Part 108: The Scent of LightUpdate 97: The Scent of Light (Act 3, Scenes 1-3)
They walk back to us. Sae looks seriously at Rin, her left hand reaching as if instinctively towards a pack of cigarettes that's lying on the table. She picks the pack up and extracts one, looks at it absentmindedly as if only now realizing she did so, and puts it back. Finally, she locks eyes with Rin, evaluating her once more.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Everyday Fantasy
SAIONJI: "All right, little kitten. I'm going to believe in you. I will display your paintings in here, but from what I can see, this is not enough. You don't really have a cohesive theme, and you don't have enough of the good stuff. You're going to have to work hard to actually get something that we can put on exhibit here."
RIN: "I know."
SAIONJI: "It's a good thing my gallery is so small, no?"
HISAO: "Rin already spends pretty much every free waking moment she has painting. How is it possible to work any harder? She'd have to skip classes to do more than she already does. And how can anyone work that much?"
Silence falls in the gallery after my words. Sae looks at the art teacher, who is looking contemplatively at his star student. I look at all three of them, confused.
NOMIYA: "It's doable."
SAIONJI: "What do you mean?"
NOMIYA: "I mean, the school is special. The board puts great value on things such as this. I'm sure I could arrange some leave for her. It's not unprecedented by any means. I'll discuss it with her parents too, but they've been quite supportive. However... it might be a bit of a stretch to get working space for her at the school if she's not actually going to attend classes. Actually, I was thinking about this before. Do you use the place upstairs for anything?"
SAIONJI: "No, I don't... haven't since back then. It's more like a landfill than an atelier now."
SAIONJI: "I own a small atelier-apartment on the top floor of this building, but it hasn't been in use for... goodness, it's been so long, hasn't it?"
Her eyes leap to Nomiya, who has a strange, muted expression on his face.
NOMIYA: "Indeed. Do you think..."
Even Nomiya in all his brashness has trouble coming straight out with the question. Sae, of course, sees through him and throws up her hands, sighing deeply.
SAIONJI: "I guess I can't say no, can I? Very well. I'll lend you the use of that place as well, if needed. It's not like I really use it."
NOMIYA: "Excellent! I knew I could count on you!"
SAIONJI: "Don't celebrate yet. It really is a mess, so don't be shocked when you first see it. However, you can use it as you see fit. Since it's an atelier, it already has easels and things like that. You'll only need your own tools and materials, and to somehow clean it up a bit. It's not habitable though, so I can't let you live there. I doubt your school or parents would allow that, in any case."
SAIONJI: "However it's convenient to crash there overnight if necessary. I won't mind."
NOMIYA: "Hahaha, most excellent, isn't it, Tezuka?"
He enthusiastically pats Rin on the shoulder, laughing in relief and happiness as if all this good fortune landed on him personally. Sae smiles as well, perhaps more amused by the old teacher's glee than anything else.
SAIONJI: "Oh dear, Shinichi, this really is like back then. Are you sure we all haven't bitten off more than we can chew?"
She looks at Rin, who seems to be oddly subdued despite all this.
SAIONJI: "I hope it will be worth it, kitten."
She holds out her hand as if to shake Rin's, but realizes the impossibility and quickly moves to pat her on the shoulder.
Rin looks back at her silently, her eyes serious and impenetrable like the dark of the night.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
Katawa Shoujo OST - Afternoon
Rin applies for, and - thanks to Nomiya pressuring the principal, I'm sure - is granted leave for the rest of the term for exceptional extracurricular activities. She has to make up for it during summer vacation, but it seems she doesn't mind. Rin will still be able to eat and sleep at school, of course; she just doesn't have to go to classes. I'm not entirely sure if I envy her or not.
It all makes me feel anxious, somehow.
It's the last day of school for Rin. I feel like I should send her off with a word of encouragement, or at least say something. It was sort of due to my influence that she decided to dive headfirst into this, after all. My class ends a good twenty minutes early, so I walk down to the lobby and buy a can of juice, then sit down on a bench and wait for Rin. I pull out a novel from my bag and search for the place I was at. Time stretches comfortably over the warm afternoon while I idly sip my orange juice and read a few chapters of the book. The plot doesn't seem to advance at all, but it's all the same for me.
The bell rings to end the school day and students shuffle to club meetings or outside. Nobody notices me, sitting on the bench with my nose in the novel. I keep watch for Rin, but I don't see her familiar face or red-tinted hair passing by.
I check my watch 20 minutes past the end of class, when the lobby has all but emptied of people again. Even Rin should've already managed to get out of class, but either I missed her walking by, or she never came downstairs. Perhaps she went to the art club room for some last minute things instead, or got held back by her strict homeroom teacher. I haven't really waited that long, but having grown tired of it already, I decide to go find her myself. I stuff my book back in the bag and throw the now empty juice can in a trash bin, then climb upstairs.
The hallway is eerily quiet, as there are no club rooms apart from the art room nearby. I check there first, but not even the teacher is in. Coming back towards the stairwell, I quietly knock on the door of 3-4 and push the door open to peek in.
Yellow sunbeams cross the classroom, falling across the floor. The dust and chalk floating slowly in the air make the light almost palpable. The entire room bathes in the gentle light shining through the windows, washing the shadows away. Only one person is inside the classroom.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Lullaby of Open Eyes
Rin sits in what I assume is her seat, next to the window in the third row. Her head rests against the desk. I wonder if she slept through it all. Apparently not even Emi had the heart - or maybe the capability - to wake her up. I close the door quietly. Walking past the neat, even rows of desks, I go over to where she sits.
My mouth is suddenly so dry that the word comes out as a tiny whisper. She doesn't answer, so I set my bag down on the floor next to hers and lean over her to look at her face. Rin's eyes are peacefully closed, the long eyelashes projecting thin shadows onto her cheeks. Her mouth is slightly open, letting me hear the quiet sound of her breathing. Her usually messy hair is even more so today, lying in complete disarray over half of her face and forehead. Her bag is lying at her feet like a forgotten rag doll. A few books and pens have fallen out of it near her seat. The scene makes me smile a little.
I touch Rin's head lightly, sweeping a few stray hairs off her ear. Her hair feels warm against my palm. Rin stirs, and I retract my hand on reflex, feeling embarrassed for touching her so casually. She looks so vulnerable, like any sleeping person. It's impossible not to feel fondness towards her.
I sit on the desktop of whoever is in front of Rin, then draw the window slightly open to get some fresh air in. Hopefully, it will wake her up and I won't need to resort to cruder methods.
She doesn't wake up, but I didn't really expect her to. Looking at her makes me feel tired as well. To be honest, I wouldn't mind a quick nap either, but I content myself with leaning against the large window. The glass is warm against my ear and cheek, as these windows face west, toward the setting afternoon sun. That afternoon light is slowly melting into Rin's auburn hair, softening her outline so that she seems to be fading into her surroundings. The minute twitches of her muscles, her hair swaying in the air current, the even rhythm of her breathing, it all gives a strong impression of a dreaming girl. Like all sleeping people, Rin looks like she is away from this world, in some distant dream-country. With her, it doesn't feel so obvious that she would ever come back. She seems so detached from her surroundings even when she's awake, in fact she has this same kind of air around her when...
The realization hits my consciousness without warning.
Rin sometimes looks like that when she is painting. Her focused expression gives the same feeling of being on the other side of some imaginary gap as looking at her sleeping face does. I feel a pain in my chest. There's no way I can close that gap to be on the same level with her. It hurts, even though I know that it's impossible for any two people to truly understand each other. But Rin... she's almost literally in another world when she's talking about art, thinking about art, or making art. It's a world that I - or anyone else, really - can't share with her. Just like the world of dreams. Rin still doesn't show any sign of waking up, so I'm faced with the decision to either rouse her myself, or wait for her to awaken on her own. I choose the latter.
Waiting is something I am good at. I found that out during my hospitalization. But even the hospital ward was more lively than the school after classes are over. The only sounds in this place are the loud ticking of the clock above the door and the distant voices of students down on the grounds. A genuine summer breeze blows inside from the window I cracked open, full of warmth and carrying the scent of light.
I look outside to see where it came from, but I'm dazzled almost instantly. The window glass seems to trap all the sunlight within, making it painful to look that way. All I can glimpse through the window are the dark silhouettes of the trees and the wall around the campus against the setting sun's radiance.
As I turn back to watch Rin, she stirs again.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Innocence
A single tear worms down from the corner of her eye, slowly making its way across her face before it falls onto the desk. It's tiny, barely a droplet, but it captivates me. Another tear follows the first, and then a third.
A feeling of anxiety overcomes me, petrifying me on the spot. It's so strange, seeing Rin's face peaceful as she sleeps, at the same time as tears stream down her cheeks, wetting the wooden desktop she rests her head on. I don't know what to do, so I do nothing, and just watch the tears roll one by one down her face. I wonder what she's dreaming about.
Rin wakes up after one final flinch, or perhaps because of the tears. She sits upright and yawns so excessively it looks like her jaw might dislocate.
She notices my presence, but her reaction is more like the lack of any reacting at all. It's just an acknowledgment; no startled gasp or anything.
HISAO: "Good morning."
She's so groggy she can't even return my smile that I somehow can't stretch to be entirely honest.
Rin notices her wet cheeks and quickly wipes them on the shoulders of her shirt. It seems she isn't at all surprised or flustered by them.
HISAO: "You cried in your sleep. A bad dream?"
RIN: "No. It's nothing like that. It's something I've learned to do. From other people. It's a funny story, I'll tell you later. On second thought, not really that funny at all. I guess I won't tell you. Did you want something or did you just come watch me sleep?"
HISAO: "Eh... I wanted to see you after classes."
RIN: "Oh. Well, it's after classes now and I am seeing you right here."
HISAO: "Yeah. I just wanted to say good luck, or something. I figure the upcoming weeks are going to be a lot of work for you."
Rin yawns again and blinks a few times.
RIN: "I feel weird. Didn't really sleep much last night at all."
HISAO: "Butterflies in your stomach?"
RIN: "What? No. I mean yes. I know what that means. Butterflies. Don't really feel so good now."
HISAO: "It'll be fine."
RIN: "You are so confident. Some day it will bite you in the ear."
HISAO: "I'll look forward to it."
RIN: "I think I have to go. I promised Mrs. Saionji that I'd go there straight after school, and now is after school."
HISAO: "Is it okay if I come by sometime? I'm guessing you're planning to work long hours, so if you'd prefer to avoid distractions..."
RIN: "It's okay. It's not a distraction. Not like Emi. Don't bring her with you, though. I wouldn't like that this time. I told her to stay away."
HISAO: "I see. All right then."
Rin stands up and silently walks to the door with me following behind. The school's empty hallways, devoid of the usual crowd of students, feel very lonely. It's only a few hours since school ended, but the building seems to be all but deserted. Our footsteps are all that intrudes upon the stillness of the hallways. The change is sudden, but it shows how the building is just an empty shell, dead without its students and teachers to liven it up. It's like the school has become a private world for just the two of us, a desolate place filled with silence and chalk dust.
RIN: "I am going to change."
She says this out of the blue while we walk down the stairs from the third floor, and it makes me wonder how she views this challenge that lies ahead of her.
HISAO: "That's what people must do, sometimes."
That's the last thing we say to each other that day, even though there's so much that we could talk about. And even those words drown in the all-encompassing silence, disappearing into the stagnant air as if they were never said.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
Katawa Shoujo OST - Stride
The next Monday is marked by a strange emptiness that grips me, caused by the knowledge that I won't be able to see Rin whenever I want to any more. This hollow feeling's a little bit disconcerting, but I make it to the afternoon all the same.
My last class is, in a word, terrible. It's not that the lesson is that bad. It is, however, boring, and it's so hot in the classroom that I feel like I'm melting. The air conditioning is either broken or turned off, so the windows are open. It makes no difference, since the air outside is completely still. Only the chirping of cicadas carries inside. The sweltering heat permeates the room. Students and teachers alike are in an almost delirious state. I just want to stand up and walk out of here without caring what the teacher or anyone else says. I can see I'm not the only one with these thoughts too.
Next to me, Misha is shamelessly holding her skirt up a bit and fanning air in with her notebook. Only Shizune seems to be as cool as always, sitting with her back perfectly straight, arms folded on her chest, her eyes fixed on the equations scrawled on the blackboard. keep shooting yearning glances at my watch, but it doesn't help the time go by any faster. It's funny. I remember how badly I wanted to get out of the hospital and go back to school. Now all I can think of is the upcoming summer vacation, and freedom from classes and homework. Perhaps it's human nature to think only of the situation at hand.
Finally the bell rings.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Stride (Crowd Noises)
Relieved, my classmates and I burst out into the hallway already crowded by students from our neighboring classes.
I spot Emi's diminutive figure nearby and walk up to her.
HISAO: "Hey there."
She smiles sweetly, clearly happy to see me.
EMI: "Hisao! What's up? Is your classroom super hot too?"
HISAO: "Yeah it is. I thought I was going to melt in there. Nothing else is really happening, though. Feeling a bit weird now that Rin's on her great adventure or whatever you want to call it."
Emi's face cracks in a wider smile and she jumps up and down enthusiastically.
EMI: "Isn't it great? I'm soooo happy for her, I bet everyone will like her paintings and she'll sell a lot of them and make piles of money."
HISAO: "Yeah, I'm sure it'll work out great."
EMI: "I'm totally sulking at her, though."
She huffs angrily and places her hands firmly on her hips, even letting a little anger seep into her voice. It doesn't quite have the impact she's probably hoping for, but I say nothing.
HISAO: "Why's that?"
EMI: "She said that she doesn't want me to go see her."
HISAO: "Oh yeah, she mentioned that. I guess she prefers to not be distracted. I can understand that."
EMI: "I don't think I'm that much of a distraction! Besides, I'm sure she'll forget about sleeping and eating properly if someone's not there telling her to do it. Sometimes she's like that, gets completely fixated on whatever and drops everything else. It really makes me worried, you know. Is she going to be all right?"
HISAO: "Such friendship. Speaking of that... I don't even know if I should be saying this, but it's been bothering me. How do I put it...? Rin said that she doesn't really see you as a friend... or something. And I really can't figure why she would say something like that. You two seem to be so close."
I feel really awkward saying it, but I've finally managed to get the words out. Emi doesn't seem to be too shocked, but it gives her pause for a moment. Even her perpetual smile flattens into a more difficult expression.
EMI: "Ahaha, is that so? I guess I'm maybe more like a big sister or something to her."
HISAO: "Excuse me? Big sister? You?"
I put my hand on top of my head and then hers, as if to measure and re-confirm our heights. Emi playfully slaps me on the wrist and sticks her tongue out, looking annoyed.
EMI: "Hey, that's hitting below the belt. I thought you were more of a gentleman."
HISAO: "Sorry, I just couldn't resist. Too easy."
I really wanted to make the joke to soften the mood rather than to make fun of Emi, though.
EMI: "But I am serious. Besides, I'm a year older than Rin is, or even you, for that matter. So there."
EMI: "Yeah. I missed a year of school when I relearned to walk and run with these legs."
HISAO: "Oh, right. That makes sense."
I should've figured that out by myself. In my defense, her tiny figure is really misleading. Emi smiles wryly and something deep and hidden floats up into her eyes, like a swirling vortex suddenly appearing in an otherwise calm river. I watch her struggle with it for a brief moment, until she blinks it away and her smile widens.
EMI: "Anyway, it's true. She's just so cute that I want to pamper her. I've always wanted a little sister but, well... I guess I ended up never getting one. It's a little bit hard to really talk with Rin, so I guess I never really tried. I like her a lot though, so hearing that she said that doesn't make me happy. It's not like I can really argue, so maybe that's just how it is. We are really close, but maybe it's just not in that way, you know?"
She sighs loudly.
You only see the text after Hisao says such friendship if you suggested Emi as Rins friend a couple scenes back.
EMI: "I wonder... I wonder if she thinks I'm annoying."
HISAO: "I'm pretty sure that's not the case at all."
Emi shakes her head, looking amused. I'm not sure if she's joking or not.
EMI: "She has these weird ideas about a lot of stuff. Things just make sense to her in a totally different way than they do to me. I can't even remember all the weird stuff she's talked about over all this time. I don't think Rin does either, really. She's the type who would forget her own head if it wasn't attached to her shoulders. That's why I just can't leave her alone. Is that weird?"
She leans against the wall, managing to look distraught, yet still cheerful as always. I get a strange feeling about it, as though I was talking to two people at the same time. How would I know? Everyone's weird in some way, but if that's yours, it's a very nice way. At least I can understand what you're talking about, unlike Rin.
HISAO: "Most of the time, I have no idea about what's going on inside her head either."
Emi giggles, nodding in agreement.
EMI: "I think it's okay even if you don't understand her. That's how she usually is."
Emi stands up straighter, brushing the hem of her skirt and straightening the waistline. She laughs awkwardly.
EMI: "Ahaha, wow, we ended up talking pretty seriously. What's up with you, Hisao? Why'd you bring this up?"
HISAO: "Oh, sorry. I didn't really mean to get into this sort of discussion, either. I just... I don't know. I've had this weird feeling lately, about Rin. I don't know why."
I feel a bit guilty, bringing up something like this for no reason except my own anxiety.
EMI: "It'll be fine. Don't worry about it."
Suddenly Emi clutches my wrist and twists it so she can see what time is it from my watch.
EMI: "Oh damn, this late already? I should really go, there's a meeting with the rest of the track team at the field. It's not going to be fun in this heat. We're going to sweat like pigs, but I promised I'd be there. Bye bye!"
(Silence, Crowd Noises)
She skips downstairs, leaving me wondering if what I said - or what Rin said, rather - hurt her or not. Maybe what Emi herself said hurt her the most, come to that.
So in the end, even the person closest to Rin is just as far apart from her as everyone else. I wonder if Rin herself ever feels that distance. I've felt like I was drifting away from the world too, during my hospitalization. I felt anxious and depressed, and even now, I sometimes still do. But I fight against it with all I've got. If Rin has been on that side of the divide for her whole life, I can't imagine how she could not be lonely, but perhaps she's truly different. I refuse to belong to that other place, but maybe she's found comfort there.