Interlude 1: Hanako’s Present (Sat, July 1)
Akira guided her sister Lilly along the town’s busy shopping arcade. Their younger cousin Hideaki followed a step or two behind. “Do you have any idea what you want to get Hanako?”, Akira asked.
“I didn’t have a specific gift in mind. Hopefully we’ll be able to find something that she’ll cherish.” came her sister’s reply.
“It would have made more sense to have thought of a gift first, and then go out to buy it, “ Hideaki interjected. “That would be far more efficient.”
“Not everything needs to be done in the most efficient way,” Lilly replied. “I often prefer to simply have a goal in mind and then seize the opportunities that present themselves to achieve it.”
“But you don’t have a goal in mind.” retorted Hideaki. “Recall that you said you don’t know what you want to buy.”
“But I do,” replied Lilly in an artificially sweet voice. “I want to buy a present for my friend Hanako. Didn’t you recall that?”
“But that’s not --” Hideaki was interrupted by Akira, who said, “Lils, Shortie, that’s enough. While you two were going at it, we walked past that toy shop. They’ve got some bears and other plushies in the window. Let’s go take a look.”
Interlude 2: Dr. Tezuka’s Prescription Pad (Mon, July 3)
After the day’s classes, Rin found herself at her usual spot at the Art club. As usual, Nomiya was going on about something -- shading techniques with ink probably -- and as usual, Rin was ignoring him. She had more important things to go on about.
Hisao’s room was bland and boring. Like a photograph of a room. Except worse, since it was actually a room. Somehow flat despite being big enough to sleep in. It needs something. It needs to be more.
At least it was then. Maybe Hisao put up some decorations? Probably not. She’d have to ask Emi. After all, she was the last person to be in Hisao’s room. Which is pretty weird.
Rin flipped through her sketchbook. A couple of days ago she had a thought, and tried to sketch it before the thought left her. “I got part of it, and I hope I can find the other parts later. But now it’s still flat, like his room. It’s just a sketch of a portrait of Hisao and his friends.”
“When is a portrait not a portrait?” Rin‘s thoughts drifted, like a leaf falling from a tall tree, being carried by the wind. “How can a portrait be more than a portrait? Just adding more people doesn’t make it more than a portrait. That’s just more people.”
“Maybe I should paint Hisao smiling. I wonder what he’d look like if he looked happy. Maybe he just forgot how. Or maybe he needs a reminder.”
“This portrait has too many people. I think it's just about right. But it's too flat.”
Rin took in a deep breath and sighed.
“I forgot the important part. I need it back.”
Interlude 3: The Morning After (Thur, July 5)
Hanako woke up feeling horrible. Her body was sore all over, and she felt like she might throw up. She didn’t want to open her eyes, she just wanted to roll over and fall back to sleep. Any thoughts of falling back to sleep were dispelled by the sound of a door opening.
“Go away,” Hanako muttered. “I’m tired, sore and thirsty.”
“I know how you are feeling,” came Lilly’s gentle reply. “I feel the same way. I brought you some water. It should help.”
Hanako rolled her head to the side and slowly opened her eyes. She was on the floor her friend’s room. Lilly sat down at the other end of the table and placed one glass of water in front of her and another in the middle of the table.
Hanako picked up her water and took a large sip. She tried to remember last night. It was her birthday party. Lilly had bought her a teddy bear. Akira brought some wine. They drank and talked. Everything felt so … bittersweet.
Hanako stretched her shoulders and arms as she looked around. Her new teddy bear sat against the wall. But she couldn't shake the feeling that something was missing. She looked up at Lilly and asked, “D-Do you remember what happened last night?”
Lilly's response came a few seconds later. “I remember most of it, I think. I'm fairly certain that I had too much to drink.”
Hanako nodded in agreement. “Yeah. M-Me too. I-I just want to finish this water and then fall asleep in my own bed.”
Interlude 4: Absence (Thur, July 5)
[Isn’t it sad Shicchan? Hicchan’s flowers died last night.]
Shizune looked past her friend and interpreter to the windowsill beside Hisao’s desk. On Monday morning they put a vase containing the flowers they bought for Hisao on that windowsill.
[It is. I’m surprised they lasted as long as they did. Let me take care of them before class starts.]
Shizune left the class to throw out the dead flowers and get rid of the old water. When she returned to class, Mutou was surprisingly seated at his desk, looking through some papers. The last time he was in class before the bell was last Saturday, five days ago. Did he have more news?
Looking around, she saw only two empty desks, Hisao’s and Hanako’s. She was about to sign something to Misha when she noticed Mutou standing up.
“Good morning everyone. Before we begin today, I have some news to share. I’ve been told that Nakai’s condition has improved, and that he’s now stable. However, he has requested no visitors.” After a moment’s silence in which there were no questions, Mutou started the lesson.
After the day’s Student Council activities, Shizune and Misha returned to the girl’s dorm. As they were walking down the second floor hall, Misha tapped Shizune’s shoulder to get her attention.
[Shicchan, I think we should let Hanako know that Hicchan is feeling better. She ran off when Mutou told the class he wasn’t doing well.]
Shizune thought for a moment before nodding in reply. When the two girls arrived at Hanako’s room, Shizune knocked loudly on the door. It wasn’t Hanako’s door that opened in reply. Rather, it was her neighbour Lilly’s door that did.
“Who is knocking so loudly?” Lilly’s asked, her voice clearly irritated.
“I wasn’t knocking on your door, Miss Class Representative!” came Shizune’s reply via Misha. “We’re here to deliver a message for Hanako.”
Lilly sighed before replying, “I should have realized. Only one person would use so much force when tact is called for. I am curious -- what message is so important that you needed to disturb the entire hallway?”
“So disrespectful! We’re just delivering good news! We just wanted to tell Hanako that Hicchan is doing better. And we get treated so poorly!”
“My my, that is good news. I’m sure that Hanako, as well as half the dorm, is glad to hear that. Thank you for letting us know.”
Shizune paused for a moment before walking past Lilly towards her own room, Misha following a few steps behind. “Good night Lilly~! See you tomorrow!”
“Good night Misha,” replied Lilly.
Interlude 5: Grounded (Sun, July 8)
Miki hated running in the mornings. It’s too cold to run, and far too early. It was possibly the worst way to start a Sunday. Still, she had lost a bet to Emi, and so she was stretching out prior to whatever running Emi had in mind.
Miki remembered the last time she lost a bet with Emi and had to run early. Extra track practice. More sprints. It turns out that on this cold morning, Emi had the same thing in mind.
After another few laps of trying to catch up to Emi, Miki noticed something was off with the track star. She was clearly favouring her right leg.
“So… it's not too bad, is it?” Emi tried to keep her voice positive.
“It's not ‘too bad’,” replied the nurse. “It looks worse. Your doctor will need to take a look to confirm, but I think that it’s infected. At least now I know why you were avoiding me. And here I thought I'd finally managed to offend you.”
Emi have a half hearted laugh in reply. The nurse put on his serious face as he spoke. “You wait here. I’ll make a few phone calls and we’ll get you out of here as quick as we can.”
Waiting for a doctor’s examination seems to be unavoidable, Emi thought. He took so long to arrive, that her mom arrived before him. “Mom, you didn’t need to come. I’m okay.”
“The nurse didn’t seem to think so when he spoke with me on the phone. A leg infection! Is that what you were hiding from me last weekend?”
Emi couldn’t face her mother’s gaze. “Um … yeah. That’s right..” Emi knew it was a lie. But sometimes a white lie is better than the truth.
The doctor was a slightly overweight man in his fifties with short salt and pepper hair. His examination was quick. “I agree with my colleague. Miss Ibarakazi, I’m afraid that your residual limb is infected. I'm going to prescribe you oral antibiotics for the infection. It should clear up in a couple of weeks.”
Emi looked a bit hopeful upon hearing that. Her mood soured as he continued, “You also need to keep the area clean and minimize friction so it can heal. That means you can't wear your right prosthesis. Not even to walk.”
An uncomfortable silence followed. The doctor finished up by saying, “I need to discuss the details of your follow up care with the nurse. As long as you take it easy and take your medication, I’m confident that you’ll be up and walking in no time.”
The doctor and nurse retreated behind the privacy curtain. Emi held her mom’s hand anxiously. After a minute the nurse returned carrying a box of tissues.
“If you like we can get you fitted for a crutch. Or you can use a wheelchair.”
The nurse softly walked towards Emi, offering her the box of tissues. She took one and used it to dry her eyes.
Interlude 6: Another Absence (Mon, July 9)
Next week’s classes started in the way that most of the students were used to. Misha stretched in her seat and looked around. Aside from Hisao and Hanako, everyone in class 3-3 was present and waiting for their teacher. Misha tapped her friend Shizune on the shoulder to get her attention.
[Hey Shicchan,] Misha began, [Do you think Hicchan and Hanako are going to make it? Class is going to start soon.]
[I haven’t seen Hisao on campus. He’s probably still in the hospital. As for Ikezawa, I don’t understand how her absences are continually excused.]
Misha started to sign in reply when she heard Mutou’s entrance. “Today class, we are going to be covering chemical nomenclature and its importance. Let’s begin.”
After class Mutou approached Shizune and Misha as they were on their way out of the classroom. “Hakamichi, can you deliver these worksheets to Ikezawa?”
After Misha’s translation, Shizune looked shocked. Then she collected herself and nodded. She took the worksheets from Mutou and put them in her bag. The two girls chatted about the day’s class as they headed to the Student Council office.
After the two girls took their seats in the Student Council, Misha signed, [Are you okay Shicchan? You’ve got your super serious face on.]
[I’m thinking about Ikezawa’s handouts. With my cousin in Scotland and Hisao hospitalized, she has no emotional support. She hasn’t for days. Once she opens the door and sees us, she’ll be scared and have nowhere to run. Who knows what she’ll do.]
[Shicchan, it’ll be okay. Don’t tell me you’re afraid of her.]
Shizune looked at Misha with a gleam in her eye. [I am not afraid! I'm expecting a challenge.]
Shizune knocked on Hanako’s door that evening.
[Shicchan! That was too loud!]
[Good. Then she’ll hear it.]
The Student Council waited in silence for a few seconds.
[Tell her we’re here to drop off some worksheets.]
“Hey Hanako! Shicchan has some homework for you from Mutou.”
After a few more seconds, Shizune signed, [Is she even in there? Can you hear her?]
Misha put her ear up to the door. [I can’t tell. If she’s inside, she’s being quiet.]
Shizune sighed and took the worksheets out of her bag and slid them under the door.
[That was anticlimactic. I was hoping to see her. Oh well.]
Interlude 7: Arrivals and Departures (Fri, July 13)
“I don't know how you do it Akira,” said Lilly before covering her mouth to yawn. “It just isn't possible for me.”
“To sleep on an airplane? It isn't hard. Just a bit uncomfortable.”
Akira led her sister through the terminal to the baggage claim.
“Were you able to get in touch with Hanako or Hisao?”
Lilly paused to collect her thoughts before replying. “I have not. It seems that both of them have turned their phones off. I've left messages, but neither of them have replied.”
“Don’t worry about it. Maybe they'll surprise us in the arrivals lounge, and the three of you can catch up. If not, I’m sure the taxi will get you back to school before it’s too late, so you can at least chat with Hanako.”
“I hope they’re waiting for us. I feel I can use some good news.”
“You and me both Lils.”
“Hanako, it’s Lilly. May I come in?”
“O - okay”
Lilly opened the door and stepped into her best friend's room. “I-I'm at my desk. You can sit on m-my bed, if you'd like. How is y-your aunt?”
“She seemed stronger than I thought she’d be when we visited her in the hospital. She was overjoyed to meet Akira and I again. We spent the rest of our visit catching up with our parents.”
“How d-did that go?”
“I … think it went well. I hadn’t spent time with them in person in years. Akira and our parents still have a strained relationship, so there were … occasional disagreements.” Lilly shuffled on the bed, sliding closer to Hanako. “How about you? How have things been in my absence?”
“I … I went to c-class yesterday and today.”
“How much class did you miss?”
“A-a lot. Sh-Shizune would bring worksheets every day, so I-I don’t think I’m behind.”
“Well, that’s good news. Has Hisao returned to class also?”
“N-no. H-Hisao wasn’t there. I-I think he’s still in the - the hospital.”
“Oh dear. I had hoped that he would have recovered.” An awkward silence fell over the room, to be broken by Lilly a moment later. “Hanako, I have an idea I’d like you to think about. Would you be interested in spending the long weekend with me up at my family’s summer home in Hokkaido? I think the change of scenery would do us both some good.”
“I … I … “ Hanako paused to think. “I think that … that I would.”
“Wonderful! Akira printed out a train schedule for us,” Lilly said, reaching into her purse and retrieving a piece of folded paper. “Perhaps you could determine how best to get there.”
Hanako took the paper from Lilly, unfolded and studied it. “T-there’s a few trains. The regular train leaves early, but I-I think it would … be nice.”
“If it’s early, we’ll need time to pack. Hokkaido is warmer than Scotland this time of year, so I’ll need to unpack a few things and add some others. Can you come over to help me once you’re finished?”
“Of course. I-I’m looking ... forward to it.”