Part 119: Earl GreyUpdate 108: Earl Grey (Act 2, Scenes 1-2)
Teatime, fast forward - Katawa Shoujo OST/Cinematic
Lilly gently brushes her hand across the table before bumping into and picking up a teacup.
Alone in her and Hanakos breakroom, she smoothly prepares her tea and pours it, all without glancing down.
We cut to a distant shot of a jet flying over the Shanghai.
Lilly and Hisao (in school uniform) walk out with Akira, waving goodbye to her as they walk in different directions.
The screen fuzzes with static as Akiras back seems to change to Lillys for just a moment.
As the jet flies overhead, Lilly stops, much to Hisaos confusion.
She takes his face in her hands as the wind blows.
The leaves going past them cover the screen for a moment as it transitions somewhere else; the two are now in casual clothing, standing in a field in a summer sunset.
She still holds his face. They lean into each other.
We return to the tea room and see Lillys face reflected in the cup in her lap, the liquid the same deep amber as the sky.
But of course, shes actually just facing forward. She closes her eyes and raises the cup to her lips.
I wake to the annoying din of my alarm clock, its bright red numerals lighting up my face.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
It's the same alarm clock I had at home, one of the few remaining artifacts from my days before coming to Yamaku. I'd hoped that using it would help ease my transition into this new life. No such luck, though.
Groggily dragging myself out of bed, I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, then reach over to my desk. I open a couple of the bottles of medication strewn across it, and swallow a few pills dry. By now, the process is starting to become automatic - something I should be glad for, given their purpose. Feeling much more awake than before, I wander into the bathroom.
While the shower warms up, my mind begins to wander as my new daily routine begins once again. The bright colors of the fireworks fill my mind, as do the two girls with whom I spent my time watching them. It feels strange to be moved so much by people I know so little about. Then again, I suppose these aren't normal circumstances. At least I have someone to talk to, now, aside from my schoolmate next door. With the time left before school begins today waning, I begin to get ready for class.
Walking through the door into the classroom, I notice that I'm still somewhat early. I see about five or six students milling around, most of them looking as if they'd rather be still in bed. It's at times like this that I appreciate being a morning person. That said, two students in particular seem just as perky as always.
HISAO: "Hi Shizune, hi Misha."
I suddenly realize that my greeting would be lost on the former, so I quickly follow it up with a wave. She doesn't seem overly bothered. Or interested, for that matter.
MISHA: "Hello, Hicchan~! Are you feeling well?"
I can only assume her greeting comes from Shizune. It's hard to tell if she's speaking as herself or Shizune, sometimes.
HISAO: "Better than most everyone else, I guess. You two seem bright and chipper."
Misha signs this back to Shizune as I say it, eliciting a somewhat terse answer, if her sharp and rapid arm movements are any indication. Considering that these two made such a big deal out of the festival preparations, I probably should've chosen my words more carefully.
MISHA: "Since you're a new student, we've been cutting you some slack. Please don't expect this kind of task-dodging to be allowed in the future."
Misha looks as if she's about to add her own comment, but quickly goes back to interpreting as Shizune continues, unabated.
MISHA: "While your contribution to class 3-2's stall is appreciated"
Huh. Word sure got around quickly. That, or these two have their fingers on the pulse of the school.
MISHA: "we would prefer your efforts to be focused on the task at hand. Namely, your own class."
As much as I hate to admit it, they do have a point. Before I can respond, though, Shizune adds something more, which draws a smile from Misha.
MISHA: "Did you enjoy the festival, then~?"
Lecture over, I guess.
HISAO: "Yeah, it was good. Did you two enjoy it?"
Shizune gives a short nod as Misha grins and bounces her head up and down. The contrast, side-by-side, is amusing. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice more students starting to trickle into the classroom. A quick glance at my watch confirms that they're a few minutes late.
I look over to Hanako's seat and realize that she's already there, and contentedly reading a book. It makes me wonder just how long she's been there without me noticing. With heavy footsteps coming up the hallway signaling Mutou's arrival, our idle talking comes to an end and I take my seat next to Misha. As the door slides open, he strides through with a ponderous gait. His posture is even worse than usual, and his eyes are barely staying open. I guess my quip to Lilly and Hanako about the staff was misplaced. Everyone opens their books as he reaches his desk, and the first class of the new week begins.
I rub my eyes as the lunch bell rings out, glad for the temporary reprieve from work. I'm entirely unsurprised when I look over to the door and see Lilly standing there, cane in hand, patiently waiting for Hanako. Considering her acceptance of my request to join them yesterday, I decide to spend my lunchtime with them rather than eat alone. Hanako moves surprisingly fast to meet her companion, and the two enter the hallway before I can catch up. Lilly's head turns slightly, registering the sound of footsteps behind her.
As Hanako notices and follows her lead, she almost jumps in surprise.
HANAKO: "Hi... Hisao?
Katawa Shoujo OST - School Days
HANAKO: "I mean... um... hello, Hisao..."
HISAO: "Hi. Sorry if I startled you."
Lilly turns to greet me, helped in her orientation by Hanako.
LILLY: "Good afternoon, Hisao. Are you joining us?"
HISAO: "If it's no trouble. There's not much else to do, really."
Lilly gives a small nod, as if to silently brush away any idea that it would be troubling in the least. We descend one set of stairs and walk down the hallway to the usual room, our pace somewhat quicker than usual thanks to Lilly using Hanako for direction, rather than her cane and the railings. As expected, it's deserted. The sounds of the other clubs can only barely be heard as sunlight streams into the room from outside. Looking around the room, I notice a couple of empty easels propped up against a wall that I don't think were there before. The art club must use this room as extra storage.
HANAKO: "Should I get the chess set out?"
Hanako's voice seems less tense when she's directly addressing Lilly.
LILLY: "Yes. I'll make tea while you sort the pieces."
HISAO: "Ah, I can do that for you, if you'd like."
She ponders the offer for a moment before smiling, confirming that I've made the right choice. Her face is remarkably easy to read.
LILLY: "Very well. Thank you."
She slides her retracted cane into the handle of her bag and sets it against one of the table legs, before taking a seat opposite Hanako. As I prepare tea for the three of us, I can hear the small wooden pieces being set on the board. I wonder how good Lilly is at chess, given her circumstances. By the time I place the steaming teacups onto the table, Lilly and Hanako have already moved their first pieces as they nibble on sandwiches and rice balls from their respective bags.
I note that the chessboard they're using has holes in the middle of each square and pegs on the bottom of the pieces, and has each dark square slightly raised. Watching Lilly's fingers skating over the board, tracing out the positions of the pieces, makes me marvel a little at the simple ingenuity of the design. It must be specifically made for blind players.
HISAO: "Here you go."
Hanako gives a small nod as I put down the cup next to her side of the board. Lilly's hand ventures sideways slightly, so I gently place the cup touching the tips of her fingers; a gesture she seems to appreciate. I finally take a seat and silently sip my tea as the two play.
The contrast in their appearances while playing is interesting to watch. Hanako looks closely at the board, her face one of focused concentration. Lilly, on the other hand, keeps her head level and maintains her calm neutrality. Lilly's gentle voice addresses both of us as she continues to play.
LILLY: "How was class, now that the festival's over?"
I look to Hanako to see whether she'll answer first, but see that she's doing the same.
HISAO: "Not... great. Half the class seemed to be dozing off, even including the teacher. Not to mention a test on top of all that."
Hanako quietly adds her own agreement with this.
LILLY: "I could imagine that being a bit difficult for you, being a transfer student."
HISAO: "Well, I think I did fine. Other than the shock of a test coming so early, science is probably my best subject. How'd you do, Hanako?"
HANAKO: "Me? Ah... okay... I guess..."
Hanako's too sincere to be able to pull off lying very well. That much is obvious. Lilly's smile slips very slightly. From her reaction, Hanako mustn't be skilled enough at academics to do very well without preparation.
HISAO: "How did your class handle it, Lilly?"
LILLY: "It went surprisingly well, actually. Only one student was absent, which was better than what the teacher expected."
With the topic all but run dry, the two concentrate on their chess game once again. I can't say I've ever liked the idea of chess as a spectator sport, but given its unique nature, for once I'm rapt in watching the game unfold. As time wears on, both of them demonstrate decent skill at playing the game. Having captured two more pawns than Hanako, Lilly has the upper hand, but only slightly.
...until Hanako makes a strange move with her queen. Seizing upon this lapse in judgment, Lilly takes the piece with her knight. Without hesitation, Hanako moves a pawn to take Lilly's rook on the opposite side of the board, and promotes it to queen. Lilly's face falters as her fingers move over the pieces and she realizes that she just fell to Hanako's trap. It's a little distracting to have the board traced out after each move, even if it's out of necessity. Judging by Hanako's lack of reaction, she must be used to this. She and Lilly must have played at least a few games of chess against each other, after all.
HISAO: "That's not bad at all. Nice, Hanako."
The compliment causes her to flower into a surprised blush.
HANAKO: "Th-thank you. I didn't... think it would work."
I look over to Lilly, her fingers having just finished tracing out the position of her remaining pieces in an attempt to extricate her king from this bind.
LILLY: "I think this is checkmate..."
I take another look at the board to confirm. Sure enough, her king has nowhere to escape without being threatened by another piece. My earlier question as to which of them is better at this has just been answered.
HISAO: "So it is."
Lilly gives a small sigh as Hanako smiles. From their reactions, this seems like a fairly usual result.
HISAO: "How long have you two been playing?"
HANAKO: "Since... I was young."
Lilly nods at Hanako's brief answer.
LILLY: "Hanako taught me how to play soon after I met her. I can beat her every now and then... but that's a rarity. I don't seem to have the right mindset for it."
If Lilly came to Yamaku at the start of high school, and met Hanako when she moved to the dorms, that'd mean she's only been playing for about one year. After seeing Hanako's level of play, I'm not too surprised Lilly has trouble beating her.
HANAKO: "But... she's better at languages than I am, so..."
Lilly gives an appreciative, if slightly amused, smile at Hanako's quick reversal of her compliment.
LILLY: "Well, that's how it is."
Much to everyone's surprise, the bell suddenly rings, heralding an end to the lunch break.
LILLY: "Hmm, that game lasted longer than I thought it did."
HISAO: "Same. I guess we'd better get back to class."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Daylight
Hanako's already in the middle of packing up, so I take Lilly's bag and offer it to her. To my surprise, she takes it and nods, but then places it back down on the table.
LILLY: "Hisao, may I make a request?"
HISAO: "Sure, go ahead."
LILLY: "Would you mind if I were to quickly feel your face?"
HISAO: "Oh, uh... no, go ahead. I don't mind."
The question takes me severely off guard, but once I regain my composure it seems sensible enough. So far Lilly's had no idea what I actually look like, and this would be her only way to find out.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Daylight (Muffled)
Lilly raises her right hand, which I take in mine and guide to my face before letting go. The room is entirely silent as Lilly's hand moves over and around my features, from my chin, to my cheeks, to everywhere else. I expected this to feel a lot more disquieting than it does. I suppose that's because the action is entirely a matter of practicality, being functionally no different to simply looking at someone's face. Her hand is soft, but what takes me by surprise is the length of her fingers, not to mention how sure even the slightest of her movements are. I have no doubt that her level of tactile feeling would be far beyond mine. Her hand briefly runs once through my hair before retreating. I'm sure that every inch of my face has been committed to her memory. It's only now, too, that I realize Hanako has been silently watching the entire time.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Daylight
LILLY: "Thank you for letting me do that, Hisao. And if I might add, I think you are quite handsome."
I blush a little at her remark, before raising a questioning eyebrow.
HISAO: "But if you can't see, how..."
LILLY: "Just because I can't see, that doesn't mean I don't have my own preferences."
HANAKO: "Um, we'd better go now..."
HISAO: "Yeah, that's a good point. I guess we'll see you later then, Lilly."
Walking through the hallways back to our classrooms, I notice that Hanako seems quieter than before, but also more comfortable. Lilly, her hand on Hanako's shoulder, seems to pick up on her assured pace as well, smiling as they walk. If I could spend the rest of my time at Yamaku like this, I don't think it'd be so bad. All that's needed for joy are small exchanges of happiness, after all.
(Faint Roaring Noise)
As I reach my desk and set my bag beside it, I realize something. Or rather, my stomach does. I was so busy with those two, I forgot to buy lunch...
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
Saturday. My second most favorite day of the week. This is almost entirely due to the fact that it is the day with the second least amount of school, with class ending at the beginning of lunch. I open my door confidently, myself being more than confident of being able to get enjoyment out of the fine weather and shorter class length. I confidently stride down the hallway and down the stairs to the lobby of the male dorms. I confidently look behind me to see whose footsteps are approaching.
I... lose my confidence in this day being enjoyable.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Out of the Loop
KENJI: "Hey man. Sup?"
HISAO: "Not much I guess, just looking forward to the afternoon. You?"
He wraps an arm around my slumped shoulders far too comfortably. Something's up.
KENJI: "Let's step outside, shall we?"
HISAO: "I was just about to, before you stopped me."
He doesn't take my reaction to his theatrics well. Ignoring him, I walk outside and start down the steps. It doesn't take too long for him to catch up with me again. I wonder if he wants money, or to rant about another conspiracy. Maybe both.
KENJI: "I've got a bone to pick with you."
HISAO: "Uh huh."
KENJI: "It's about that blonde. You know who I'm talking about."
Conspiracy it is. For a moment I contemplate feigning ignorance, but realize this will go quicker if I just let him get it all out.
HISAO: "Lilly? The one from your class?"
KENJI: "You're on first name terms with her?!"
He looks positively shocked at this development. Did he not expect me to be able to answer? He gathers himself and coughs into his fist. Dramatically, like everything he does.
KENJI: "Well, never mind that. I'm here to warn you. You know. Man to man."
HISAO: "Warn me about what? Lilly?"
KENJI: "Yeah. You don't know her, man."
It's mostly true. I've only known her and Hanako for less than two weeks, and even then we've just been exchanging banal chatter about school as we while away lunch.
HISAO: "I'm pretty sure you don't either."
KENJI: "That's not the point. You're the one spending inordinate amounts of time with her."
It distresses me that someone like Kenji, who's probably as far out of the loop as one could possibly get, knows about such a trivial fact as who I choose to befriend. Then again... I am a transfer student, and she's not only the representative of their class, but also a tall blonde. Maybe I should appreciate this ranting as a warning that the rumor mill exists in this school, and that I'm firmly within it.
HISAO: "It's just lunch. Nothing special."
KENJI: "Look, man, under the bridge. See this bridge? You're under it. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to get intel. I just want to make sure you don't end up too far under the bridge."
HISAO: "You're losing me, Kenji."
KENJI: "That's okay, lots of people get lost. That's why I'm here to help. Just be careful around her, okay? She looks all harmless on the outside, but I've heard shit. Bad shit. You know the Student Council, right?"
He seems to involuntarily shudder as he says the words. Putting him and Shizune together in a room is an amusing mental exercise. I wonder if they've met.
HISAO: "Yeah, Shizune and Misha are in my class. I seem to have dodged the draft, though."
KENJI: "Good man. Good man. But this blonde? She was there. In the Student Council. Right. Damn. There."
HISAO: "I see. And?"
KENJI: "And she's not there now."
KENJI: "Seriously, think about it. Something must have gone down."
I stop walking for a moment, giving the idea more thought than I probably should. It would explain that fight the two had, at least in part. Wait, no, not really. Even leaving the Student Council would need a catalyst.
In the end, it doesn't explain much at all. Other than the fact that their feud goes back some ways.
HISAO: "I guess you have a point. I'm not seeing how that really affects me, though."
KENJI: "Okay, now field this one. Lilly's foreign, obviously."
KENJI: "Now, what nationality is she?"
I open my mouth to give the answer, but realize that I have none. In fact, I've given the matter very little thought. Given that she has no accent and acts perfectly Japanese, I suppose it never really seemed important. Now that he mentions it though, I am rather curious.
HISAO: "To be honest, I don't know. Maybe English? They like tea."
I probably shouldn't resort to stereotypes, but that's the only lead I have.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Out of the Loop
KENJI: "You're not thinking. Luckily, you have me here to think for you."
HISAO: "Gee, thanks."
He brushes off the quip effortlessly.
KENJI: "Now answer me this: who has lots of social power, is filthy stinking rich - you know blondes are all rich, right? - has a long history of disputes and used to belong to a much larger organization?"
HISAO: "The Roman Catholic Church?"
KENJI: "...Well okay, there's that. But there's also the Mafia. Come on. Rich, foreign, there's no way she doesn't have connections to them."
I have reason to doubt the logic of his deductions, but he shows no sign of stopping.
KENJI: "So do you know where I think she's from?"
KENJI: "Mainland Italy's small-time, dude. She has to be from Sicily. All those mafioso types come from there. Wait, no, Russia. Damn, this could be bad. The Mafia there is serious business, man; Ex-KGB everywhere, paramilitaries, hardcore smuggling, and"
HISAO: "Wait, wait, stop, just slow down a sec. What point are you trying to get at here?"
KENJI: "You don't know what she'll do, man. I won't get in your way - agents don't operate like that - but I just want you to be careful. When the time comes, we'll need all the help we can get. I don't want to lose you, comrade."
Well, at least he's concerned for me. Kinda. I wave goodbye to him as we separate out to our respective classes, but I'm not sure that he sees the gesture.
(Silence, Crowd Sounds)
Piling my books into my bag, I catch a glimpse of the library books I'd borrowed last week. I might as well return them, considering they took all of two days to finish. I briefly consider inviting Hanako along to the library, but she's already gone. It'll probably be better for my studying if I'm alone anyway. With a quick stretch and a wave to a couple of classmates who give the same to me, I make my way out of the classroom.
(Silence, Crowd Sounds Stop)
As I open my bag and shove the books through the returns slot in the front counter, I notice a strange person behind the desk. Old and graying, she must be Yuuko's replacement when she's working at the café. I begin looking for a free table, a task made somewhat difficult considering that, despite there not being many students in here, they're all sitting at their own tables. Noticing a familiar head of hair, I walk over to one near the Braille section.
It's hard to tell whether Lilly's concentrating hard or not, her placid expression holding perfectly still as her finger slides across the dot-filled pages of her book.
HISAO: "Hi. Mind if I sit here?"
LILLY: "Hmm? Oh, no problem at all..."
She trails off, evidently still focused on her business at hand.
LILLY: "Ah, Hisao."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Concord (Lillys Theme)
She gives a nod of greeting as I sit opposite her at the table, pluck a chemistry textbook out of my bag and quickly thumb to the chapter we're covering in class. For a while, we sit there and read, each in our own way. Seeing her reminds me of what Kenji said this morning, though. That and the fact that I've never seen someone read in Braille before makes me keep throwing glances at her. I kind of feel guilty about it, given that she has no way to realize I'm doing so, so I decide to just ask her about it. Her lineage isn't exactly a state secret, after all, and there is another thing I've only just noticed from her movements.
HISAO: "Hey Lilly, mind if I ask a question?"
LILLY: "Not at all. Is anything wrong?"
HISAO: "I was just wondering... you're at least part foreign, right?"
She gives a small giggle before setting down her book.
LILLY: "I've always been amused at how squeamish people are about that. Akira's mentioned how much she and I look different from most others before. The details are a bit complicated, but I'm half Japanese, half Scottish."
Scottish? That was not exactly my first guess. It takes some effort to not blurt it out loud. I try to conjure images of the place in my mind. I think as far as the UK goes, Scotland isn't bad to live in... but I'm not really sure. My first guess of England was surprisingly close, at least geographically. That does leave another question though.
HISAO: "But you have no accent...?"
LILLY: "That's where the details begin. I was born and raised in Japan, despite my mother being foreign."
HISAO: "Ah, I get it."
Hold on, if she moved to the dorms simply due to Akira working longer hours...
HISAO: "So they don't live near the school?"
She gives a small sigh, as if she didn't expect me to go any deeper. Was her previous frankness just a front?
LILLY: "Not... exactly. It's been a long time since we've actually met."
I feel like I'm not getting the whole story, but I don't really want to go unduly prying into her situation. Her about-face shows she feels kind of awkward about it.
HISAO: "So... do you speak much English? To be honest I don't know that much about Scotland, but at least I know that's the main language there."
It takes her a moment to collect herself, appreciating the change in topic.
LILLY: "That's right. My family mostly used Japanese around the house when I was young, but they made sure Akira and I knew our Scottish side just as well. I'm fluent in the language, but I'm also studying it in school. To keep my skills up and to have the qualifications on paper, mainly."
HISAO: "So you're bilingual? That's pretty impressive."
LILLY: "I wouldn't go that far. Having parents who can speak the language is a large advantage, and English books in Braille aren't too hard to buy or import. With Yuuko's help, at least. There's a relatively high demand for local English teachers here anyway, which also helps give me some motivation to learn it well."
Demand for English teachers? For a moment, I wonder why she brought this up.
HISAO: "You're planning to be an English teacher?"
She gives an enthusiastic nod. It must be nice, having such a definite future in mind. I've never really given much thought to mine, so I'm kind of envious.
LILLY: "What's wrong?"
HISAO: "It's just... I could see you as a teacher pretty easily. It suits you."
For a moment, she's speechless. She lowers her face a little and lets out a nervous giggle, something I've never seen her do before. With Lilly's role as a class representative and her dependable nature, teaching does seem to be a line of work fitting her personality.
HISAO: "Sorry, that was probably a little much. It is true, though."
Waving her hand in front of her face dismissively, she quickly recovers.
LILLY: "It's not that, it's just that... only one person's ever said that to me before."
A short, somewhat awkward silence follows the discussion. Without knowing it, I ended up steering into a troublesome topic again. I should try to cheer her up a little. It was me who went and got her brooding, after all.
HISAO: "Want to go grab lunch at the cafeteria after this?"
It might perk her up a bit, or at least take her mind off her apparently complicated family situation. Going by her smile, it seems to have the intended effect.
LILLY: "I appreciate the thought, but the food there..."
Quite a quick redirection of the conversation. She does have a point though - the food there isn't the greatest.
HISAO: "Maybe the Shanghai? We could ask Hanako if she wants to come as well."
HISAO: "What is it?"
LILLY: "I almost forgot, until you reminded me. Hanako's birthday is coming up soon, and I was going to go shopping in the city for a present tomorrow."
HISAO: "If that's an invitation, I'd be happy to accompany you."
The ability to get more used to the layout of the city would probably be a good thing. I have barely set foot in there, so I'd be hopelessly lost by myself. She gives a nod, signaling that she happily approves of this plan for Sunday. We eventually get back to our books, though before I begin reading again I steal one last glance at her. Maybe I've been thinking on my situation too much. After all, everybody here would have their own unique circumstances. The chance to get outside and clear my head will probably do me good.