Part 103: Umbrella Logic CakeUpdate 93: Umbrella Logic Cake (Act 2, Scenes 12-13)
(Silence, Rain Sounds)
The café is only a few blocks away, but even with the umbrella, we can't avoid getting slightly damp. The rain keeps coming down harder and harder. Raindrops leave tiny dots on the black asphalt road, which then combine into bigger patches like pointillist artwork being made in front of our eyes in mere seconds. It's pouring heavily, drumming on the hoods of the cars parked on the sides of the street and already flowing in little creeks along the sidewalks. The yellow light shining through the rainwater streaming down the windows looks very warm and inviting.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Red Velvet (Crowd Sounds)
I shake the excess water off the umbrella and head inside with them, following Emi to a vacant table in the furthest corner of the small café. The place is almost full; apparently other people had the same idea as Emi, and now we are all stranded together here in this cozy little place. Varnished wooden pillars and paper screens mix with Parisian-style tables and chairs in discordant harmony, a contrast of old and new. Light jazz plays quietly in the background, though it's mostly drowned out by the murmur of the customers.
There's only one waitress serving the full house, frantically gliding from one table to another and trying to keep up with everything. To my surprise, I think I recognize her. I watch her deliver a tray of tea cups and pastries to another table taken by Yamaku students, then take an order from a middle-aged couple sitting across from us before finally turning to serve us.
Now that she's close and facing me I see that it really is her, the part-time librarian of Yamaku in full waitress attire. It's a pretty cute outfit, and she has tied her hair up in buns to match. It's a completely different image from her mousy, plain style at her other job. Yuuko blinks a few times looking confused, then remembers that she was about to say something.
YUUKO: "Umm... ah, welcome to the Shanghai. "
HISAO: "So you work here too? I thought you were a university student or something."
YUUKO: "Ehh, yes, that too. It's a part-time job as you can see, ehehe. It's Sunday, so there aren't any lectures. Good thing, too, since today has been so busy I'm wishing for another pair of hands. Anyway, I'm in a bit of a rush as you can see. What can I get you today?"
(Sudden Silence, Crowd Sounds Continue)
Emi doesn't hesitate even for a second. Her eyes glitter like those of a kid in a candy store.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Katawa Shoujo OST - Generic Happy Music (Crowd Sounds Continue)
EMI: "Tea for everyone! And cake for me!"
Yuuko tries to stay as formal and professional-looking as possible, smiling cheerily at my ravenous companion.
YUUKO: "Ahh... yes, today we have a choice of strawberry shortcake, raspberry layer cake, or lemon meringue pie."
EMI: "Strawberry... no, lemon! No, actually I'll take both!"
She looks at me in challenge.
HISAO: "Err... I'll take just the pie."
Emi makes a face at Rin as though she had bitten into a lemon. She's clearly unhappy with her for not joining in.
EMI: "Oh come on, Rin. That's not polite at all."
RIN: "Nothing, thank you."
EMI: "No, no, you silly! I meant that you should order something too."
RIN: "I'll take a straw then. My feet are all wet."
RIN: "The drinking kind of straw. One, please."
Yuuko is obviously uncertain of what to think about this. She fiddles with her pen and stationery for a moment, looking like she's about to cry, before deciding that we've finished ordering.
YUUKO: "Thank you very much!"
Her sprite jerks down before vanishing.
She bows down a little bit too deeply and scampers to safety behind the counter. After that ordeal is over with, I have a chance to relax a bit and take a better look at the surroundings. Almost every table is occupied by people happy to be out of the rain, thankfully sipping their tea while waiting to dry off. Fragments of grumbling about the lousy weather or discussions over recent homework carry from nearby tables to my ears. Each one overlaps the other, but all are covered by the sound of falling rain. After a while Yuuko returns to our table, carrying a tray with a huge teapot, three cups, a slice of cake and two slices of pie. She slaps the tray onto our tiny table with a clatter, almost sending the teapot toppling over into Rin's lap. We barely recover before she bows again and leaves, hurrying off to serve the other customers.
Emi has been eyeing her strawberry cake very hungrily all this time, but somehow she managed to contain herself until Yuuko was out of sight. She digs in with gusto, while I content myself with pouring tea for everyone and placing the straw in Rin's cup. Rin looks at the way the tea swirls round and round in her white china cup, her eyes half closed, almost like she is being hypnotized. I pick up my fork and eye the food in front of me.
The pie I got looks perfectly done, a thick layer of meringue atop creamy lemon custard. After having the first bite, I pause, savoring the combination of tangy citrus and smooth, sugary meringue. It's quite good, though a bit too sweet for me.
EMI: "Iff ver good."
She's talking through a mouthful of cake, already halfway through her slice even though it's not exactly small.
EMI: "I want to taste some of that."
(Sword Strike Sound Effect)
Emis sprite rapidly zooms in and out.
Before I get to respond, she strikes out at my delicious pie, takes a piece with her fork, and escapes with it.
EMI: "This is pretty good too."
HISAO: "What are you doing? You have a slice of your own!"
EMI: "Yeah, but if I started on that before finishing the cake, it'd be rude, don't you think?"
Her insolence is outrageous, but the gentleman in me allows for no retaliation. I glare angrily at her, and she replies by sticking out her tongue impishly. Emi is even more hyper than usual today, but I don't mind. It's good for her to let off some steam. I take another sip of the tea in my cup. It's good and hot, even though I don't usually care much for tea, and the atmosphere in the café is very relaxing. I don't mind spending the rest of the afternoon here, not even after Emi orders her second piece of strawberry cake and Rin spends most of the time staring fixedly at the rain streaming down from the heavens. Even Yuuko rolls her eyes at the third piece of cake disappearing into Emi's bottomless stomach just as quickly as the previous two.
(Crowd Sounds Stop, Rain Sounds)
Despite the passing of time, it's still raining outside when we exit the Shanghai, though it seems to be letting up a little.
HISAO: "Too bad it had to rain on your parade."
RIN: "Weren't we supposed to have a picnic?"
Emi doesn't look too distraught over this turn of events.
EMI: "Nah it's fine! We had a good time, didn't we? I feel really pumped up. It isn't even raining that hard any more. I kinda want to hike back to school to get rid of this energy and work off some of that cake."
She stretches her arms out, and arches her back like a cat. After rolling her shoulders around twice, she smiles brightly.
EMI: "Man, I can't really run with these legs, though, especially uphill. I wish I'd brought my other ones."
This notion sounds odd, spoken so casually. But I guess for Emi, changing legs is sort of like someone else changing shoes.
EMI: "Maybe if I walk really fast, that'll be kinda like running. I think I'll do that."
HISAO: "I won't be able to keep up with that going uphill, though; I really am in bad shape. Plus, you'll get wet without an umbrella."
EMI: "It's hardly even a drizzle, now. A few drops won't hurt. I think I'm gonna go to the track after I change my legs, too."
Emi skips away from the protection of my umbrella and goes on ahead at a brisk pace. Suddenly, she seems to remember something as she stops and spins around.
EMI: "See you tomorrow! Come eat lunch with us on the roof! I'll bring enough for three."
(Silence, Rain Sounds Continue)
Rin and I are left to watch her wave at us and skip off again. Soon she disappears around a street corner. I'll never understand why Emi is perpetually in such a hurry to get somewhere.
HISAO: "So, would you like me to walk you back to school so that at least one of you won't get wet?"
RIN: "If you are happy with it."
It seems neither of us wants to keep alive the strained atmosphere from the argument a few days ago in the art room, which makes me feel relieved. I don't want to bear grudges and I'm happy that Rin feels the same way. Thus it is decided that we are content with each other's company for now, and we start walking in the same direction as Emi, albeit at a considerably calmer pace.
I get a bit closer to Rin, even though the umbrella is already big enough to shelter us both. I can feel her nearby warmth providing a contrast to the chill of this rainy weather. Raindrops hitting the umbrella make a distinctive sound, playing the staccato melody of rainfall for nobody in particular. I realize I haven't been outside in the rain in what feels like forever. I inhale, taking in the scent of rain, feeling the weather with all my senses.
The world melts into a blur inside the rain. The colors of the sky have deepened from gray to dark blue, with hues of red added to the mix from the sunlight reflecting off the clouds. The low-hanging sky looks pretty, as if I could reach out my hand and touch it.
RIN: "Have I told you how much I like rain? It's like painting. It makes me feel connected."
Almost echoing my thoughts, Rin lets out one of her own. It slips out of her mouth, circling around us gently.
RIN: "Everything looks so soft, like the outlines of things just disappear. I like that. It's like the rain is hugging me."
Her voice sounds different from usual; more gentle, now, and soft. I wonder if it's only because of the rain, or because of the mood the rain brought upon the quiet artist girl. I feel that mood in myself too, enhanced by her words.
HISAO: "Yeah. I like rainy weather too. It's nice every once in a while. I wonder what is it about the rain."
A silence follows the statement, as it allows for no continuation. I decide to push the direction of the conversation a little.
HISAO: "But you know, if you like the feeling of being connected, what's the problem with showing your paintings to others? Don't you want to be connected to other people?"
RIN: "It's not the same thing. You're comparing apples and squids."
I brought up the subject Rin wants to avoid, and it shuts her down again. The question stays hanging between us for the rest of the trip back to school, and I can't help wondering what on Earth I could have said to truly reach Rin. Does she feel that she's lacking an identity? She has a strong personality, but if pressed to elaborate, I'm not sure I could describe it accurately. She feels like a person who is in constant conflict with herself. I never know what to expect when I talk to her. I wonder how she herself experiences that disconnect. If Rin is asking herself every day Who am I? and obsessively paints images to define herself day after day, what does she think of that way of living?
The irony is, that's the exact same question I've been asking myself for the past four or five months. For me, it was miserable. I can only assume that it's the natural state of being for this girl.
When we stop in front of the dormitories Rin turns to face me, as if sensing my thoughts from afar. Her gaze travels emptily past my left shoulder into the shapeless rainfall. Her dark eyes seem to suck the low ambient light into themselves, like a reverse mirror. That empty gaze lets nothing out. If I want to understand what's going on behind those eyes, I have to work it out myself. Rin opens her mouth, then closes it without saying anything. The silence lasts for a few more moments before she takes a step towards the dorm building door.
RIN: "See you tomorrow."
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
The next morning, like every second Monday morning until he says otherwise, I have an appointment with the nurse. They allow me to skip part of my first class in the morning, and I don't feel any shame in skipping the rest, either. Rather than being thankful I get to miss world history, I instead feel dread when I think about these appointments. I wake up at the normal time anyway and wash myself in the bathroom I share with Kenji, tidying my sleep-disheveled hair. I quickly get dressed and put my laundry in the basket. I pack up for the school day. I have all my homework done, like usual, so I have a bit of free time now. There's no point in going to the morning class for 20 minutes before I'd have to get to the nurse's office, so I lie down on my bed and read a book until it's time to go.
The door to the nurse's office is open, which is unusual. I enter while knocking to announce my arrival. Looking up from his computer screen, he motions me to take a seat with a friendly hello. Steam wafts up from a piping hot cup of coffee on his desk. It's probably not his first today.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ah Eh I Oh You
NURSE: "How are you feeling on this wonderful morning, Hisao?"
HISAO: "I'm all right, I think. It was cold yesterday because of the rain so I woke up feeling a bit groggy."
NURSE: "You too, huh? Quite a few kids got caught without an umbrella, so we've been spending time handing out masks and curing sniffles. Hmm... all right, today it's tests day. Give me your arm."
I extend my left arm towards him, keeping my face expressionless. The nurse ties a rubber tourniquet around my bicep with a practiced movement and briskly goes about his business. I don't think anybody really likes getting stuck with needles, but at least I got over my distaste for them. I had to. Now, I barely even twitch at the moment of truth. Once that's done, a blood pressure check follows, then there are checklists and questionnaires to go through. The nurse nods and scribbles in my answers to the questions as I give them.
NURSE: "All right. Let's have a listen, now."
I unbutton my shirt and put it neatly on the back of the chair I was using while he puts on his stethoscope. I know by heart the order of places where he's going to listen to my lungs and heartbeat. I adjust my breathing to be even and deep without even being asked. It's become routine now, for both of us. It's funny, this is pretty much the only time in one's life when you really concentrate on breathing and nothing else. It has always amused me. The nurse lifts the cold steel stethoscope from my chest and places it a few inches lower, listening again. The contact of the metal makes me flinch on reflex, even though I was expecting it. He furrows his brow, but I can't tell if it's because he's unhappy or if he's trying to pick something specific out among the complex multitude of irregularities in my heartbeat.
HISAO: "Is there something wrong?"
NURSE: "Please don't talk."
I shut up and become more anxious. The nurse is nice, but I can't help disliking these mandatory checkups. I wonder if I'm going to end up hating all medical appointments from now on because of these. He finally lifts the circular metal plate from my chest, allowing me to talk again.
NURSE: "Everything seems to be fine. Are you feeling all right yourself?"
HISAO: "I suppose. I was out yesterday when it was raining, and yeah, I really felt a bit under the weather in the morning. Maybe I caught a cold."
NURSE: "Were you with Emi? She came down with a cold, too. My people told her to stay in bed for a day or two."
HISAO: "Really? I mean, I was with her but I didn't know she got sick."
I guess it was a dumb thing after all, for her to go out in the rain like that.
NURSE: "Yeah. Well, let's put that aside. Everything seems to check out for you, but remember to be careful."
HISAO: "Of course. I really don't want to go back to the hospital."
He catches something - maybe repressed terror, I don't know - in my voice and glances up from some papers he was looking at.
NURSE: "Hey, don't worry. At this stage, it would take a huge crash in your condition to get you rehospitalized."
It doesn't really reassure me, but grumbling about it to him won't make any difference. I quietly take my leave.
Walking along the corridor from the auxiliary building to the main school building, I encounter a young female nurse coming the other way. She smiles at me when we pass by each other. The lobby is empty of people. No surprise, since classes are still going on. I hear muffled sounds of discussion coming from behind the first floor classroom doors. I glance at my watch. I'd have to rush to get to my classroom in time, and I don't feel like going to class anyway, so I decide to climb up to the roof and have an extra-long lunch break. Emi promised she'd bring something for me today but if she's sick, that's probably not going to happen. I'm not feeling hungry anyway, so it's all the same.
The climb up the steep stairwell to the roof is oddly liberating, almost like losing weight. I feel satisfaction that it doesn't wind me as badly as it did the first time I came up here. I push open the squeaky door at the top and step into sunlight. The chain link fence allows for a grand view over the treetops, all the way to the gray silhouettes of downtown, further away. The dreary weather of yesterday is just a memory now. The silvery blue sky seems to be a mere arm's reach away. I forget for a moment that I'm in a bad mood. The warmth of the sun soaks into my bones, making me drowsy and lazy instead.
The bells ring for lunch break, startling me back into reality. Soon afterwards, the quad below me bursts into life. Students pour out of the doors down on the ground floor, intent on enjoying lunch at the quad and the lush gardens in this perfect weather. When I hear the door to the stairwell being pushed open, I don't bother turning to see who it is. The intruder starts coming towards me with uneven footsteps. The little riverstones the roof is covered with rattle and crunch underfoot. The footsteps stop a few feet behind me, followed by a silence. I look upwards, into the glowing eye of the sun, absorbing its warmth with my whole body.
RIN: "What are you doing?"
I turn around out of courtesy at her first words, to behold the slim, awkward figure of Rin Tezuka. She looks very much like herself today, too. Her hair is maybe a tad messier than usual, as if she just got out of bed. She stands with her weight shifted onto one foot, looking at me with mild curiosity, as if I were something in a store's display window.
HISAO: "I don't know. Just spacing out, I guess. What about you?"
RIN: "Emi promised food. We usually eat here."
HISAO: "I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I heard Emi came down with a cold."
RIN: "Oh. I guess that makes sense. She wasn't in class."
HISAO: "It's not that common to get a cold in June though. You don't think she went running at the track afterwards like she said? The rain just kept going."
HISAO: "In the rain?"
RIN: "In the rain."
That sounds like a bit too much for just keeping up with training regime. Emi is a hard-headed one, though, so I can see her running in the downpour just because she had to.
HISAO: "Well, that's obviously overdoing it. Probably why she came down with that cold, too. But I guess it's kinda cool."
RIN: "Speaking of that, I'm not feeling well either. I...
The screen shakes.
Rin sneezes pretty hard, failing to stop it in time. She cranes her head down to wipe her nose on her shoulder, so deciding that would be too unladlylike I pull out my handkerchief and hold it to her nose.
HISAO: "Here. Bless you."
She clears her nose and I dab the handkerchief gently on it, wiping it clean. Her nose is really cute. Oddly enough it's probably the girliest part of Rin's face. I think I'm blushing a little, but Rin doesn't notice.
RIN: "Thanks - I think I might be coming up or down with something, too. Like I was saying."
HISAO: "Hope not."
Rin doesn't seem to be to bothered about eating, so despite the lack of Emi-provided lunch, we stay up on the rooftop. She comes over and stands next to me, right up against the fence, looking into the same abstract distance as I am. Nobody else seems to be coming around to intrude upon this calmness, either. It's quiet and peaceful.