Looking at me, you’d never think I narrowly avoided death three days ago.

Sad as it is to say, the last time I really felt comfortable going out in public without any makeup, I was probably in middle school. Particularly since transferring into Yamaku, I’ve been coming to depend on that thin veneer of perfection to keep people from looking any deeper; Thursday with Ibarazaki and Hanako was a mistake, and not one I’m planning to make again. If you look better than everybody else, people are much less inclined to think that there’s anything wrong with you.

As I return to the hospital bed to sit down, it occurs to me that that probably doesn’t work as well with so many blind people around, but, well, that’s what perfume is for, even if some people think it’s for prostitutes.

Glancing at the clock, I note that it’s almost eleven-thirty. Earlier today, one of the hospital staff informed me that the Yamaku Foundation had called ahead and was sending a representative to handle my discharge paperwork and return me to the school. That doesn’t do me any good now, though, and since the person could arrive at any time within the next thirty minutes, I don’t feel like cracking open the book I’ve been reading. There won’t be enough time to get back into the story.

Besides, I’m tired—it’s hard to say when I fell asleep last night, if at all, because a nightjar made her way to my hospital window and yammered on like a senile grandparent for what felt like hours and hours. Even if I did eventually fall asleep for a while, there’d be no way to know, because clearly I was dreaming of nightjars.

Once the sun went up, the nightjar mercifully flew home, only for a chatty pair of swallows to quickly take up her perch, where they’ve been incessantly tweeting for the last four or five hours, helpfully preventing me from stealing a few extra minutes of sleep. Sometimes I really hate living in the boondocks.

So to kill time, I begin to idly braid my hair. After a few minutes my noodling has started to evolve into a waterfall braid, something that’s pretty challenging to do on your own, but as I’m putting the finishing touches on it I glance at the clock and realize only ten minutes have passed. Sighing, I pull out another rubber band and get to work on making it a double waterfall braid. Twenty minutes down, and I’m hoping somebody shows up before I have to make it a triple waterfall braid, because there’s only so much playing with your hair you can do before you start looking like you belong in an interstellar senate.

I decide to forego the space-damsel hair for the time being. As I’m walking out the door to ask the nursing staff for a number I could call, I nearly bump into somebody walking in, and I jerk back into the room.

Ah, geez…

“Oh! It’s good to see you, Iwacchan!”

Misha’s bright, gold eyes lock on to me, like prison spotlights on an escaping convict. She takes my startled backing away as an invitation to follow me inside, and I’m somewhat less surprised, though certainly not pleased, to see Shizune sleekly filing in beside her, her expression unreadable as ever.

“It’s… good to see you two as well,” I lie, feeling the cold, smooth metal of the bedframe mechanism against my palms as I back as far into the room as I can go.

These two. I sigh to myself. I’m not at all in the mood for this today.

With everything that’s happened this week, I strongly question whether I’m in any mood to deal with Shizune and Misha, considering how quickly our relationship soured before Ibarazaki speared me in the hallway. The circumstances have changed drastically since then, of course, but not in any way that really impacts my relationship with the class representative.

Well, that’s not really true. One thing is different, and that’s that now they know about my condition. As much as I want to believe that doesn’t change anything, I know it does. That isn’t to say I’m happy about the implications, though. Shizune suddenly wanting to be friendly and understanding now that she knows I could drop dead any day now would be a miserable turn of events.

“I’m… surprised,” I say, my eyes flickering back and forth between theirs. “Did… the school send you to come get me?”

A deep, pounding pressure somewhere under my skull pulses in resonance with the vibrato of Misha’s voice as she laughs for longer than what I’d call socially acceptable. Shizune’s hands cut back and forth through the air as she signs a reply I can barely even stare at, much less understand.

“Iwacchan, one of our responsibilities as members of the Student Council is to escort students back when they get discharged from the hospital!”

“Really?” I blink. “What’s the point of that?”

“We don’t make the rules, Iwacchan~! Though,” Misha continues, and this seems to be her own contribution, “we don’t really get asked to do it all that often…”

She trails off, and I can’t help but notice the quick annoyed look that Shizune shoots her in response. What’s that even mean? The Student Council doesn’t get asked to escort students very often? Why would it be, then, that the faculty would go through the trouble for my sake?

Dismissing those concerns for the time being, I furrow my brow at them, my palms turned up askance. “So… does that mean we’re going to get on a bus? Or…?”

“Of course not, Iwacchan~!” Misha grins at me, as if I’ve just brought up an inside joke that only the two of us understand. “Mr. Ufu drove us here!”

Who?

Is that even a
name?

I meet her smile with a blank stare to punctuate the fact that I have no idea what the hell she’s talking about. She simply grins wider, though, finally erupting in an ear-splitting ‘Wahaha’ that immediately makes me wish I’d just asked outright.

“You probably haven’t met Mr. Ufu, Iwacchan,” Misha finally continues, translating for an increasingly impatient-looking Shizune. “He drives students to off-campus appointments in town, and handles most of the paperwork when a student comes back from the hospital… He does a lot of stuff, actually! Haha~!”

Well. That makes a little more sense. It would be pretty stupid for a hospital to release custody of a student into the hands of another student, class representative or not. I’m not even sure if that’s legal.

“But if, uh, Mr. Ufu handles it all, why does the Student Council need to show up?”

Misha shrugs cheerfully. “Who knows, Iwacchan? Maybe to just keep you company, I guess? Haha~! But, we’re really happy to see you~! We were worried about you!”

Though Shizune wasn’t the one signing that last sentiment to me—those words were Misha’s, I can tell that much—Shizune grants me a small, congenial smile, not unlike the one she had when we first met on Monday, before she started acting like I was a complete letdown. I can’t tell if it’s a sincere gesture or simply a conciliatory one. Neither would surprise me at this point, and I’m not sure which I would prefer.

Ignoring my skepticism for the moment, I nod graciously, allowing her a small smile of my own.

“That’s very sweet of you,” I say, putting a dulcet note into my voice. “As you can see, though, I’m fine.”

“Yep~! You look super…”

Misha suddenly pauses mid-compliment just long enough—and just awkwardly enough—for me to blink reflexively, as though I’m trying to refresh my real life browser.

“…Youlookreallynice, Iwacchan,” she finally finishes, her cheeks rosy from… shame, embarrassment; I’m not too clear.

“Er… thanks,” I say, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I raise a hand to fidget with my hair before I remember that it’s been far too doctored to mess with. I straighten my tie instead, in a rather half-baked attempt to look natural. I don’t have any delusions that it succeeds.

What was she going to say? The ambiguous hesitation in her compliment practically begs analysis. Was she going to make too direct a reference to my own mortality? ‘You look super healthy’? ‘You really look quite alive’?

…Or did I go too ‘sci-fi princess’ with the hair?

I’m too distracted by the comment to break off the long, uncomfortable moment that passes by wordlessly, and Shizune, either oblivious to the source of the awkwardness or unruffled by the mistake, raises a bemused eyebrow at us. Fortunately, the moment doesn’t drag on for very long, because a tan, rather robustly-bearded man with a fully shaved head steps into the room. He’s actually fairly imposing, and were it not for the Yamaku Foundation emblem embroidered into his coral-orange polo shirt, I might be a little scared to see him step into my hospital room.

Upon meeting my eyes, he gives a small bow. “Miss Daidouji, it’s good to finally meet you. My name is Kazuki Ufugusuku. I’m in charge of transportation at Yamaku Academy. ”

I immediately peg his accent as Okinawan (though in hindsight I could have guessed, with a name like that), and, upon closer examination, I realize I’ve seen him before—he was swimming laps in the pool on Tuesday when I met Aoi and Keiko. A fitness freak, perhaps? Well, there’s worse things to be.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Ufugusuku,” I say softly, returning his bow.

“Eh, you can call me Mr. Ufu if you want,” he says, lazily waving a dismissive hand. “All the kids around here do, anyway.” He furrows a bushy brow at me. “Anyway, how was your stay here?”

“No real complaints, I suppose,” I say, mostly sincerely.

“Happy to hear that. I’ve taken care of all the paperwork,” he says, holding up a sheaf of papers for emphasis, “so if you’ve retrieved all your belongings, we can head out now.”

“I’m ready, then.”

“Good. I’d better grab a nurse… This hospital’s lawyers’ll never let you leave this place on your own two feet.”

He steps back into the hallway, and I move to grab both my school bag and the duffel that Mutou brought me.

“Iwacchan, we can grab those!” Misha says, holding her hands out to take the bags from me. “Just sit down and relax!”

I peer at her quizzically. “You really don’t have to…”

“It’s fine, it’s fine~! We’re here to make your life easier, Iwacchan!”

I’m not sure I believe that.

I consider protesting further, but I really don’t have the energy. Reluctantly, I pass the bags over. Not like they were that heavy, anyway.

“Thanks,” I say, trying not to sound too insincere. “I really appreciate it.”

They simply give placating smiles in response, Misha’s cheeks still red about the loutish way she delivered her earlier compliment.

…Not really feeling at ease, here.

The first caress of an outdoor breeze hits my cheek as I’m wheeled out to the entrance canopy and it’s like I can finally exhale for the first time in days. There’s only so much recycled air one can breathe before they start desiccating like they drank out of the wrong grail.

Giving my grateful farewell to the nurse as I stand up out of the wheelchair, it feels good to stretch out. For a moment I get so lost just basking in the unhospitalness of everything that I actually forget the Student Council is beside me until Misha erupts in a loud yawn.

For a moment it looks like Shizune is about to echo Misha, and that immediately captures my interest because I’ve never heard even the slightest hint of her voice. But when the anticipated yawn finally comes, it’s almost inspiringly skillful how noiseless she manages to make it.

How does she even do that…?

“Tired?” I ask the question idly, resisting the urge to yawn myself, thanks to the aforementioned nightjar and his day shift.

“Yeah, Iwacchan,” Misha says sadly, rubbing her brow. “It’s been a busy week~! We haven’t really had a break…”

That wasn’t the answer I was expecting, and I wrinkle my forehead. “From studying for exams? Are they really going to be that bad?”

They both look at me like I’m squirting Dijon mustard into my udon. Shizune’s expression suddenly intensifies so dramatically that the way her hands fly into fast, exasperated signing immediately tells me I said something wrong.

“Not exams, Iwacchan! We’ve been working all week working on preparations for the Festival! Did you really forget that was happening?”

“Oh, of course. That,” I say, punctuating my inattentiveness with a simpering, self-deprecating rap against the forehead. It’s a gesture that kills me a little inside every time I have to resort to it, but I really want to bring the level of this conversation back down.

It looks like Shizune wants to say more, but as she raises her hand, something seems to cross her mind and her arm goes limp. It doesn’t matter anyway, because the shuttle rolls up to the curb and Mr. Ufu rolls down the passenger-side window to beckon us in.

The “shuttle” is a fairly large van with an automatic wheelchair ramp and the Yamaku Foundation emblem painted on the side. It looks like it could carry about six or seven students, but I wonder how often it transports more than two. Neither member of the Student Council wastes their time in entering through the ramp door, taking seats directly behind Mr. Ufu, so I go for broke and take shotgun.

“Right-o. Buckle up. It’s only about a fifteen minute drive back from here, give or take some traffic.”

I do so, and as the van rumbles back onto the city streets, the vehicle falls into silence. Well, at first I think it’s silence, but a passing glance at the backseat tells me I’m only technically right. Misha and Shizune are having a fairly animated conversation in sign language, not that I have any idea what it could be about. I’m doing my best not to care.

The van slows to a halt at a stoplight, and my focus drifts idly to a handsome white Jindo dog being walked by an elderly man. As it sniffs curiously at a scrap of newspaper on the sidewalk I feel a pang of regret that I’m not in a position to pet it.

Then Misha’s voice suddenly rings out. “Iwacchan,” she asks from the backseat, her signing slightly subdued by the seatbelt, “you are going to be able to attend the Festival, aren’t you?”

“Hmm?” I glance over to the backseat. Her expression is a murky cocktail of hurt and worry, with a splash of pity. What, is she taking the idea of me not caring about the festival that seriously?

“It’s funny,” I murmur thoughtfully, “I’ve been getting asked that a lot lately.”

That catches Shizune’s attention, and she quickly moves to sign a question at me. “Really, Iwacchan~? Who else asked you that?”

“Well, Satou from Class 3-2 did,” I reply casually.

There’s an almost imperceptible twitching of the Class President’s eye, and I can’t help but notice that she has to stop herself from frowning—her lips shrug slightly before returning to a perfect horizontal line of stoic neutrality. She exchanges a meaningful look with Misha before signing another question at me.

“You spoke to Satou in the hospital? I wasn’t under the impression you knew her.”

“Well, I didn’t,” I shrug. “I met her when she came with Ikezawa to leave me some books from the library.”

Misha blinks at me with this unabashedly bewildered expression, like I just answered the question telepathically. Shizune, by contrast, looks like I answered it with a series of belches.

Ikezawa visited you in the hospital, Iwacchan?”

“Um… yes,” I answer hesitantly. What, does that mean I have ten days to live or something?

Shizune raises a hand to sign something, but then seems to think better of it and signs something completely different. It’s kind of amusing to watch, because Misha begins to utter a syllable in translation before cutting herself off.

“Well, that’s nice to hear~!”

I pause, expecting her to say something else, but nothing comes. Misha glances over at Shizune and Shizune just looks up at me quietly, her hands perfectly still.

“Um, at any rate,” I continue, “I am planning on attending the Festival, but I probably won’t be at a hundred percent, so depending on how I’m feeling it might not be for very long.”

Shizune takes a second to think before responding, but eventually she signs her response with a smile. “That’s good, Iwacchan,” Misha translates. “The entire student body has been working hard for weeks to put this event together~! Misha and I in particular have been working until after dark all week to ensure that the Festival goes smoothly! We know this hasn’t been the week you’ve wanted it to be, but after all that’s happened it would be a tragedy if you had to miss out on the Festival just because—“

Misha suddenly cuts off mid-translation, and it instinctively causes me to break eye contact to glance at her. She’s gaping at Shizune, aghast, and once the student council president notices she’s lost my attention she turns and sees the expression for herself.

“Um,” I mumble, confused, “Yes? Just because what?”

My attempt to prompt them to continue goes seemingly ignored, though, because Misha’s hands erupt in a flurry of signs and within seconds the two of them are having a lively, completely closed-off discussion again.

I’m not really sure what the etiquette is for watching a conversation in sign, particularly when you can’t understand even a word, but I can’t help but stare as the two of them sign to each other at such a frantic pace that I’d be inclined to call it an argument if I knew any better. Shizune is sternly narrowing her gaze at Misha as she signs with very sweeping, deliberate movements, while Misha signs back with flickering, bombastic motions, looking almost depressed. Or maybe disappointed? I’m not sure. Neither emotion seems to suit her well.

It’s the first time I’ve ever seen any discord between them, and it’s a bit unsettling, since they seemed like such good friends before. I know that they’re tired and stressed out from the work they’ve been putting in, but this seems like it’s about something else.

…I’m the cause of this argument somehow, aren’t I? I feel like I’m seeing the surface of a deeper problem. It was painfully obvious even a week ago that Shizune and Misha were not equally receptive to me as a person, and since my mishap in the hallway on Wednesday, something seems to have gone very sour.

Try as I might, though, it’s impossible to decipher anything about the argument besides those generalities. And I’m not sure I want to get myself any more involved than I already am.

Sighing, I scoot myself back against the car seat and go back to watching the road pass by. The dog I was staring at earlier has already been left long behind us, and I feel an abstract, childish pang of regret.

As I’m beginning to tune out again, a low, bass-filled whisper rings out beside me. “<Psst, hey.>”

I turn to Mr. Ufu, slightly angling his head to face me, though his eyes are still safely on the road.

Is he trying to get my attention without the Student Council noticing?

He briefly meets my eyes before focusing back on the road. “<Mellow out, kiddo,>” he murmurs. “<They aren’t talking about you.>”

The words kind of float in front of me for a moment before they fully sink in. Once it occurs to me what he’s talking about, my eyes widen.

“<You can…?>”

“<Oh, yeah,>” he whispers back. “<I’m very good.>”

Mr. Ufu winks at me, then turns back toward the road, as if the exchange never happened at all.

The more I ponder his words, though, they sound increasingly unlikely. He can read sign language backwards, through a rearview mirror, while driving? Just how long has he been at this? I’m not sure if he’s being serious or just trying to make me feel better about the whole thing.

For the rest of the time that the vehicle rumbles down the road, everything is silent. That is to say, there’s not even any signing going on in the backseat, at least going by the stillness in the corners of my eyes—I haven’t wanted to do anything as suggestive as glance back at them, particularly if there’s a chance that it could reignite whatever weird fight they were having.

Mr. Ufu doesn’t hint me in any further on what’s going on, either; his eyes remain firmly locked on the road for the rest of the trip, though he does take out his cell phone at a stop light to apparently send a text message to someone.

A few minutes out from our arrival at the school, I succumb to my curiosity and quickly glance at the backseat, pretending to watch a building go by, but I’m surprised and confused by what I find. Misha is leaning her head, staring wistfully out the window, and Shizune has a notepad in her hand, upon which she is writing something out very intently. Neither of them looks angry; they just don’t seem involved in each other at all.

Is everything okay with these two, or…?

As I turn back my head the thought strikes me that, for all I’ve heard and seen about Shizune, I know comparatively little about Misha, even though she’s the only one I can really speak to. For all her obstreperousness, she doesn’t seem like such a bad person, but all I really know about her is that she’s my classmate who translates for Shizune. (Which, in and of itself, is more than a little strange, because, well… She’s a classmate, providing a valuable service. You’d think she should be collecting a paycheck or something for that, even if she enjoys doing it for free.)

Of course, this is none of my business—and as somebody still lamenting the lost anonymity of my own condition, it would be hypocritical of me to poke my nose where it didn’t belong—but I am concerned about the relationship of these two where it pertains to the seating arrangement in our classroom. If the Student Council isn’t getting along now, potentially as a result of something related to my hospitalization, my seat in the classroom might become a drama fallout zone.

That’s assuming, of course, that that isn’t exactly what it already is.

I sit in silence for the remainder of the ride, which really isn’t very long. It’s only a minute or so before the familiar Yamaku Academy gate, the one that I struggled through with Mother not even a week ago, comes into view right outside my window.

…I’m surprised, then, to realize that four students I’ve never seen before are earnestly waiting for us along the sidewalk. Actually, that’s not true. One of them is the somewhat cute boy in my class, the one with the cane. I’ve never so much as exchanged two words with him, so I have no idea why he or any of the other students would be waiting out here for me.

I glance over to Mr. Ufu with a wry smile. “Is this my welcoming committee?”

He chuckles, a deep, dog-grunting sort of sound. “Nah, it’s mine. My work is never done,” Mr. Ufu sighs. Pulling on an odd lever to lower the wheelchair ramp, he gives me a gruff smile. “Well, Miss Daidouji, have a pleasant afternoon.”

“Thank you very much for the ride.”

“No problem,” he says as I begin to step out of the van. “If you ever need a ride down the hill, there’s a sign-in sheet in the first floor hallway.”

“Oh,” I say, not really understanding what he means. “Uh, thanks.”

As I step onto the concrete sidewalk, I glance briefly at that boy from my class, and he looks at me in complete shock, as though I’m drenched in blood or something. But it passes quickly and he looks away as he walks right past me without a word and takes the seat I just vacated. Once Misha and Shizune clear the entrance ramp, the other three students file in, and the ramp collapses itself again.

I guess they weren’t my welcoming committee after all. Not that that explains the weird look that Cute Cane Boy gave me.

“Bye, Mr. Ufu~! Have a good weekend!” Misha says, waving at him through the windshield. It’s the first time I’ve heard her voice in a few minutes.

Since she’s apparently talking again, I feel like it’s safe to ask where all those students are going. “Misha, what was all that about?”

She looks at me guardedly. “What do you mean, Iwacchan?”

“Those students. Where’s he taking them?”

Her expression slackens, and the silly smile with which I’ve gotten used to seeing her come back. “Oh~! Mr. Ufu is dropping those kids off in town. It’s kind of a long walk down a hill otherwise, and it’s the only place around where you can buy essentials and things, so a lot of the students here ask him for a ride!”

I nod. “Oh, really? That’s convenient.”

Now Cute Cane Boy being there makes more sense…

“Haha~! Yep, but we only have the one shuttle, so it’s always getting tied up when a student has to be driven to a doctor’s appointment or something. I never sign up, Iwacchan. I’d feel too guilty.”

Guilty? Why, because she can walk unassisted?

….Come to think of it, does Misha even
have a disability?

Watching the van take off again and disappear, though, I push these questions from my mind, because I’m trying to figure out where I’m expected to go, or what I’m expected to do from here. I guess I should ask Shizune, but after their spat in the van, I’m reluctant to force Misha and Shizune to interact.

I guess it’s a Saturday, so this is my own time with which to do whatever I want? It doesn’t seem right, though…

I move to open the gate, but then I feel a hand on my shoulder, and I turn around. The owner of the hand turns out to be Shizune, who reluctantly meets my eyes as she begins signing.

“Iwacchan, before you go,” Misha translates, “Nurse has asked to speak with you. We have instructions to take you to his office before letting you go.”

Nothing in life is ever that easy, I suppose.

“Why does he want to speak to me?”

Misha shrugs, apparently on Shizune’s behalf. “We don’t know, Iwacchan! It’s just something students do when they return from the hospital, I guess~!”

I guess that makes sense, but I’m not really in the mood to speak to him. Though, if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t really feel like speaking to anybody right now.

“I guess we can’t keep him waiting, then,” I sigh.

We walk from the gate to the Administrative Building without so much as a trickle of conversation. Whatever happened in the van between the two members of the student council soured me on carrying on a chat with them (or talking about the Festival, in particular), and Shizune and Misha aren’t being particularly chatty, either.

Even the birds have started to clam down now that it’s midday. Though I’m pettily dismayed to find another pair of swallows overhead as we pass beneath the branch of an overgrown poplar tree, one of them suddenly seems to remember an urgent appointment and takes flight, leaving the other one quietly behind.

The school grounds, though, are full of students milling about, and when they notice my incongruent school uniform, more than a few of them look at me with the same kind of surprised expression Cute Cane Boy gave me. It’s different from the puzzled, curious glances I got on my first few days here; the students really are looking at me like they read my obituary this morning. Clearly, something has changed since Ibarazaki bashed into me on Wednesday.

The Administrative Building, conversely, is kind of refreshing in that it’s almost entirely deserted. In fact, the only open door in the entire hallway is the one to the Nurse’s office. I guess it’s not surprising that he would be the only staff member still around on the afternoon before a big festival. Most of the faculty is probably accustomed to having Sundays off, and if they have to show up tomorrow for the event I can’t see why they’d want to linger around much longer on a Saturday afternoon.

As we’re approaching the door, Misha marches ahead and raps rather loudly on it, despite it clearly being open. Knowing that nobody ever seems to notice when I do it, I allow myself a deep sigh.

“Nurse, we brought you Iwacchan~!”

“Awesome, thanks,” I hear from inside the office. “That’s all I need. You girls have a great weekend.”

“We will~!” Misha says, her voice disorientingly chipper in light of her earlier argument. “You too!”

When she turns back to me, I take note of the rather tepid smile on her face. It’s a pretty steep departure from how I’m used to seeing her, and it’s especially saddening, like watching a dancer fall down during a choreographed performance.

“Bye, Iwacchan~!” she says, handing me back my bags. “See you later! Take care!”

“I’ll try. You too, Misha.”

With one last smile, she begins to make her exit down the hallway, and I turn to give a farewell—not an especially warm one—to Shizune, but when I look over, she puts her hand out like she wants to shake mine.

Confused, I put my hand out, but rather than shake it, she places something in my hand. Closing my hand around it, I can feel that it’s some kind of note.

I meet her eyes—always a somewhat daunting prospect, but I can see now that there’s a surprisingly disarming warmth to them here. She gives me a wan smile and a knowing nod, and disappears after Misha.

I’m not really sure what’s going on…

I try to wash all thoughts of them from my mind as I reluctantly step into the nurse’s office. With any luck, that’s the last time I’ll have to worry about them. I don’t have time to read Shizune’s note right now, so I stick it inside my jacket pocket and walk into the office.

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Last edited by Leaty on Thu Sep 25, 2014 5:56 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Scene Fifteen

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:14 pm

Blood Pressure

“So you wanted to see me?”

“Hey there, Daidouji,” Nurse says, glancing over at me with the coltish smile that I’m coming to realize is characteristic. “It’s good to see you. Have a seat.”

He gestures over to a molded-plastic chair positioned to face his desk, which I sit down in without a word. He spends another minute quietly typing away at his computer screen before he finally turns to me.

“So how was your stay at the hospital?”

“Fine, I suppose. Nothing to write home about.”

His smile seems to falter for the briefest fraction of a second, but then it returns so quickly I barely even notice it happened.

“Great. I’m glad to hear that,” he says, tapping a pencil on the desk. “We don’t usually get a whole lot of complaints.”

“That’s… good.”

He pulls some blank forms out from a drawer on his desk and turns his office chair to face me directly, resting his free hand on his knees. “Anyway, this shouldn’t take too long. It’s just the school policy when we get a student back from the hospital. I just need to take your vitals for our own reference and then the rest of the weekend is yours.”

“That’s fine,” I say.

As he gets up out of his chair and closes the hallway door to give us some privacy, I stand up to remove my school blazer so that he can take my blood pressure, something I’ve had done so many times this year that it’s basically second nature now. He quietly wraps the cuff around my arm and inflates it until it’s just beginning to feel uncomfortable.

“So,” he says casually as he slowly releases the air from the cuff, “I never was able to get a hold of your parents. Is everything okay with them?”

Great, my favorite topic. “Oh. Yes,” I answer, keeping my tone light. “I spoke with my mother on Thursday. She… understands what happened.”

“I see…” He jots my diastolic blood pressure on his chart, and then there’s a sharp rip of the fasteners as he pulls the cuff off. “Where is your mother, if you don’t mind my asking?”

As a matter of fact, I do. Lay off.

Of course, I don’t actually say that.

“One of her friends ran into some trouble abroad,” I say, fabricating the lie completely by the seat of my nonexistent pants. “She had to leave on rather short notice to help get her out of it.”

There, I think. That’s not too far off from reality.

The Nurse quirks an eyebrow at me while he reaches to pull a thermometer out of a cabinet. “Trouble abroad? What, did your mom’s friend get caught smuggling narcotics or something?”

“Maybe,” I admit—or pretend to admit. “It’s not any of my business.”

“Yeah, that’s probably a good attitude to have,” he says, forming the grin of a middle-school boy who thinks he’s clever. “You wouldn’t want to become an accessory after the fact, I don’t think.”

“No,” I say, presenting him with my best attempt at an appreciative smile. “Definitely not.”

He hands me the electronic thermometer, placing the probe in my palm for me to place in my mouth myself. I watch disinterestedly as the number on the display crawls slowly up to thirty-seven degrees and determinedly sits there another thirty seconds until the machine beeps and the Nurse quickly scribbles down a few more measurements.

“Cool. Perfect score. Just one more thing, okay? I need you to get on that scale.”

He waves over at a hospital scale in the corner of the room, over by the room divider where students usually rest during class.

I blink at him incredulously. “You need to take down my weight?”

He shrugs sheepishly. “It’s an entry on the chart. Just bear with me, here.”

Sighing, I slip off my flats and step onto the scale, and the nurse gets to work adjusting the weight sliders back and forth.

Though I don’t see the point of this, I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t a little curious what the number was. I haven’t stepped on a scale since some time before my heart attack, when I wasted away a little.

My weight before my heart attack was about forty-three kilograms, so now it should be about… I don’t know. Forty-one?

“Thirty-eight point-one kilograms,” the Nurse says, scribbling the number down.

…Or that.

I don’t even realize that I’m blinking at him, dumbfounded, until he meets my eyes and gives me a tired expression. “Why do you look so surprised?”

As I step off the scale, I break eye contact with him, slipping back into my shoes and staring at the floor. “It’s… just lower than I was expecting.”

“Hmm. Is it really, now?”

What? What does he mean by that? I look back up at him, into his eyes, but his expression looks somewhere between blank and disappointed, like how a bird looks when it realizes you aren’t leaving it any crumbs.

“You can go ahead and sit back down,” he says, much of the jovial tone trickling out of his voice. “I’d like to have a little chat with you before I let you go, if you don’t mind.”

Something about the seriousness in his tone is giving me chills… It’s like some instrument suddenly belted out a series of chords in a minor key.

“Um. Okay…” I say, as I walk back from the scale and sink back down into the molded-plastic chair.

“All right, so, here’s the deal. I know that the last time we spoke, I asked you to get some exercise, but for the time being, I’m actually going to have to ask you to avoid any kind of exertion for at least another week. Between your heart and that concussion of yours, we don’t want to take any risks. If you tripped while running or something…”

“Sure,” I nod. “That makes sense.” Okay, nothing bad so far…

“However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can start doing to improve your health,” he continues. “For one thing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, you’re dangerously underweight.”

…And there’s the other shoe. I have to stop myself from letting my jaw drop.

Dangerously underweight?”

“Oh, yeah,” he says dryly, his expression not even slightly amused. “And I’d add that that’s dangerously underweight for somebody without a heart condition. The low end of the healthy range for a girl of your height and build is something like forty kilograms.”

“And that’s… a huge problem, then?”

He narrows his eyes at me like I just blew him the raspberry. “It can be. The chart of healthy ranges can sometimes be a little arbitrary, but they’re usually a pretty decent guideline. Your hospital records from February had you weighing it at forty-three point-four. To your knowledge, is that accurate?”

I furrow my brow, bemused. I don’t remember that at all. When did that hospital weigh me? Did they put me on a bed scale while I was out?

I can’t help but feel like there’s more to it than just this. This line of questioning is making me uneasy. I take a moment to study his eyes before I answer. “I… suppose, yes.”

“So what you’re saying is that in four months, you lost more than a tenth of your body weight?”

The accusatory tone in his voice makes me stiffen in my seat. “I just… haven’t had much of an appetite, that’s all.”

If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve kind of given up on ever gaining that weight back. I mean, that’s why I made the fashion choices I did when Mother and I went to the shopping center together. Frankly, I haven’t even worn a brassiere since before my heart attack, just a snug camisole.

“Loss of appetite, huh?”

“Well, yes,” I say placatingly. “That’s one of the side effects of my medications, isn’t it?”

“Your medications? Technically yes. But another is weight gain. Another is erectile dysfunction. So… see where I’m going with this?”

I gape at him, perplexed. Then suddenly it hits me.

“You don’t—you’re not trying to suggest I have an eating disorder, are you?”

Dear lord. I need the nurse thinking that like I need a gut wound. If he communicated such suspicions to my mother, she’d lose her mind thinking she was somehow responsible. Because, were it true, she almost certainly would be.

He shakes his head, though. “An eating disorder? No. Nothing quite so complicated…” He flips through his notes. “Tell me, are you dealing with stress responsibly?”

Ugh. This again?

“Y, yes,” I answer. “It’s like I told you on Wednesday, I’m fine.”

“You’re sticking to your guns, then?”

What guns? I said I was fine,” I snap, starting to get agitated. “Weren’t we talking about my weight loss?”

He meets my eyes and sighs, glancing at his desk. “Yeah. We were.”

“So… is that still happening?”

“No. Not exactly,” he says, digging through a drawer in his computer desk. After a moment, he pulls out a small sheaf of business cards neatly held together with a rubber band and hands me the one on top. “I want you to hold onto this.”

He’s holding it out to me like it’s a slice of processed cheese, not the way it’s meant to be done in formal settings, a process I’ve learned a lot about from my father. From that it seems pretty obvious that it’s not his own card, not that I’d warrant such formality if it was. Gingerly, I take the card between my thumb and forefinger.

The card is chalk-white, embossed with the Yamaku Foundation emblem and printed in an ultramodern sans-serif font. Yamaku Academy, the first line reads, in the largest print. Below that in a marginally smaller text is the name Yumi Takawa, MD. And below that, in a more squat typeface, the words Board Certified Psychiatrist.

…A psychiatrist…?

A
psychiatrist?!

Swept with a wave of indignation, I stand up straight out of my chair. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“That’s a colleague of mine,” he answers as he casually gestures to the card, completely unruffled by my sudden outburst. “Her office is a few floors up from here. I’d like you to consider speaking to her, since you’re obviously unwilling to be open about anything with me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I say, my body stiffening.

“Yes, you do,” he says, leaning forward slightly in his chair. “If you’re not comfortable being honest with me about what’s going on with you, that’s fine. I’m not going to hold you in this room and twist your arm until that changes. But please, don’t insult my intelligence and tell me that nothing’s wrong, because I know that isn’t true.”

That’s when I figure out what I’m doing here, what he’s doing, and my body starts to get hot with anxiety. This isn’t a routine check-up. It’s his best attempt at an intervention.

I’m a good liar. A decent actress, even, when I bother to be. It’s an ability I’ve honed from a childhood full of avoided confrontations, a lifetime of trying my hardest to keep people I don’t trust or don’t like from peering too deeply into my life. As I’ve become an adult, I can’t recall many occasions in which I’ve given someone the room to call me out on one of those lies. I must be out of practice. That, or he’s cheating somehow.

It’s hard to keep my composure, but I try to keep my expression guarded. “Why… why are you convinced?”

He raises an eyebrow at me in a gesture of mild impatience and sets his hands on his knees. “You've tried your best to hide it,” he answers coolly. “Maybe that’s the only way you know how to manage it. But you've been asking me to believe that everything’s totally peachy, in spite of the fact that, over the course of four months, you've suffered two near-death experiences, discovered a life-threatening chronic illness, and been totally uprooted from home on very short notice. Sorry, that’s a tough sell.”

“I never said—“

“…And based on the fact that I’ve been flooding your parents with voice mail messages and emails and haven’t even gotten so much as a text in response, it looks like your support network is a complete farce, as well. So, no, unless you’re a robot, I don’t think things are really as rosy as you’re pretending they are.”

“And based on this, you’re going to make me to see a psychiatrist?”

“No. I don’t see the point in forcing you to do anything.” The Nurse exhales, tapping his forehead pensively with the back of his pen before continuing. “Daidouji… when you get right down to it, I have one job, and that's looking after the health of the students who attend this school. And in order for me to do that job effectively, I need those students to be honest with me about their problems. So if one of those students won’t be honest with me, I need her to be honest with somebody.”

“I suppose I don’t really see how anything that’s going on in my life is any of your business.”

“It’s my business because loss of appetite and weight loss are two major symptoms of clinical depression, and at your current weight, with your heart condition, you’re basically a disaster waiting to happen,” he answers sternly. “If they’re connected, and they very well might be, then yes, I’d say you need help. Preferably from a physician. Because if you keep doing this, just burying your problems, eventually you’re going to break. Physically or mentally.”

Where does he get off?! I narrow my eyes with irritation, feeling the blood pumping in my face. No. I take a deep breath. Calm down. I don’t know if he’s winding me up unintentionally, but it’s happening.

“So because I don’t feel like talking about my life with you, that automatically means I’m burying my problems?”

“Have you been talking about anything with anybody?”

“That isn’t any of your business.

“So probably not, then.”

My blood reaches its boiling point, and my heart seems to crash back and forth. I’m going to lose it if I let him get to me.

Briskly, I stand up out of my chair. My words are cold, clear and smoothly fluid, like liquid nitrogen. “If I walk out of this room right now, are you going to stop me?”

He looks at me with sad eyes. And then he sighs. “Daidouji… you aren’t my prisoner. If that’s really what you want to do, go ahead, but you can’t escape this conversation forever.”

I ignore that comment. It’s just another attempt at drawing me out. I pick up my school bag off the ground, leaving the nurse’s duffel bag under the chair where I left it. He’ll see it eventually.

As I move to open the door, I realize I’m still holding the business card he gave me. I absently set it down on the grey surface of a fax machine, but The Nurse’s voice rings out almost as soon as I do.

“Daidouji,” he says, his voice softer, “would you at least take that card with you?”

“No,” I say flatly, my hand on the door handle, not meeting his eyes. “I’m not going to need it.”

“Could you please take it anyway? In case you change your mind?”

I glare at him. “I’m not going to change my mind!”

Before he can say anything else, I’ve swung the door open and rushed down the hallway. I don’t stop moving my legs until I’ve gotten to the end of the arched corridor and out through the double doors to the fresh air outside. And even then, the concrete path under my feet blurs as I rush as far away from the administrative building as possible.

To hell with him, I think, almost hyperventilating with exertion and anxiety. To hell with him for poking his nose into my life! For thinking he had any right! He’s just a damn nurse!

As my pace slackens to a standstill, I finally take a long, calming breath, but I almost panic again until I spin around and confirm that nobody’s following me. I don’t know why anybody would be. But storming out of the nurse’s office felt too easy, like this is all some complex game to trap me someplace.

I… I don’t know. I feel like I shouldn’t have done that… But I couldn’t have stayed in there. I was starting to feel like I felt when Ibarazaki invaded my room.

Now that I've gone and done that, I have no idea what’ll happen. I doubt that this is the last I’ll hear about it from him. Is he going to force me to see a psychiatrist? Does he think I need to be put on suicide watch or something? I don’t really know how much control he can exert over my life if he’s so inclined. All the more reason to continue keeping him firmly out of it.

Looking around at my surroundings, at the sunlit, verdant path between the administrative building and the girls’ dorms, it occurs to me that… I’m free. I’m not bound to my hospital room, not legally obligated to be anywhere. I suppose that means I’m back to being just an ordinary student again, but… nothing really feels right. Theoretically I’ll be back to class on Monday, but with the way I just burst out of the Nurse’s office, it doesn’t feel like it. I don’t feel… like I belong here, I guess. Like I should have listened to my previous inclinations and gotten on the bullet train to Tokyo.

But failing that? I’m not really sure. I suppose I’ll head back to my dorm room. I’m not sure where else I’d go, short of wandering somewhere totally aimlessly.

The pathway is unusually quiet as I make my way to the dorm complex. I only walk past one student before getting to the building, and he’s so involved in what he’s doing with his cellphone that he hardly even notices me. I’m not really sure where everybody is right now, but it only makes me feel even more unsettled. Like I’m not supposed to be out here.

Lately I don’t feel very much like the person I thought I was supposed to be.

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Last edited by Leaty on Wed Mar 25, 2015 3:12 pm, edited 6 times in total.

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Scene Sixteen

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:14 pm

2 Become 1

When I get closed to the dorm building, I’m startled to see that one of the raised walls by the steps is covered with what appears to be some kind of neo-surrealist abortion in progress. I almost think I’ve gotten lost, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that, no, there’s just a huge, scatterbrained mural on the wall that wasn’t there before I was hospitalized.

Unusually, there’s some boy performing what looks like a dubious style of tai chi or aerobics along one end of the wall. It’s only as I get closer that I realize she’s a girl, not a boy, and that she’s not doing tai chi, and that she doesn’t have arms. It's funny, really; these past few days, I've been so caught up in my own worries and struggles that I've repeatedly forgotten that there are some really strange people attending this school.

Walking towards the stairs a few feet from where she’s standing, I realize that the reason she’s moving so strangely is because she’s painting the wall with her feet, a paintbrush wedged between her toes. It looks more like performance art than art, and I can’t help but stare at it for a few minutes as she goes along. She’s too involved in her work to notice me, it seems, and it’s not like I have anything to say anyway.

After a few moments, I get bored watching her, though—watching somebody paint isn't that interesting; watching somebody paint with their feet only marginally more so. And, given the day’s events, I’m not really in the mood to sit around and stare anyway. I continue to proceed to the dorms.

“I need your help.”

Her voice comes out so suddenly and so out of nowhere that I jump. I reflexively turn my head, thinking she must be speaking to somebody else, but there’s nobody else around. When I look back at her, she’s looking straight at me with deep green eyes that vaguely remind me of the bottoms of dark green beer bottles.

“I’m sorry?”

“I don’t know what you did, but I forgive you. But you have to help,” she says, her eyes pleading.

“I—what?”

“I have two paints that I can’t use. I need for them to be one paint I can use.”

The words are delivered as matter-of-factly as the opening sentence of an inane math problem, and I’m struck speechless for a moment while I attempt to decipher what the hell she means.

“You… need me to mix paint for you? Right now?”

“Now is good. Later is less good. And tomorrow is too late.”

Is she messing with me? I stare at her, bug-eyed.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“The paint,” the strange girl replies dryly. “It would have been better to have it earlier, but you weren't here then. Now is best, yes.”

“I don’t… I don’t really know the first thing about mixing paint.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” she says, her expression blank. “The first thing about mixing paint is to take two or more colors of paint and pour them into the same container.”

…I continue to stare at her.

“Actually,” she says thoughtfully, “I think that may be the only thing about mixing paint. So you’re set.”

I’m about to attempt a response to that when I’m hit with a sudden sense of uncertainty. Wait, I think nervously, does somebody know she’s painting this wall?

Full of dread, I glance over to the mural suspiciously, but upon a more reasoned analysis, I decide that too much of the mural has already been completed for this to simply be a random act of vandalism by an incredibly weird person. Or, at least, that’s how I reassure myself, in spite of the fact that she’s currently painting the nude breasts of what appears to be a disembodied torso.

Is… is this real life?

“I—um—alright,” I say, finally, if only because refusing to help a disabled person asking you for assistance is something like the dictionary definition of a jerk move. “I’ll help.”

With all the apprehension of a doe approaching a handful of salt, I delicately step towards the girl, my caution perhaps a bit absurd in light of how difficult it would probably be for her to hurt me—though on the other hand, I’ve nearly been rent asunder by less imposing figures than her. Still, though, there’s not much that’s outwardly threatening about this girl, other than the fact that she is quite possibly, for the lack of a better word, 'freaking bananas.'

Well, I suppose she might just be an almost totally normal girl who’s just utterly in love with her own cleverness. Or what she perceives as cleverness. Answers questions as literally as possible just to be a pain in the neck, that sort of thing. But… she doesn't quite seem like any class clowns I've had the displeasure of knowing.

There are two fat metal cylinders glistening in the sun, which I gesture to. “These two cans?”

“No. Just this one,” she says, tapping one of the cans with her feet, “and that one over there.” She swings her foot in a direction and I can vaguely make out the can she’s pointing at a few meters away.

“Fine,” I say, walking over to grab the wayward can. It’s a lot heavier than it looks, and I find myself grunting in a less-than-ladylike tone under my breath as I heave it over to where the girl is standing. I guess that with all that weight I lost over my hospitalization, I lost what little muscle tone I had, too.

Why am I even doing this…? This is so stupid.

I don’t really like walking in the grass, either. There’s painting supplies everywhere, and I would hate to unexpectedly splash paint onto the bottom of my shoes.

Setting the can on the ground, and taking a moment to shake the numbness out of my arms, I look up at the girl. She’s just standing over me, watching me with what is quite possibly the most unreadable expression I’ve ever seen. I don’t even know if it’s blank, per se. It’s almost animalistic—maybe 'instinctive' is the better word—sort of like an owl or something. Like a ruffled owl that really, really wants you to turn off the lights.

“So… how should I get these open?”

Wordlessly, she turns away, and I have a moment to look at her a bit closer. She’s got a few centimeters of height on me, and she’s sort of gangly and bony and androgynous in a manner that reminds me a little of that British supermodel from the sixties, but not necessarily in a good way. Her hair’s kind of a disaster too, a utilitarian, vaguely page boy-esque cut that practically demands a comb through it in spite of how easy it must be to maintain. The color’s the only good thing about it, this rich auburn shade that seems to catch the afternoon sunlight in just the right way.

I wouldn’t call her a complete mess—or maybe I would, but with the caveat that it all seems to work for her, in some twisted, totally unorthodox way. Like a dilapidated building made beautiful by all the kudzu and moss growing on every surface. Her eyes are even the color of moss.

She turns to me, a screwdriver clutched between her toes.

“Use this.”

“Um… Thanks,” I say, gingerly taking the screwdriver from her foot with no small amount of hesitation. Though it’s easy enough to reason that there’s nothing inherently weird about this—it’s like being handed something, though she has no hands—the idea of it still makes me more than a little uncomfortable. Where I'm concerned, you’re not really supposed to be getting so close to another person’s feet unless you’re a shoe salesman or a masseuse.

“So…” I murmur, “I guess I’ll pop these open, then.”

“Seems like a good guess to me.”

Giving her a sidelong glance, I sigh under my breath and kneel down beside the can, trying to keep it as far away from my body as I gently pry it open.

Do not splash paint on your clothes, Daidouji. Do not. This is the only school uniform you have right now. Look at the weirdo beside you. Look at how she’s dressed. This is your fate, as well, should you ruin your clothes here.

Gulping, I very gently, and very, very carefully pop the can open. Then, sliding over slightly, I do the same to the other one. It’s easier than it looks, and afterwards I give myself a thorough inspection to ensure I haven’t splashed even a mote of paint on me.

“I know you.”

I glance over to see the moss-green eyes murkily staring down at me, alight with curiosity.

“Um,” I say lightly, “I’m one hundred percent sure that you don’t.”

“No, I do. You’re that girl who was dead, and then not dead.”

It’s such an obtuse, unbelievable non sequitur that I almost fall over, my jaw frozen in this perfect expression of silent, overpowering befuddlement.

“I… you… what?!”

“Yes, I can tell by your uniform. You must be the one who died in the hallway. I remember, because it was my friend that killed you. But then… you weren’t dead anymore, but she didn’t come back.”

I feel like I’m going crazy. It should be total nonsense, but what she’s describing almost makes sense in this kind of unintentionally allegorical way.

So that would make this girl Ibarazaki’s friend? I think that makes me dislike Ibarazaki even more.

“I didn’t die on Wednesday,” I say, resisting the urge to use the tone I’d take with a child—it’s such an absurd comment to make unironically. “I nearly had a fatal heart attack, but they stopped it before it started. I was just knocked out, that’s all.”

“Oh,” she says, blinking—she’s reminiscent of the pop-out headlights some cars have. “That’s much less interesting than being able to rise from the dead.”

I roll my eyes. “I’m sorry to disappoint. Would you like me to mix the paint now?”

She ignores my question, seemingly fixated on this new subject of a conversation I don’t remember volunteering for. “Where is Emi, then?”

I swear, Ibarazaki seems to follow me everywhere. I can’t escape her.

I take a deep, patient breath to re-center myself. “Ibarazaki is suspended. She’ll be back in a week or so. I think she’s with her mother.”

“Oh,” she says. “That’s very inconvenient.”

I narrow my eyes. “Well, she did injure me somewhat severely…”

“I haven’t had a lunch in a while,” she says pensively. “Now a different girl helps me get dressed in the morning, and it feels very strange. Like accidentally putting on another person’s shoes, or sitting down in a chair that’s warm from somebody else’s bottom.”

It’s impossible to follow any of that, so I don’t even try. “That… sounds like a problem,” I offer meaninglessly. “So, about this paint…”

“I may get used to it if she continues to help, though. But getting used to it would be strange. Like wearing somebody else’s shoes for so long that they become your shoes. But you’re not the same anymore, because your shoes were intended for another person.”

“Right. Shoes,” I mumble, bereft of a thoughtful way to contribute to the discussion. “Um. Yes, you shouldn't wear someone else’s. They probably wouldn't fit anyway.”

I feel like such a tool right now. Why am I still here?

“…Do you have a name? Or should I call you Dead-Not-Dead Girl?”

“N, no,” I stammer, the abrupt change in subject throwing me off balance yet again. “My name is Iwanako Daidouji.”

“I see,” she says, nodding with more understanding than that statement really needs. “I’m Rin. Tezuka Rin. Rin Tezuka.”

“It’s very nice to make your acquaintance.”

She pauses. “It is? I thought it was simply acceptable. I didn't realize my acquaintance came so highly rated.”

Oh my god—this has to be what going mad feels like.

“So, Daidouji, why are you here?”

“Lately,” I mutter absently, mercifully oblivious to the real context of the question, “I seem to find myself asking that several times a day.”

“Is that your problem?”

“Quite possibly,” I admit, no longer paying much attention.

Tezuka wrinkles her forehead and makes a face like she found a mummified rat in her basement. “Hmm. That’s troublesome. I don’t know how to categorize that. Do you have another one?”

“Wait, wait,” I say, holding my hand up as I snap back to attention, “what are we even talking about again?”

“I'm pretty sure this is the first time we've talked about it, but I collect people and I like to get interesting ones.”

“You collect people?”

“People with different problems.”

"I've got a million problems," I mutter snippily, starting to get seriously annoyed. "Where do you want me to start?"

She gazes thoughtfully in my general direction for a moment, the acidity of my words seeming to wash right off her. "That's very generous of you, but I only like the physical ones."

Physical problems? Wait, she’s talking about people's disabilities?! How... staggeringly brazen. We're only a few minutes into our first (and hopefully only) interaction, and already I think I'm prepared to say that this is the most tactless girl I've ever met in my whole life. Considering, how many strong contenders it seems are gunning for that belt these days, that's really saying something.

“I don’t really talk about those with people I’ve just met for the first time, sorry,” I say, rolling my eyes.

“I see,” she says dully, her expression still somewhere on the corner of blank and cavalier. “That’s too bad. Let me know when you've met me enough times.”

I’m so over this. If this were any other moment in my life, there’s no way I would have subjected myself to this sort of behavior for so long, but I’m having another of those increasingly common days where my life seems to make only slightly more sense than the Unabomber manifesto and I've lost my point of reference for the limits of what I’ll find acceptable.

“Tezuka,” I say exasperatedly, almost speaking through my teeth, “would you still like me to mix these paints for you?”

There’s a tense moment where she doesn't seem to have heard what I just said. Finally, though, mercifully, her eyes widen and her lips part with shock and worry. “Yes. You need to do that. I absolutely positively must finish this today.”

Thank the gods. I sigh with palpable amounts of relief. “So do you want me to pour it in this basin?”

“No,” she shakes her head, her hair flying back and forth. “Pour it in this one,” she says, kicking one toward me. Thankfully, there’s no paint in it to splash on me.

Again making certain that I’m very, very careful, I daintily pry off the lid of the can and begin pouring the paint delicately in the basin.

“Stop. Stop there.”

“That’s enough?”

“It is. Now the other one.”

Silently shaking my head, I place the lid back on the can and take the other one, setting its lid aside and pouring the paint slowly into the basin, where it swirls and mixes with the other color. I might find it beautiful if this day wasn't hammering me over the head with encounters like the ones I've been having. I can almost feel my concussion starting to resurface.

“Stop.”

“Okay,” I say, setting the can down and sticking the lid back on, careful not to get any of the paint on my fingers by clutching it with fallen leaves from the nearby tree. “Is that all?”

“No. It’s only a portion. I don’t need anymore, though.”

“I… good. Well, have a nice day then, Tezuka.”

“That’s a good idea. I think I’ll try to have it in a few weeks.”

Okay, whatever. I’m walking away before she filibusters me with an anecdote about mantis shrimps or something.

I move toward the steps to the dorms, checking behind me to make sure she’s not beckoning me back for some other asinine task, but she’s already fully engaged in her work, once again ignoring everything else around her.

What a disturbing person.

I never thought I’d be so glad to be back in the dorm building. So far, this day has been a vicious gauntlet of some of the most inscrutable, obnoxious people I've ever met in my life. My headache is whistling back into consciousness, and all I want to do is lie down and listen to a smooth jazz album or something.

…I don’t even like smooth jazz, but it just seems like the kind of thing you’re supposed to listen to if nothing makes sense anymore and you’re still nursing a brain injury. Something downtempo, anyway.

‘Downtempo.’ That’s a good word for what I’d really like my life to start being.

______________________________________________________________________
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Last edited by Leaty on Sun May 17, 2015 9:45 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Leaty
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Location: Exile

Scene Seventeen

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:15 pm

Macrocosmetology

The doors push open with a satisfying whoosh. The rush of cooled air that flows over me as I walk into the vaguely medical-looking hallway feels like the promise of sanctuary. For the next day or so, at least, I can seclude myself in here and not be bothered by anybody. No medical staff stealing my blood while I’m sleeping, no Nurse to barge unwelcomed into my business, no Student Council with their bitter criticisms and inscrutable quarrels, no mustachioed Doctors dripping with cool condescension, and no armless graffiti artists to drag me towards the limits of my sanity.

I try not to let it bother me that this feels wrong—after all that time spent in a hospital room and being some flavor of miserable, it seems counterproductive to hole up in a room that’s really only marginally more hospitable—but returning to my room just feels like the only thing that makes sense. Where else would I go? It isn’t like I’m going to shoot baskets in the athletics yard.

Actually, before everything with him went terribly wrong, the Nurse mentioned that I shouldn’t be overexerting myself. That means that even swimming is right out. Oh, well.

If nothing else, though, that’s a great excuse to take the elevator instead of the stairs. Climbing three flights of stairs is a hassle I’d rather not deal with. The elevator isn’t as quick as I’d like, but it’s still considerably better than the alternative.

Turning the corner from the elevator corridor, my bedroom door is a welcoming sight—

Woof!”

…Oh. Right.

“Ah, that’d be Rocky,” Momomi says cheerily, her cool voice ringing out from behind the half-open door. It opens fully before I get a chance to consider turning around and darting off, and she pokes her head into the hallway, tracing the hallway with sightless eyes that somehow seem to find the general vicinity of my own.

In a strange mimicry of his mistress, Susano’o’s fluffy head emerges from the doorway half a meter below Momomi’s. He looks up at me with warm brown eyes and happily lolls his tongue out.

“Um. Hello, Momomi,” I say hesitantly.

“So,” she says with a far-too-amused smirk, “the Prodigal Daughter finally returns, huh?”

“The Prodigal…?” I blink. “That… that isn’t even remotely how that metaphor works.”

The smirk seems to fall from her face as I say this, and she narrows her eyes at me. “Okay, trap sprung, Rocky.”

“Trap… what?” I wrinkle my forehead. “What does that mean?”

“It means you've just outed yourself as a dork.”

What?”

“No worries. I won’t tell a soul,” she says, her smirk returning. “Anyhow, you’re just in time. I need you to come in here.”

“Come into your room?”

“No, my parlor,” she says sardonically. “Yes, my room. I’m going to visit my boyfriend in a little bit and I need somebody good with makeup to give me a hand. Or an eye… and hand. Hand guided by an eye. Whatever.”

“Um,” I blink, “what makes you think I’m so good with makeup?”

She rolls her eyes. “Cute, Rocky. How about you save it for a boy, and drag your petite derrière in here?”

“I—“ I pause, sighing. “Fine.”

She grins at me, and I’m so annoyed at having let myself get browbeaten again that I almost miss out on noticing the uncharacteristic sincerity of her expression. Not at all acerbic; it's like I’m actually making her day. It’s nicer, at least, than the coldly ambivalent way Tezuka regarded my assistance.

I've been more helpful to people in the last hour than I've been in all the entire year to date…

“Excellent!” she says, opening the door all the way to let me in. “I was starting to get desperate.”

The room is kind of boring, even compared to mine—the walls are bare and the desk and dresser are mostly unadorned. Her bedspread seems to be the same one all the rooms are outfitted with, with the adjustable bed frame set high enough for her to fit a kennel under the bed, along with food and water bowls and some chew toys for Susano'o. It looks like he has a bed in the far corner, but other than that, the only really interesting thing about the room is that it smells very strongly of expensive coffee.

Momomi is different, though. With the door open, I can get a better look at her outfit, and I’m surprised: this is the first time I’ve seen her out of that posh silk bathrobe, and… she looks sort of like a sexed-up delinquent. Her (faux?) leather jacket is somewhat menacingly studded, and the vermillion halter top she’s wearing under it does a good job of highlighting those unbelievably stupid curves of hers. Seems about as subtle to me as neon signs on the Washington Monument, but I’m willing to bet her boyfriend likes it. She’s wearing a lot of cheap jewelry too, sharp corners and chrome and unnecessary chains.

It’s ridiculous, actually, I’ll just say it. Frankly, it’d be ridiculous even at one of those bottom-tier high schools in Saitama where this sort of thing is celebrated, but against the quiet, bucolic backdrop of Yamaku Academy, it’s utterly asinine. I don’t get it. Is she into the whole “rebellion” thing? I can’t imagine this girl being friends with Lilly. In fact, seeing her like this, I can’t even imagine her in the same room as Lilly.

While I’m still staring goggle-eyed at the questionable fashion decisions of my neighbor, she holds her hair out of her face by putting up her sunglasses and pulls out the chair from her desk.

“All right, Rocky. I think that, given our discrepancies in height, you should sit on the bed to do this, but it’s up to you.”

…Something about the phrasing of that request makes me want to grimace, but I can’t seem to pin down why.

“I… fine,” I say without protest, doing my best to scramble onto the impractically high bed. It takes considerably more agility than I’d like it to, and I nearly lose my grip at first, but eventually I’m able to sit on the edge of the bed, my feet not even touching the ground.

What a stupid bed, I think, smoothing out my skirt and stockings.

Momomi positions her chair to face me, and I find it annoys me more than it should that with her in her chair and me on the edge of the bed her face really is level with mine. It's really obnoxious how tall some people are.

Handing me an armful of cosmetics from the top of her desk, which I set beside me on the bed, Momomi smiles, her dark sightless eyes shining with satisfaction. “Okay, Rocky. Whenever you’re ready.”

“Um, Momomi,” I ask hesitantly, “exactly how much makeup do you want me to use, here?”

She shrugs. “However much I need. It’s not like I've seen my face lately, you know? If I didn't trust your judgment, I wouldn't have asked you.”

You didn’t ask me, I think, sighing. You ordered me to do this.

Come to think of it, Tezuka didn’t ask nicely either, and I helped
her out too. I’m not really incentivizing people to be polite when they want something from me.

That never changes.


“All right,” I breathe, reaching for the liquid. “I’ll do my best.”

Though with how she’s dressed it’s somewhat tempting to go with the bold, caked-on look some of the more kogal-esque girls at my old school enjoyed sporting, the strong, sharp angles of her face demand something a bit more subtle and elegant.

“Concealer first,” I say resolutely. “I’m going to hold you still, okay?”

She smiles, apparently just happy to be getting her way. “Yeah, whatever.”

Gently placing a hand along Momomi’s forehead, I’m about to move in with the concealer but I’m stopped when she suddenly places her hand atop mine. The sudden warmth engulfing the back of my cold hand is so startling that I jump.

“Rocky.”

“Um. Yes?”

“Did you ever see that old picture?” She smiles impishly at me, her voice sweet as antifreeze. “I think it won a Pulitzer or something. It’s like this photo of a man’s hand holding what looks to be a bird’s foot or a mummy hand or something, but upon a second glance you can see that he's actually holding the hand of this starving boy from Uganda?”

“Momomi,” I say impatiently, “where are you going with this?”

“Where I’m going with this is that your weird tiny hands are freaking me out.”

“Momomi!”

Kyahahaha!” she cackles, that metallic sound tinkling right into my ear. It makes me want to scream, but I still haven’t fully recovered from the last time I tried that.

I let my voice cut more sharply than before. “Momomi!

“…hahahahahaha…”

“Okay, whatever. Do your own makeup, then. I’m leaving,” I say tiredly, beginning to ease myself off the bed, but she suddenly reaches out and grabs my shoulder with surprising strength.

“N-, no, heh, no,” she says, forcing herself to power through the last trickles of laughter. “I, heheh, sorry. I couldn’t help myself. Please, stay. I do need your help.”

“No.”

“Oh, come on. Please. I’ll be good.”

I consider leaving anyway, but ultimately I let myself fold. “Fine.”

Covering one last laugh with her fist, she places her hands back in her lap to gesture me back, and, sighing, I move to apply the concealer, which was a step I didn’t want to skip—though she has good skin for the most part, there’s some pretty dark circles under her eyes that are better off unseen.

“You know, though,” Momomi says thoughtfully, as I blend the concealer into her face, “that picture’s older than either of us. So that kid’s totally kicked it by now.”

“I’m sure that if there was a chance that the child was going to survive to have a fulfilling life, the photographer would have passed them over for a more doomed-looking child,” I say dryly, finishing my blending and reaching for the cover to the bottle I'm using.

My, so cynical.”

I decide not to respond to that as I move for the foundation brush.

“Your timing really couldn’t be any more perfect, you know,” Momomi says casually as I begin to dab her face. “There’s usually an underclassman I chase down for this, but she isn’t in her room right now and I’m on a timetable.”

“An underclassman?”

“Yes. One of the brats downstairs. Although, come to think of it, I couldn't describe her to you. I’ve never bothered to ask what she looks like.”

“Um,” I say dryly, “If you don’t know what she looks like, why do you trust her to do your makeup?”

“Oh,” she answers brightly, brushing back her candy-red hair, “it’s because she’s slept with more boys than I even know.”

I almost drop the wet applicator I’m touching to Momomi’s face. I manage to catch it before it lands in her lap and ruins her lovingly-ripped skirt, but in the process I nearly fall off the bed and into her lap myself.

“B-beg your pardon?!”

“Well, so far as I can tell, it’s true,” she says nonchalantly. “That girl knows way too much about life for her age. God, I wish I could recall her full name now. Seaweed-something, or maybe glue… I just call her Seaweed.”

“Seaweed?"

“Sure, you know. Like in a salad. Or a soup.” she says casually. “Anyway, she attracts a lot of a gossip during those weeks where there’s not much else going on. Haven’t heard much about her lately, partially thanks to your escapades.”

“My what?”

Momomi sighs, suddenly placing a hand on my shoulder. It makes me jump.

“Rocky,” she says with a voice soft as caramel, her nose parallel with my own if not our eyes, “this is my room, so I’m going to be perfectly frank with you. You do this thing whenever you’re speaking that makes it really hard to tell whether you’re being coy or oblivious—”

“Wait, what? You can’t just—”

“—Exactly like that. And right now I truly hope that you’re just being coy,” she breathes, tones of resignation creeping into her words, “because otherwise… this is just going to be pathetic.”

Pathetic? Momomi,” I say, frustrated, “please stop acting like I have any idea what you’re talking about. I promise you, I don’t. What are you saying?”

“Geez. You're for real,” she mutters. “Fine, I guess this is my responsibility, then.”

She places her hands on her knees, as though bracing herself to tell a scary ghost story or something, and tries to look me as straight in the face as she can. There’s little mirth in her expression.

“Rocky, I am not exaggerating when I say that this school has an industrial-strength rumor mill. I don't know where you've been before, but I'm telling you, it's like the Olympics of gossip here. Or, well, the Paralympics, I guess. Anyway, what I'm saying is that every crippled little twit who lowers themselves to participate in it has spent their week talking about you.”

Me? But why?”

“Come on. You know perfectly well why; I know you've had transfer students at whatever school you came here from. They're rumor magnets. And every transfer student at this school comes with some kind of horrible story, so you're inherently mysterious. Plus you're pretty, or so I hear, so that isn't going to help matters. Then, to top it all off, you had to get into the Clash of the She-Hobbits with Ibarazaki, our school's universally-beloved star athlete, and nobody’s seen either of you since. So yeah. Lightning in a bottle, you know? Good luck with that.”

I wrinkle my forehead, trying to process all of this. “Wait. She-Hobbits?”

She giggles, almost messing up my attempt at blending. “Hee, yes. Get it? Because you’re both…”

I get it,” I say flatly, suppressing a somewhat foreign urge to slug her.

“At any rate, it’s been very obnoxious hearing the flock of harpies talk about you, especially since it’s been painfully obvious none of them have even met you.”

“That… that makes me really uncomfortable,” I admit, though it’s something of an understatement. Though I’ve been somewhat popular in the past, there’s a fine line between being well-liked and being treated like your entire life is some kind of tabloid scandal.

“Yes? Well, look on the bright side. If there’s an album or something you’ve been waiting to drop, now would be the time.”

I roll my eyes.

“Well,” I say after a few moments spent silently tracing her lips with a red pencil, “if I want them to stop talking about me, I’m going to have to stop being interesting, I guess.”

She surprises me by reaching for her tube of lipstick and applying it to her lips without my help. I suppose she can do that much on her own. “To be honest, I can’t see where you started.”

I take a deep breath. “I walked right into that.”

“At least it didn’t put you in the hospital this time.”

She smiles again, that dark-eyed, self-confident smile, and unlike her earlier teasing humor, I can tell I’m supposed to smile along with her, but I can’t match it with one of my own. The accident in the hallway, the hospital… the memories are too fresh in my mind for me to joke about. I don’t even know if I’ll ever be able to joke about it. I mean, basically it’d be joking about death, about losing control, about discovering that ugly side of myself… I don’t see what’s so funny about that.

Momomi seems to take note of my sullen silence, though, because her smile quickly clouds over. “Crap,” she mutters. “Too soon?”

“Too soon,” I sigh.

“Shit, I’m sorry,” she says, sounding genuinely contrite. “And here I was joking about it… We don’t have to talk about this if you don’t want to.”

“Thanks… I really don’t.”

“I… do you want to take a break and hug Susa or something? It helps.”

At the mention of his name, the dog lifts his head off the ground where he’s been curled up and sniffs at our feet curiously. He tires of it quickly, though.

“Maybe later,” I say, finally mustering a weak smile. “Can we just talk about something else?”

“Er, yeah, sure,” she says, now seeming a bit off balance. “You pick the topic, because I have no idea what you’re sensitive about.”

“I… I don’t know,” I say, but then I’m reminded of a question I’d been wanting to ask for a while. “What about your boyfriend? Who is he?”

This seems to be a more than acceptable change in topic, because Momomi’s face lights up. “Oh. Him? You wouldn’t know him, I don’t think. He isn’t a high school student. He attends the university out here.”

“Wow. A college student? What does he study?”

“French Literature, or something. I’m not really sure. I don’t care, actually. That’s not why I’m dating him.”

“Why are you dating him, then?” As soon as the question flies out of my mouth, though, I find myself dreading the answer. And the way I phrased the question, actually, because it came off sounding incredibly shallow.

“Because, Rocky, he has the one quality I absolutely positively need the men in my life to have, and the one quality that every student attending this school lacks: Maturity.”

“Can you hold still? Mascara and all,” I drop casually, becoming more invested in the process than the conversation.

“Oh, right, sure,” she says, making a concerted effort not to blink while I gently brush the rod along her already pretty-impressive lashes.

“Anyway, yes. Maturity,” she purrs, pointing her finger in the air for emphasis. “Given enough time and dedication, a lover can learn most other things needed to sustain a relationship, but maturity is the one quality that they need to start out having. Because frankly, I shouldn’t have to date a fixer-upper and wait around long enough for him to figure out he’s being a puerile jackass. If he ever does. I deserve better.”

“I haven’t really gotten a chance to meet many of the boys around here,” I admit. “Are they really that immature?”

“You don't know the half of it, Rocky. They whine like babies. I’ve never seen such an insufferable group of boys in my entire life. Well, not seen. But, well, you know,” she says, making a vague wiggling gesture with her hands. “Anyway, that’s why I only date college guys. The boys around here can just go screw themselves, for all I care. Or, I don’t know, maybe they can wait around to get checked off Seaweed’s bucket list, doesn’t matter to me. As long as they stay the hell away.”

“…Wow.”

“Yes, well, If I wanted to spend time with infants, I’d go get knocked up.”

…I don’t really know what to say to that…

“…So wait. Is that where you’re going to meet your boyfriend, then? The university?”

“Yes. We’re going to spend the weekend out there.”

“The whole weekend…? Does that mean you aren’t going to attend the Festival?”

She guffaws. “Rocky, I just gave you a whole spiel about how important maturity is to me, and ten seconds later you’re asking me about the stupid Festival? Of course I’m not going to the Festival. In fact, I’m spending the weekend with my boyfriend precisely because I want nothing to do with the Festival. I hate the damn thing.”

“Adults attend festivals, don’t they?”

“Adults bring their kids to festivals and have fun because their stupid kids are having fun. Adults that just show up alone to festivals are creepy and sad and weird. Besides, if you haven’t noticed, I’m completely blind. How much fun do you think you could have at a Festival, in my shoes? Especially with all those little imps running around and groping my dog. Nobody gropes my dog but me.”

“But… didn’t you just give me permission—”

“I only make an exception for you because Susa likes you. He’s usually totally ambivalent about people, which is why we’re perfect for each other,” she says, prodding the resting dog with her foot. He doesn’t respond, other than randomly deciding to spend the moment licking his chops.

“Hey, stay still, unless you want me to jack up your eyeliner.”

“Sorry. Anyway, right. The Festival’s a waste of time. That’s why I never lifted a finger to volunteer for it. I made my feelings on the subject very clear to my class rep weeks ago. She didn’t press because she knew it was futile.”

“You mean Satou?”

Oh. I’d forgotten,” she says, sighing deeply. “You met her, right? I heard about that. Well, that’s probably fine. I’m assuming the two of you got on like gangbusters, right?”

“Well… yes, I suppose. I mean, she seemed like a really sweet person, and she was fun to talk to.”

Her expression clouds over. “Well, then, forget it,” she mutters, “I’m not talking to you about Lilly.”

What’s with this tone? I bring up her class rep and out of the blue, she doesn’t seem to be having fun with the conversation anymore?

“I don’t understand,” I say, blinking at her. “She said you were friends.”

“That’s a word she’s liberal with. That’s all I’ll say on the subject.”

I can’t help but furrow my brow at that. So you aren’t friends but you’re on a given-name basis? That makes less sense than a lot of things I’ve heard today, and I've heard a lot of nonsensical things today.

“Fine. I’m almost done, anyway. I just need you to hold still for the other eye, and we’re done.”

“Go ahead. I can hold still.”

As I’m about to bring the brush to her eye, I’m suddenly reminded of something Lilly said to me on Thursday.

“Lilly told me you said ‘hello’, you know.”

“What?” She raises a perfectly-plucked eyebrow at me. “I never said that,” she snaps. “She completely made it up.”

“Huh? Why would you even care about that?”

“Because it isn’t true. Are you going to do my other eye or not?”

Holding in a sigh, I move forward and trace the line of her eye. “Fine, there. You’re all set.”

She smiles again, like a housecat who just got to gnaw on the leg of her hapless master, and stands up out of the chair. “Wonderful. How do I look?”

“Like I just made you up, so pretty great,” I say, with a small sense of satisfaction. But then my eyes roll back down to her clothes. “Though…”

“Though what?” she asks accusatorily.

“…Nothing,” I say, having the presence of mind to stop myself. “You’re going to turn heads, that’s all.”

“Well, good,” she says with newly emboldened confidence. “I appreciate it, Rocky, really. I used to be able to do this myself, but, well…” she trails off.

“You’re welcome, Momomi,” I say sweetly. I don’t know what kind of person it would make me if I refused her, and it certainly wouldn’t make living next to her any more pleasant.

“Anyway,” she says absently, grabbing a dark leather purse off her desk, “I’m going to have to get going. I have a bus to catch.”

“Sure,” I say, hopping off the bed—and almost stepping on one of Susa’s paws as I land, only for him to lazily shift away at the last second. “I’ll be in my room, then.”

“Here, I’ll follow you out. I’m done here, too.”

She grabs a leash from a hook on the wall and attaches it to Susano’o’s collar, who doesn’t react much at first but finally stands up with a canine grunt and lazily follows us out of the room. In the hallway, Momomi takes a key out of her jacket and locks the door to her room, then turns back to me.

“Well, Rocky, I guess I’ll be seeing you Monday morning, then.”

I gape at her. “You’re coming in that late?”

“Of course. I wouldn’t want to get here before all the townies left. Besides, that allows me to spend as much time with my boyfriend as possible.”

“Oh. Well, have fun, then.”

“Believe me, I plan to,” she says with a devilish smirk. “You, too, if you think you can.”

“…I’ll try. Bye, Momomi.”

“Later, Rocky,” she says, turning toward the elevator corridor.

I walk over to my door and begin fumbling through my school bag for the lock. Only a second passes before she turns around and calls to me.

“Hey.”

I turn back to her. “Yes?”

“I forgot to tell you,” she says wryly, “I’m glad you’re still around. Hang in there.”

The corners of her eyes soften and she gives me what actually seems to be a completely straightforward smile. It’s a little jarring to see, but after a moment I find myself smiling back.

“I plan on it,” I reply. “Thanks.”

She winks at me—only slightly missing the mark—and disappears down the corridor. Sighing, I unlock the door and step into my own room.

Nothing’s changed since the last time I was here: it all looks exactly like how it did on Wednesday before I was rehospitalized in the halls. It’s reminiscent of where I was exactly a week ago, when I finally returned to my bedroom in Shibuya after my four months away, and not any more comforting.

Kicking off my shoes, I drop my bag unceremoniously on the floor and pull myself onto the bed, lying down and staring the ceiling. Though it’s only been about an hour and a half since I was discharged from the hospital in Sendai, I feel utterly exhausted.

To some degree, that’s because of the people I’ve had to put up with—but as far as excuses go, that’s a lousy one. Everybody else has had to deal with these people, too, and I’m the only one struggling to understand, or struggling to find any kind of common ground, or even struggling to offer my trust. It just seems like they’re a bigger deal than they are because I’m still so messed up. They’re just like a drizzling rain bothering me as I step out of a lake.

I spend an immeasurable amount of time in silence—a second, a minute, an hour, who cares—staring at the overhead light on the ceiling, letting my gaze drift out of focus. It’s kind of sad how much I’ve gotten used to doing this, drifting on my back from one strange, lonely room to another. Sometimes I feel like that eggplant comedian on the old game show, that naked guy who was locked in a small room for a year and forced to win sweepstakes until, at long last, he won a trip into an identical room.

When I was younger, full of childish cruelty, I found that man’s suffering hilarious. It was just a stupid, gaudy television show, starring an ugly entertainer who looked incredibly obtuse. That he had spent so long in there, alone, without ever seeing his friends or family never even occurred to me, but if it had, I probably would have simply giggled. I knew he had signed up for this, after all—the schadenfreude at his expense was a service he was providing.

But now there’s nobody keeping me in my room, either, and here I am, listlessly lying in bed without the slightest idea what it is I’m going to do about my life, or how I’m going to get out of here. And I can’t see what’s so funny about it anymore. Downtempo, indeed.

There’s a crinkling in my uniform jacket as I roll onto one side—it takes me a moment of digging through it to remember that I still have the note Hakamichi handed to me earlier. Until now, I’d forgotten to read it. Well, no time like the present. I hope she didn’t expect me to read it the very moment she handed it to me.

Unfolding the note, I can see that her handwriting is beautifully pragmatic, absent of flourishes but perfect in form. Even having written it in a moving vehicle, she’s managed to produce something nice to look at. It’s actually more of a letter than a note.

Daidouji, the note reads,

Misha won’t translate this for me. What I was about to say was that it would be a tragedy if you didn’t get to enjoy the Festival just because of one reckless student who didn’t care about the welfare of her schoolmates.

I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible for your hospitalization. I knew already that Ibarazaki was notorious for running in the halls, so I should have done more than simply admonish her the last time I caught her doing so. Perhaps if I had, this week could have gone better for you.

Lately, I’ve had the thought that what happened could ruin more than just your Festival experience. I wondered if it would ruin your entire year. And if that were the case, this school would have completely failed you.

I just want you to know that, as your classmate, I would hate to see that happen. And if there’s anything I can do to help, I don’t want you be afraid to ask. I mean that.

Continue doing group science work with Ikezawa if that suits you both—I actually admire that you became friends so quickly—but I do hope Misha and I will still get to work with you on other subjects. We’d both still like to get to know you better.

—Shizune.


I read the note a few times over, and even then I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it. After two days of being an obnoxious adversary and a massive critic, she wants to start over again just because I had a near-death experience? Out of, what, misplaced guilt? Not knowing about my condition until now?

But, even then, my cynicism isn’t coming to me as easily as I’d like. Even though by Wednesday morning I thought I’d essentially decided that I was sick of and wanted nothing to do with Shizune, that day and those decisions now seem like an eternity ago. And with the gift of hindsight, I can’t help but wonder if I didn’t let my conversations with Momomi color my feelings on the class president far more than anyone would think was prudent… especially since I’m getting the vibe that my neighbor delights in being a contrarian, or at least stirring the pot.

I don’t know… Maybe the class rep isn’t the self-involved tyrant I thought she was. I just don’t know what to think anymore.

One thing I do know for sure is that after everything else I’ve had to and will have to deal with after the last few days, I’ll be more than happy to stop thinking of Shizune as a problem if she’s willing to stop acting like one. If only everything were so simple.

Another thing I know for sure is that if I lie in this bed for another thirty seconds I’m going to jump out the window, so I hop off the bed and slip my shoes back on.

I need to find something to do to distract myself, and right now it seems obvious that I’m not going to find it in this room. I can’t go swimming and I don’t feel like walking all the way into town either, so I need to find an activity some place closer to home. Maybe in one of the day rooms or something; I don’t know. I just know that I won’t find it here.

Straightening out my uniform, I slip my room key into my jacket pocket and head back out the door. As I’m walking down the hallway, though, I’m struck with a question that I hadn’t noticed had still gone completely unanswered.

Why did Misha refuse to translate any of that…?

______________________________________________________________________
<-|-|- Previous Chapter ~Table of Contents~ Next Chapter -|-|->
______________________________________________________________________

Ugh. So, yeah. Despite the fact that I've had this leg of the story mapped out for a long time now, this was really, really challenging to write, and that's even without mentioning the fact that for most of the time that I was writing it I had to deal with crap in my own life, most recently an operation on my face that made about a week of my life a living hell. It's almost a miracle that the update ever got completed, especially while I'm still away from home healing these surgery bruises and shit.

First, a few acknowledgements: griffon8 and forgetmenot beta'ed this update and reassured me that what I had written was not garbage. Guest Poster gave me permission to namedrop Miss Yumi. Dewelar lapped me with updates about a thousand times and made me look silly.

So now let's talk about the nitty-gritty. The irony about this update is that, though things went approximately how I originally planned them, one character interaction that was supposed to go poorly wound up going pretty well and another character interaction that was meant to be amicable wound up being pretty hostile. The turning point was caused by a software failure, believe it or not. There's a lot of content from the middle of the update that wound up not getting used, and it's just going to have to sit around in my unused excerpts file until I'm ready to use it. (Which is never. I never use it.)

I wanted to match the VN by having continuity for each day of the first week, but ultimately I failed because I couldn't think of anything for Iwanako to do on Friday. My attempt at doing so is now the epilogue to Safe Reboot, where it properly belongs. Even so, I'm still not sure if it works. Thankfully, it's pretty short.

I think we'll leave it at that for now. I have a lot more to say on the subject but as you might expect I'm pretty exhausted. Just be patient while I make sure all the links are accurate. Formatting this update has been an ordeal.
Last edited by Leaty on Sun May 10, 2015 9:01 pm, edited 15 times in total.

Vempele
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Re: Scene Fourteen

Post by Vempele » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:23 pm

Leaty wrote:You should probably reread the last chapter before looking at this. Yes, even if you just checked it yesterday. Browse through it.
The previous chapter link goes... to the start of the story. I was meaning to reread it all anyway, but is this really only chapter two?

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Leaty
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {UPDATED 2014-9-5!]

Post by Leaty » Fri Sep 05, 2014 4:24 pm

Be patient while I get the links sorted out. An update of this size is problematic to post all at once.

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AntonSlavik020
Posts: 607
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Location: Cleveland, OH

Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {UPDATED 2014-9-5!]

Post by AntonSlavik020 » Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:34 pm

That was some update! It made my emotions go all over the place. At first I was laughing(literally) at the hair styling scene, than I was intrigued by the Shizune and Misha conversations(it seems like Misha has a crush on Iwanako :) ), then I was annoyed at her during her argument with Nurse(I was completely on his side, and cynicism annoys me even when it makes sense), and then I was back to having fun during her conversation with Momomi(I actually laughed again). Overall really enjoyed it. I just hope Iwanako's cynicism lessens, because like I said, cynicism annoys me. Always has.

Edit: Can't believe I forgot to mention the Rin encounter. That was hilarious! Also, you wrote Rin very well I thought.
Last edited by AntonSlavik020 on Fri Sep 05, 2014 6:40 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Best girl
Hanako=Shizune>Misha>Lilly>Rin>Emi

Best route
Hanako>Lilly>Rin>Emi>Shizune

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Panthour
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Re: Iwanako: Mean Time to Breakdown {UPDATED 2014-9-5!]

Post by Panthour » Fri Sep 05, 2014 5:57 pm

Leaty

I don't really know how much you check your Fanfaction.net messages so I though I would mention it here.

Extraordinary Rendition, Blood Pressure and 2 Become 1 have some pretty big formatting problems on the fanfiction site. I don't really know how to explain it but it's pretty strange.

Anyways, great update. I was worth the wait! Hope you are recovering well from the surgery!

:D
S-Class Wizard. Emi is my waifu.

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