…And if you need me, remember not to call.
The facilities at Yamaku are open from very early until very late, because many people here have complicated schedules due to their conditions. It’d make sense for them to be open twenty-four hours a day, but it’s presumably quite difficult to find staff willing to watch over an empty swimming pool in the early hours of the morning, or the late hours of the night.
I’m one of the few people swimming so late, which is a welcome change of pace, given how busy the last few days have been. There’s another girl swimming, and a lifeguard sitting on a high chair, but it’s otherwise empty, and the occasional sound of paddling is soothing.
I remember swimming a lot as a little girl, when my mother would take me and Amir every weekend. I don’t think I was ever brilliant, but I could stay afloat and get from A to B. Obviously I’ve gotten slower since losing my legs, but I’ve never stopped enjoying the feeling of the water underneath and around me. It makes me feel weightless, like I’m suspended in space… when I close my eyes, it’s like I’m swimming among the stars.
I’ve already swam several laps, but I’m not really feeling tired. The week is passing slowly and, rather than being drained of my energy, I find myself to have a surplus of it, hence the reason I’m still swimming laps when there’s Biology, Japanese, Chemistry and
English homework to do.
The Chemistry work should be easy enough, and whilst boring, the Biology shouldn’t pose a problem either. I promised Hisao that we’d go through the English work together, for as much help as I’ll be, but I’m definitely looking forward to doing it now more than I otherwise would be. He sent me a text earlier today asking if we could get started on it tomorrow night, as he has been dragged into helping the student council this evening. It’s fine by me, I haven’t had much time to go swimming of late anyway. I do wish I could have seen the look on his face when I told him that I was in the council last year, and I imagine I’ll get some questions about that later.
Last night’s trip to the movie theatre ended up leaving me with as many questions about Hisao as answers. I found out a few things: that he spent time in the hospital, and that he doesn’t
see Ibarazaki in a romantic light.
Even nearly alone in the swimming pool, I feel my cheeks burning, and ducking my head under the water doesn’t help to fight that crimson glow.
There’s a lot going on right now. A lot of pots on the boil. I’ve got to work on my studies, but that’s always been a concern. The new stuff, like Hisao… how I think I feel about him, and how I hope he feels about me, that’s the stuff that’s frightening and exhilarating. Then there’s the purely frightening stuff—Suzu and Taro’s relationship. Unstable would probably be an understatement, and I’m worried about what will happen if they have an ugly break up. If it would even be a break up; I mean, they’re not supposedly together, so…
When I surface by the pool’s edge, I notice the other girl that was swimming earlier is staring at me from the shallow end. She’s sitting on the edge, her face a blend of confusion, and nervousness. I haven’t seen her before, and she looks young enough to be a first year. There’s nothing about her that gives away her disability if she has one, but she’s eyeing me up with curiosity. I can’t tell if she’s trying to peer through the water at my lack of legs or not, but the point is kind of moot, because you can’t really stare at a lack of something, right? Maybe I’m overthinking things, and she isn’t really staring at all.
I complete a few more lengths, but every time I reach the edge I glance back at the girl. She’s definitely staring, and I can’t help but feel a bit weirded out.
Is she… checking me out?
I shake the ridiculous notion out of my head. That can’t be it. Surely
“Excuse me,” the girl calls out from the edge of the pool, startling me and causing me to swallow a good deal of chlorinated water in surprise. I splutter it up, and grab onto the edges of the pool for support. I’m quite good at floating, if that can be considered a skill. Amir says that it’s because I’m an amputee, but I’ve never done the research to back that up.
“Hi,” I try to respond with a smile, but I can still feel some of the water in my lungs. I end up smiling and grimacing in equal parts. There’s only a small amount of distance between us, about 6 metres, but it’s enough to feel uncomfortable. Given that she’s been staring at me, any amount of distance would probably be uncomfortable. She looks like she’s trying to word something in her head, pondering,. I take the opportunity to look her
up and down. It’s only fair.
She’s got brown hair tied up in a pony-tail and her eyes are hazel/green colour. She’s quite cute, I guess. I mean, it’s not like I…
I don’t… I’m not…
I guess I’ve never thought about it…
Again, I shake the notion out of my head. I suppose I did
come swimming for a chance to reflect, though I hadn’t planned to muse on my sexuality. That’s pretty rigid, I think.
Aren’t you just meant to know that sort of thing?
“Are you a third year?” The girl asks. It’s not a very flirtatious question, which is relieving.
“Yeah. Kapur. Molly Kapur.” There’s a moment after I introduce myself where we both just sit there, well, I’m just sort of floating. “Are you a first year?”
“Second,” She responds, clearly more comfortable now. “Kato. Amaya Kato.” We nod at each other. I’m not sure what the purpose of this introduction was, but I guess it’s nice to know who my mystery watcher was.
She claps her hands together, like a light has just switched on behind her eyes. A eureka moment, if I’ve ever seen one. “Right, I wanted to thank you!” she says with a renewed energy.
Thank me for what? What have I done for her? I can’t remember doing any random good deeds.
“I’ve been to the pool a few times, but this is the first time I’ve actually managed to work up the nerve to swim,” she says, looking at me expectantly. I still don’t know what she’s talking about it, and I imagine my face is reflecting that.
We sit and float in silence for a little longer. This is getting awkward fast…
The look on her face makes me feel a little guilty, but she carries on explaining herself, though her tone has lost its excited edge. “I kept sitting by the edge with my feet in the water. I was really scared to go in, because of those,” she gestures to the wall beside her, where two crutches have been lent. I didn’t notice them before, and I’m not sure I would have without her pointing them out. It appears she’s got something wrong with her legs, or her motor-skills. It’s not a rare occurrence at Yamaku, so the crutches kind of blend into the background. “When I saw you swimming, I just, I realised I was being stupid and I should stop being such a coward. You inspired me to just get over myself and get in!”
Oh. I see.
The realisation that I’ve accidentally inspired this girl makes me blush pretty heavily again, but I can’t exactly duck back under the water now. I swim over to the pool-chair, which is a crane like device that allows me to get out of the water and into a temporary wheelchair beside it. It’s nice to be able to get in and out independently even if it’s not the most efficient. The girl is still waiting for me to reply, but I’m not really sure what to say.
“I just like swimming. I find it relaxing.” It’s not really a good response, but what does she expect. I didn’t come here for a conversation. At least I’ve had some time to reflect on this awkward encounter. Unsurprisingly, the girl looks even more put down than before. After rising from the water, I swap into the wheelchair. On busier days, the lifeguard would move it out of the way for other students, but there’s rarely more than three or four people at this time, so he hasn’t bothered, which is convenient for me now. The lifeguard fetches Amaya Kato’s crutches for her, and she rises shakily. At least the guy on duty has something to do tonight rather than just sit in his lifeguard chair thingy and look bored.
I feel a bit guilty for lowering the girl’s mood, but what else can I do? I’m not some inspiration story, I just do a few laps in the swimming pool every now and then. If that’s enough to inspire her to get into the water, then I guess good for her, but it certainly wasn’t my intention. If anything, I just feel uncomfortable for the observation, and a little sad that she doesn’t have anyone better to inspire her.
She looks like she might say something else, but instead gives me a fragile smile and hobbles away towards the changing rooms. She doesn’t seem to have much mastery over her crutches, which leads me to believe that she’s not used to using them. Though I suppose the floor here would be quite slippery…
The sight of her struggling reminds me of the physiotherapy I had to endure when I was first getting used to my prosthetics. My muscles had atrophied quite a lot whilst I was in the hospital, though I wasn’t ever that strong anyway. I was nine years old when I got my second set of legs, my fake ones. It takes a really long time to get used to artificial limbs, some people don’t at all. And then there’s the phantom pains, and the therapy. Going from functional to, well, functional with an asterisk, is a difficult transition…
I think… I’ve been a little too cold with this girl.
I wheel myself in the direction of the changing rooms. I catch up to the girl pretty easily, and she turns around and looks down to face me, the height difference from this angle is considerable.
“It wasn’t cowardly to be nervous,” I say, and I can immediately see some crimson in her cheeks, but clearly, she needs to hear this. “I’m glad you got into the water, but I shouldn’t be the reason. I didn’t have to overcome anything to start swimming. I just got into the pool… even after I lost my legs. It wasn’t really a big deal for me.”
She’s looking a bit confused now, but at least she’s not wearing that sad expression anymore. I continue.
“You have to accept yourself on your own terms, do what you can on your own terms
. I mean, I’m not inspiring because I can swim with no legs, because it was never something that challenged me much to begin with… the idea of swimming, that is. I am
a lot slower than before I lost my legs,” I laugh to try and lighten the mood, and Kato gives me a courtesy giggle, though I can tell she’s still a bit lost with my lecture. I shrug and give her a smile. “I’m just saying you’re more inspiring than I am, because you overcame something today.”
I can tell she doesn’t fully get my point, but at least she’s smiling back at me now, instead of looking depressed.
“Thank you, I think.” She finally says, and we both let out quiet laughs. She gives me as gracious a bow as she can, before hobbling in the direction of one of the changing room stalls. I do the same in order to begin the process of showering, drying myself, changing, and re-attaching my prosthetics.
Amaya Kato is a peculiar girl.
The pool building isn’t exactly huge, but it’s definitely one of the newer and more extravagant buildings to decorate Yamaku’s campus. Inside, there’s the pool, (I mean, obviously), a few fitness studios and a very small gym. Not many people use the gym, not that there’s much to use within it, save for a few treadmills, exercise bikes, and two rowing machines that I still have no idea how to operate. There are a few resistance machine things too, according to Taro, but I don’t know how they operate.
As I emerge from the changing rooms, Taro greets me, dressed in exercise gear that does nothing to flatter his figure.
“Hey Molly, heading back to the dorms?” He asks, fiddling with his slung arm and hoisting a small gym bag over his shoulder.
“That’s the plan.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen Taro alone like this. “Good workout?”
“Yeah, it was nice and quiet,” I’ve always found the mental image of Taro working out to be humorous. He gestures towards the doors, and we exit the reception area into the grey evening. It feels like it’s going to rain, like the sky is a canopy in a downpour. “How was your swim?”
“Interesting to say the least,” Taro raises an eyebrow at me. “There was a girl swimming, she said I inspired her.”
I expect him to respond with laughter, but he doesn’t, instead he’s wearing a confident smile.
“Well, I’m not surprised. You’re like the model student.Aren’t you like top of the class for Chemistry and Physics?”
I chuckle at the misunderstanding. Though hearing Taro say that makes me feel a little proud. It’s strange how different that kind of praise feels when it’s about my academic abilities and not my physical ones.
“It was because of the swimming, Taro, and Hisao’s probably top for Physics now,” I correct him, and his poised smile quickly turns to a bombastic laugh.
“Emi of the water!”
One day I’ll figure out a way to use my prosthetic as a weapon, but for the moment I settle for giving Taro a swift karate chop to the side, which I execute masterfully by the way. Taro doesn’t seem to register it much, and just laughs even more.
“I hate you Taro. I want you to know that.”
His laughter has drawn the attention of the few students roaming the pathways of Yamaku, and it seems to have even pierced the heavens, as a single drop of rain lands on my head. I take another look towards the clouds, the sky looks like a porcelain ceiling, cracking under the weight of the world.
We’re passing the auxiliary building now, so it shouldn’t take us long to arrive at our respective dormitories, I highly doubt either of us wants to get caught in the rain, so the tiny increase in our respective speeds feels necessary, even if we’re both used to walking pretty slowly.
“Feels like I’m hearing that a lot lately…” Taro trails off, just as another drop hits my shoulder, and then another on my hand. Hear what? That people hate him? I guess my confusion is obvious, and Taro laughs, like… like the hollow way that Suzu does…
“Well, not that. I don’t know. Sorry Mori, I’m just being stupid.” It’s frightening how quickly his mood changed from a moment ago, but I don’t think it was entirely my comment that set it off. I haven’t spoken to him about Suzu since before the festival… not that I really have a desire to get involved. He carries on regardless, as more and more raindrops land around us. “I feel a bit trapped you know?” Our pace increases again, though I’m not sure if it’s just to avoid the rain anymore.
“With Suzu?” I know the answer, but I ask anyway. It furthers the conversation.
“Uh-huh. I want to believe we can make it work, but I’m beginning to feel like a piece of meat.” He laughs as he says that, but I can tell he’s not really joking.
No matter how much I think about it, I can’t escape the angry feeling in my gut. Like they both took steps to let things reach this uncomfortable point, and neither of them can see past it. Then, I start feeling guilty for being angry at them, but what can I do? I can’t choose sides, they’re my best friends – and they’re hurting each other, seemingly on purpose.
That’s unfair of me, the situation is more complex than that. It’s like they’re doing it knowingly, but not deliberately, and neither one of them knows how to get out of the situation they’ve caused. I don’t really know if there’s a solution… but I hope they try, if not for their own sake then for the sake of our friendship as a group. I’m
already feeling uncomfortable around them, and I’ve been friends with them longer than the others, so I can’t help but imagine the others feel the same too.
Taro has fallen for Suzu, but the feeling isn’t returned. And yet, neither of them wants to stop what they’re doing… I think Suzu believes she’ll suddenly start feeling something if they continue, and obviously Taro is keen for her to think that. Likewise, Taro seems to feel like he’s some convenience, not a person of actual romantic interest… I don’t think that’s how Suzu really sees him, but I can’t help but feel sorry for him anyway.
Maybe there’s some logic in Suzu’s actions. I think I was the one who taught her about propinquity, but if there’s no spark, there’s no spark.
The rain has really started to come down now, how miserable.
After a few moments of silent walking, I take Taro’s, uh, clammy
hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze.
“You’re not just some piece of meat.” He doesn’t seem reassured, but I think I know how to lighten the mood a bit. I squeeze his hand again, and pull him gently so he’s facing me. “You’re the prime cut.”
That seems to do the trick, if only a little, and he gives me a half-smile. It feels like a reward, like the shelter at the end of the storm. Okay, that might be wishful thinking given the rain.
“Now come on or we’re going to get soaked,” I speed up again a little, tugging him along behind me. I hear him laugh again.
“You were literally just swimming!”
“I still don’t want to get my clothes soaked,” I can’t exactly run, and Taro is pretty opposed to it as well, so we end up speed-walking as fast as possible, automatically heading towards the boys’ dormitory rather than the girls’. We pass by the mural that Emi’s artist friend—Tezuka, I think she’s called—painted.
At this point of the pathway we’d usually say our goodbyes, but Taro gives my sleeve a tug like a lost child or something.
“Why don’t I cook you some food, it’s been a while,” he asks, a pleading look in his eye.
The idea of eating another one of Taro’s… creations
… is unappealing at the best of times, but especially so when I’ve already eaten. Still, it has been quite some time since we hung out together.
“I’ll pass on the food, but I’ll come hang out whilst you make yourself something.” He looks happy, and then immediately puts on an exaggerated pout as we head towards the boys’ dormitory.
“What’s wrong with my cooking?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
For a moment he looks at me with a serious expression, but he’s never had much of a poker face, and he relents into another colourful laugh.
“Okay, point taken. Let’s get out of this rain.”
We make our way into the boys’ dormitory in silence. I think both of us are just happy to get inside and out of the weather. I’m immediately greeted by the smell of, um, boys, I guess, as we enter into the warm and welcoming lights of the common room. It’s moderately busy, with about six or seven people mulling around, playing games and chatting. Taro seems to recognise everyone in the room, but he only gives them a wave and the occasional nod of acknowledgement. I don’t know who any of them are; maybe Taro doesn’t either and is just being polite – but his personality, specifically how weird he tends to be, makes that unlikely.
After dropping off our bags off in his room down the hall, we proceed to the pantry. Unlike the one in the girls’ dormitory, the boys’ pantry is down the hallway from the common room, so it’s nice and quiet. We open the window to listen to the sound of the rain, and, though I don’t tell Taro, to avoid the stench of whatever he decides to concoct.
“So, what’s new with you then?” he asks, his hands digging through his pantry cupboard, occasionally pulling out a can of something and putting it back with a sigh. How much food does he keep in there?
“Not much, I’ve been tutoring Lelouch some more, I’m really enjoying it. What’s new with you?” I ask in return. Taro makes a happy grunting sound and pulls out a tin of what looks like chopped tomatoes, or something.
“Besides the, uh, developments
with Suzu, not much, to be honest. I’ve hung out with Hisao a little.” He places the can on the worksurface, and then starts to rifle through the fridge for more ingredients. Before he finds anything, he turns to face me. “He’s quite an interesting guy, wouldn’t you say?” He delivers that with a wink. How subtle.
“He’s pretty interesting.” I think Taro is trying to tease me, but I can reverse the position he’s attempting to put me in. I take a look at the door, just to make sure it’s closed behind us.
Good, we’re alone.
I get up from the table, which is enough for Taro to give me a curious look from his position crouched down in front of the refrigerator. Now for the display of strength.
Sticking my hand firmly on the top half of the closed refrigerator door, I put my hand on his shoulder firmly. He’s looking really confused now.
“Spill the beans.” I try to make my voice low and commanding, but I don’t think I do very well. Still, Taro plays along and pretends to quiver under my touch. He raises a shaky hand, and points a wobbly finger towards the countertop behind me. He’s pointing at…
That tin he pulled out earlier. It’s kidney beans.
Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.
Must. Stay. Resolved.
No, it’s no use. I crumple into laughter. Taro chuckles as well, before fishing out some green onions from his shelf in the fridge.
“So, what’re you actually asking me?” He shimmies past, picking up the can and rifling around the drawers for an opener. I’m not really sure what he’s going to cook with a couple of green onions and kidney beans, but I’m not going to hang about the counter waiting to find out. Even my desire for discovery has its limits, so I sit back on the table and lean on my hands.
I let out a sigh, a little frustrated that Taro could just look through me like that. I thought I could be at least a little intimidating… Evidently not.
“Well, you seem to know a lot about him…” I ask, but trail off.
I asking? I want to know why he’s here; I want to know what they’ve spoken about, but would Taro even tell me any of that if I asked? Would Hisao be upset me with if I found out these things behind his back? Probably, right?
Taro smiles at me patiently, but also a little condescendingly. I think he knows the predicament I’m in. He turns to face me and leans back against the counter, a newfound seriousness on his face. It’s kind of a rare look for Taro.
“Look,” he says patiently, “If you want to know about Hisao, why don’t you try asking
him? That’s what I did.”
I don’t really like how condescending Taro is sounding right now, but he’s got a point. The questions I have about him aren’t really questions I can ask Taro, and even if he were to tell me, I’d probably just end up feeling guilty because of how I learned it. I let my head sink into my arms fully, and let out another long sigh. Taro laughs, and turns around to continue cooking.
I’m asking for romantic advice from Taro… hell must have frozen over already.