Part 131: Slow Steps Fore a Waltz118: Slow Steps Fore a Waltz (Act 4, Scenes 1-2)
Katawa Shoujo OST - School Days
After the excitement of our trip to Hokkaido, it seems strange to be right back to the usual daily routine so soon. Indeed, it feels like a normal day, the same as any other. Well, that's what I'd like to think, anyway. To tell the truth, the atmosphere of the entire class, no, the entire school has changed. While an undercurrent of subdued trepidation had previously pervaded the class, now that the exams are in sight it's boiled over into frantic studying rarely seen otherwise.
One day until exams start. It's horrific, really, that instead of studying we went and wasted our time up north. We were such model students, too.
Glancing around the class, even the bubbly, ever-energetic Misha seems oddly deflated. She sits at her desk, nervously chewing a pen while Mutou lectures from the front of the class. Wait... on closer inspection, I do believe she's eating it. Tearing my eyes from the sorry spectacle, I turn my attention elsewhere. Hanako sits frantically scribbling in her notebook, her face mere inches away from the page, seemingly trying to record every word that leaves Mutou's mouth. Shizune's, well... Shizune. Cool as a cucumber, she sits diligently taking notes with her attention wholly focused on the front of the class. Truth be told, it's what I should be doing as well, if not for the fact that I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what's being covered already.
I wonder how Lilly's doing. While she does have a good head on her, she has plenty on her plate, unlike me. Her class representative duties, taking care of Hanako, her other social contacts, her extra English studies... that girl really does take on a lot.
The lunchtime bell brings a sigh of relief from the entire class, Mutou being no exception. I get the feeling he much prefers the more laid-back atmosphere of his normal classes to the frantic pace of exam preparation we're subjected to right now.
MISHA: "Help me~..."
I lower my eyelids to half-mast, making clear my intention of doing quite the opposite.
MISHA: "Help me, help me, help me~..."
HISAO: "Not going well?"
MISHA: "Shicchan's going to be fine, but I think I might die. Am I going to die, Hicchan? Will you let me die from all this work?"
How maudlin. Given that she's neither the brightest student in the class, nor the most diligent, it isn't a great surprise that she's finding it hard to cope with the workload.
HISAO: "Sorry Misha, but I've got my own work to do. I thought you and Shizune would be studying together over the long weekend, anyway?"
MISHA: "Studying's too boring to waste a holiday on, Hicchan! Shopping together was much more fun, wasn't it, Shicchan?"
It's only now that I realize Shizune's been looking over to us, and that Misha's arms have been moving likely all this time. I must be really zoned out to not have noticed.
HISAO: "What is it with girls and shopping, anyway? Even Lilly and Hanako have dragged me out with them a couple of times."
MISHA: "But you went anyway? It's so rare to see a guy that likes going shopping~..."
HISAO: "Well, my role would probably be best described as pack mule. I can't say I share your enthusiasm about the experience. Back to the exams; you studied after you got back from the days off, didn't you, Shizune?"
MISHA: "Of course, Hicchan. It's only sensible to study in the days before... U~rgh."
Misha makes a sound vaguely similar to a dying cow as she realizes her folly and unceremoniously flops onto her desk, betrayed even by her best friend. Judging from Shizune's quite frustrated look at Misha, she probably told her to study as she did.
HISAO: "Don't worry, you can still gain some marks if you start studying now. Maybe."
Misha does not seem overly amused. It seems the bubbly balloon of everlasting cheerfulness has been cruelly popped.
Shizune's signing goes unnoticed by the moping Misha, earning her a quick poke in the shoulder. It takes barely a moment for Misha to get back into form.
MISHA: "Oh, ah, so what did you do over the weekend, Hicchan?"
HISAO: "Just took a trip up north with Lilly and Hanako. It was pretty nice."
I see both of them narrowing their eyes at me, their minds surely in the gutter. The fact that their suspicions are founded makes the situation all the more awkward.
HISAO: "We just studied and went sightseeing; there's nothing more to it."
After such a flagrant lie, I realize that it may not have been the best step, considering Shizune's connections and her total lack of restraint when it comes to questioning someone she suspects of telling untruths. I really have no idea of how she's going to take it, but she'll find out eventually anyway. It isn't as if it's really her business whom I date, in any case.
HISAO: "And yes, Lilly and I are going out now."
While Misha receives the news with an enthusiastic smile, Shizune gives a look of mild surprise somewhat masked by her cool demeanor.
MISHA: "Whoever you date is your business. I hope you two go well together."
Misha gives a look that says this is the most quarter I could possibly receive on the matter. It's all I wanted, really. After she says this, though, Shizune begins to sign something else, then stops herself and shakes her head at Misha to prevent her from translating. Normally I'd think this strange enough, but the awkwardly casual wave Shizune gives before walking off with Misha in tow adds to my confusion. Shizune's hardly the kind of person to pull a punch or communicate without forethought. I shrug my shoulders at the duo's odd behavior and look towards Hanako's desk, but see that her chair's empty. She was definitely here before, so I guess she just didn't feel like waiting. I'll go grab some food alone, then.
Walking down the hallway to the unused room that's become a second home to three students in particular, I mournfully look down at the plastic-wrapped salad roll and juice box in my hand. The cafeteria's food really is unappetizing. Maybe I'll consider this my penance for my recent indiscretions. Opening the door, I notice one less quiet figure than I'd expected.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Concord (Lillys Theme)
It's strange. Despite having known Lilly for months, I can't help thinking back to the very first time I opened this door and saw her silently sitting in the sunlight. Just as she did then, she slowly opens her eyes, unmoving as they are, and calmly addresses me.
LILLY: "Good morning, Hisao."
HISAO: "It's afternoon, I think. Has Hanako been around? She skittered out of class without me even noticing."
Lilly cradles her cheek thoughtfully as I take a seat, my bag taking its place against the closest leg of the table and my unsatisfying meal neatly set out in front of me.
LILLY: "She did appear... for a time. She said she had to study for the upcoming exams, and left for the library."
We find ourselves not entirely believing her words.
HISAO: "Well, at least her intentions are in the right place."
LILLY: "She is sweet, but she needn't go this far to let us have our space. I might talk to her about it sometime."
HISAO: "Probably for the best."
For a while we quietly eat our meals, Lilly elegantly nibbling on her sandwiches and sipping her tea as I eat what tastes like a garden sandwiched in dry dough. The atmosphere feels slightly strained, neither of us knowing quite what to say to each other now that our small talk has dried up. Eventually we both finish our food, with no conversation forthcoming for quite some time.
Eventually, though, Lilly's soft voice breaks the silence.
LILLY: "A lot happened back there... didn't it?"
Again, silence. With both our minds on the same topic, though, I think I have my feelings on that sorted out.
HISAO: "I know everything happened in kind of a hurry, but... I don't regret anything that happened in Hokkaido. Not one thing."
Slightly tense, I take her hands in mine; half to feel her, half to settle my own nerves.
HISAO: "I stand by my words back there, Lilly. I love you, and I won't leave you. I only wish for you to think the same."
She silently reflects for a long time, which feels like an eternity. Her reverie comes to an end as she takes one hand from mine, placing it over them as she leans her body forwards and stands out of her chair. After a moment's hesitation, her face slightly pensive, her lips meet mine for a brief moment. My mind feels as if it briefly stopped at that moment, barely registering Lilly sitting back in her chair and smiling back at me with ever so slightly reddened cheeks.
LILLY: "Hearing that makes me very happy, Hisao. I would be glad to stay with you."
HISAO: "Maybe it would be good to slow things down a bit, compared to before. We still have school, after all, and our exams."
She gives a mischievous giggle, which proves to be contagious.
LILLY: "That might be a good idea indeed. Do you think you'll fare well in your exams? It's only one day until they arrive, as you say."
HISAO: "I probably should have studied more, but I think I've got a good enough head to manage. That said, I had to bat off Misha and Shizune. Is your class as worried about the exams as mine?"
She lets out an exasperated sigh, all but confirming it. I'm thankful for the atmosphere becoming a bit lighter.
LILLY: "I think so. I've already been asked for help by two of my classmates, and there'll no doubt be more."
HISAO: "Think of it as your first training in being a teacher, maybe?"
LILLY: "That's probably a good way to think of it. On that note, how are you faring in your English studies? I remember it was far from your strongest subject, and the few sentences you memorized to speak to my mother aren't likely to help."
Damn, right on the mark.
HISAO: "You got me. If you don't mind, would you be able to possibly help in that regard? Please?"
LILLY: "It would be my pleasure to help you, Hisao. But in exchange..."
She lowers her eyebrows at me, her coquettish nature tentatively coming to the fore.
HISAO: "No problem at all. You'd probably be better off with some help in your studies, though."
She beams a smile at me, one of girlish victory that nearly makes me blush. I get the feeling she's aware of how to use her face to twist my judgment, so I should probably be more on guard. Here and now though, a study group seems like an expedient way for both of us to shore up our more lacking skills. The school bell rings out, reminding us that time isn't going to stand still.
HISAO: "Huh, lunchtime's over already. It sure is easy to lose track of the time here."
LILLY: "This room's so far from the other clubs and activities, not much sound can reach us. That's probably most of the reason why."
A place far from all the others, alone with just one person whom she loves. As Lilly stands and collects her bag and cane, my thoughts are cast back to the time we spent in Hokkaido.
LILLY: "Ah, before I go; Akira and I are having a homecoming party in my room tomorrow. Will you be able to come?"
and back again.
HISAO: "My schedule is free, so I should be able to make enough room in my study time to make it."
LILLY: "Good to hear, Hisao."
HISAO: "For what it's worth, I'm glad you're back from Scotland. Once exams are over, we should have some more time to ourselves."
LILLY: "Mm. Holidays start soon after, too."
HISAO: "We can start the holidays with Tanabata then, just as we promised at the school festival."
She brings her hand to her cheek and laughs slightly nervously, recalling the event as I silently thank myself for managing to remember. It seems odd to see her react in such a way, though it's not like I never saw her embarrassed before.
LILLY: "I'd... better be going. Farewell, Hisao."
Whether it's out of habit or just a stubborn desire for one small fragment of normality, I hold my hand up in farewell just as I always do. At least I'm consciously aware that I'm doing it now. I think I'm beginning to see a bigger picture than I ever have before, not only with Lilly but also my life ahead. The chains of my past are finally breaking.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ease
Walking up the now slightly more familiar corridor of the girls' dormitories, I can hear the faint sound of laughter coming from up ahead. It doesn't take long to identify the source as Lilly's room, though the deep timbre of the female voice unmistakably belongs not to her, but to her sister. I rap my knuckles on the door with the usual three light taps, my hand barely retreating as the door swings open.
AKIRA: "Hey, Hisao."
HISAO: "Hey. Hello Lilly, Hanako."
Hanako looks up tentatively, her hands buried in her oversized pink nightgown. From her side, Lilly turns sideways towards the direction of my voice and smiles. It would be a flagrant lie to say I dislike the sight of her in those pajamas. I catch Akira giving me a sidelong look with a knowing grin, to which I reply with a sharp glare. She takes the hint, shrugs and walks back to the low table in the center of the room. As I go to join her, Lilly gives me a nod of greeting and starts pouring me a cup of tea.
HISAO: "It's nice to see you again, Hanako. You've been getting around recently."
Lilly wears a look of concentration as the light brown liquid, carefully measured by her finger as always, flows from the teapot into the cup.
LILLY: "It seems Hanako has taken up helping one of the people in your class with the newspaper club. Naomi, I think?"
Hanako gives an affirmative nod. Even after spending about two months in the class, I still have trouble remembering the names of those students I rarely talk with. It takes me a few mental contortions to connect the name with a face, but I eventually remember the girl that sits beside Hanako at the back of the class. Naomi Inoue. A fairly average-looking girl, except for her bleached blonde hair. Given her upbeat and straightforward personality, Naomi may have seen an opening to poach Hanako for her club when she enquired about joining one. Either way, it's nice to see Hanako broadening her horizons. When I first met her, the idea of her joining a club with anyone but Lilly would have seemed utterly laughable.
HISAO: "That'd explain how busy you've been. Enjoying it?"
HANAKO: "Mm. It's... really interesting."
As always, Hanako's far from being talkative. Some things never change, and it seems that Hanako's personality is one of them; she'll likely always be one to shy away from being overly social.
Warned by the sound of crockery against the table as Lilly gently places my drink in front on me, I thank her and take a long sip. Hanako and Lilly are attending to their own, and Akira is quaffing a mug of strong-smelling black coffee.
AKIRA: "You're a lucky bastard, Hisao."
I can't help grimacing at her teasing smile, still visible around the edges of the mug pressed to her lips.
AKIRA: "Seeing my sister in her pajamas, there's a lotta men out there who'd like to be where you are."
I've seen a lot more than that of her, not that I'd admit it.
AKIRA: "Hey, I'm just teasing."
She leans over to me as much as she can, whispering with a sly grin written on her face.
AKIRA: "And Hanako, too. You perv."
HISAO: "Hey, it was her idea."
HANAKO: "Um, I... uh..."
We both look over to her, her face turned to the ground and her hands fidgeting in the lap of her nightgown.
HANAKO: "If... it's Hisao... I don't mind..."
Ah, this could be bad. I know Hanako's altogether too innocent to bother reading too much into such a thing, but the expression Akira directs at me is positively stormy.
LILLY: "Um... Akira... please..."
It seems Lilly can sense Akira's sudden change in aura just as well as I, even without seeing it for herself. Akira slowly looks away from me, like an attack dog leashed by its owner in the nick of time. I breathe a sigh of relief. I can't think of a more appropriate time to try and change topics than around now.
HISAO: "If you don't mind me asking, Akira, what do you do for a living? I've never seen you out of that suit."
AKIRA: "Thinking about what to do with yourself after school's over, eh? I'm a lawyer. For the most part, I work in the legal department of the Japanese branch of our family's company. The most boring possible answer, I suppose. Law's a pretty dry topic to most people."
AKIRA: "Oi, you're not supposed to agree."
Lilly gives an amused giggle while holding her teacup and saucer, Hanako quickly joining her. This friendly atmosphere between everyone is something I'd missed while Lilly and Akira were on their trip. While the dealings I had with Hanako didn't help, I think just not having Lilly around changed the mood.
LILLY: "It's nice to be back. I missed you, Hisao, and you too, Hanako."
HISAO: "Same goes for the both of us. I'm guessing your classmates were happy to see you back."
LILLY: "In a manner of speaking, yes."
Akira's amused snort shows she's well aware of Lilly's attitude towards such figures of speech. I imagine she'd have to be, given how long they've been together.
HANAKO: "Did you have fun in Scotland?"
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ease (Muffled)
For a moment I wonder why she's asking, it having been quite a while since they came back, but then I remember everything that happened. We've simply not had time to look back, what with the exams and our Hokkaido trip. Lilly's face goes distant for a moment, and the fact that Akira's first reaction is to look over to her sister doesn't escape me. Nonetheless, she quickly collects herself.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ease
LILLY: "It was... nice. I... we... hadn't met our family in such a long time, so it was a wonderful reunion."
AKIRA: "Yeah, I guess that's right. Their house being beachside was the best part, though."
From her dismissive tone, I get the feeling Akira doesn't like their family as much as Lilly does.
LILLY: "You only liked that because you finally had time to play around."
AKIRA: "Just 'cause I'm the better swimmer..."
LILLY: "I don't take after the athletic side of the family, that's all."
AKIRA: "Well, you can take heart in the fact that you got the height genes at least. And the bust genes..."
LILLY: "That's not really the right kind of thing to say around others..."
Though Lilly pretends to scold Akira, she does so with an unmistakable, slightly cheeky grin on her face.
I doubt Akira really minds that, judging from her nonchalant expression. While I don't either, Hanako's looking down and blushing furiously beside me. The sisters' antics aside, their parents really do lead a bourgeois lifestyle. It seems utterly divorced from the life that Lilly and Akira have lived until now. I suppose practicality must have made the decision for them. To have come from such a wealthy and well-connected lineage only adds to the almost noble air Lilly seems to have, though. It's a small wonder none of it seems to have rubbed off onto Akira. They really are as little alike as siblings could be. Their only similarity seems to be their shared confidence, which can be both endearing and a headache at times.
Most of the night continues much the same, with Hanako eventually leaving the Satou sisters and I to ourselves as she heads back to her dorm room for a rest. For a while, only the barely audible sound from Lilly's teacup and saucer can occasionally be heard as she slowly drinks. The silence is strained as Lilly and I wait for the elephant in the room to be addressed.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
Lilly dutifully puts her cup down, giving her sister her undivided attention. With Lilly and I on one side of the low table and Akira at the other, this almost feels like a judge passing down a verdict.
AKIRA: "I hear that you two are going out now?"
I glance sideways at Lilly to confirm her as the source of Akira's knowledge. She gives a gentle nod to Akira, which I mirror in affirmation. Deciding that this is the proper time and place to do so, and Akira being the closest figure to a parent Lilly's had for much of her life, I bow deeply with my hands on the floor before me and my head very nearly the same.
HISAO: "I'll take good care of your sister, Akira. I promise you."
LILLY: "See? He's a lovely young gentleman."
She must've heard my voice coming from a lower position than usual. I slowly bring myself back up, my eyes tentatively looking to Akira from under my brow. To tell the truth, I very much doubt my suited judge will raise any objections. She's very definitely the type to make her disapproval with others well known, something that lends her a measure of respect in my eyes.
AKIRA: "The old-fashioned kind, huh? Well, he's the kind of person I guessed you'd go for. I don't have a problem with it, and I wish you two the best. Even if I didn't like it, I couldn't really do anything anyway."
I offer a nod of appreciation to her as Lilly gives a small sigh of relief, likely more out of duty than any actual belief Akira might have had any problems with us being together.
AKIRA: "I do wonder though... how's the rest of the family taking it, particularly the part residing at Yamaku? Have you told her?"
Smiles turn to grimaces as Akira grins downright evilly. Those closest know how to twist the knife best, after all.
LILLY: "Putting up with it may be the best term for the situation. Don't you agree, Hisao?"
HISAO: "Yeah, that sounds about right. At least she's being reasonable about it."
AKIRA: "Good to hear. That girl can be a handful at the best of times. We sent a few messages back and forth during and just after the trip, and she was already busting my chops for seeing my boyfriend when we came back, after leaving Hideaki for so long. She really does care for the little guy."
I cast my mind back to Shizune's odd reaction after telling her about our relationship, but decide not to bring it up. It's no doubt simply born of their mutual antipathy, and Akira's comments only back that up.
AKIRA: "Well then, that's settled. Gotta get to work early tomorrow, so I'd better be off."
She rises from the table with a grunt, her hand on her knee to push herself up. I just notice Akira's eyes lingering on Lilly for a couple of seconds before turning away, as she begins to take her leave. After she walks out the door, she stops and looks up thoughtfully before turning to us one last time.
AKIRA: "Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you. Use protection. Every time."
I gag violently on the tea in my mouth. Contrary to my own, Lilly's composure holds perfectly as she seems entirely unfazed. I'm kind of impressed.
LILLY: "We are, don't worry."
AKIRA: "'Atta girl. Seeyas."
And with that she turns and strides out of the door, a hand held high as she disappears into the darkened hallway, closing the door behind her. The most reaction I can muster is flopping forwards onto the table, completely drained of energy and truly exhausted by her. Lilly's ability to hold her own against that suited devil is something I admire.
HISAO: "She really is incredibly blunt. I don't think I'll ever be able to keep up with your sister's energy."
As I feel Lilly's soft hand come to rest on my own, I roll my head to the side to see her gently smiling. For a long time, we simply sit beside each other silently. Given her unquestionably unusual height, she is pretty much exactly as tall as I am; probably a couple of centimeters higher if anything. Like this, she appears even taller. The feeling of her pale, soft hand against mine is a pleasant one, as is the sight of the thin silken pajamas she wears, showing her curves and collarbone.
LILLY: "You do get on well though, even if you do say that."
HISAO: "I guess. You know, you two are a lot more alike than I first thought when I met you."
LILLY: "Then it's a good thing I quickly stopped you from going after her, isn't it?"
Though she jokes about it, my assessment of my inability to keep up with Akira, either physically or mentally, was quite in earnest. Lilly's slow-paced and ladylike, almost motherly, nature is perhaps the single thing that helped me most in my first weeks at Yamaku. Come to think of it...
HISAO: "Wait... since when were we using protection?"
"As I give a curious look to my side, Lilly's cheeks puff out as she huffs at me.
LILLY: "Unlike you, I remembered. The packet is in the cupboard next to the sink."
So, I'm not the only one of us that takes a pill. In hindsight, I feel rather thoughtless for not remembering at all and leaving it to Lilly. Looking over to the cupboard she mentions, I notice again the knee-high piles of books around us that were here the other times I'd visited. For the most part, they're lined up against the wall to give a little more room around the table.
HISAO: "Why don't you get a bookshelf for your books? It's odd to see books just piled around, especially given that your room looks so neat and orderly otherwise."
LILLY: "They're easier to find this way; I know exactly which pile each book is in."
HISAO: "Wouldn't you still know that after putting each set on a different shelf?"
LILLY: "That may be, but..."
So she's not immune to bouts of laziness after all.
HISAO: "You have so many of them, it's kind of a shame we can't share our book sets despite both of us reading so much."
She gives a short giggle.
HISAO: "Come to think of it, why do you order your books through Yuuko? I imagine there'd be plenty of sites that you could order books in Braille from, especially in English Braille. There are a lot of text-to-speech programs, too."
She turns her head slightly away from me, which strikes me as somewhat surprising.
LILLY: "I'm just... not all that good with computers. I'm all right with typewriters and braillers... but that's about it."
Her tone almost makes me chuckle. She's a prideful person, so admitting something like that must be difficult. So, Lilly's the low-tech kind of person. Given her old-fashioned personality, it's not really a stunning surprise.
HISAO: "I wouldn't worry about it. A lot of people aren't really that good with them, so it's not that unusual."
LILLY: "That unusual..."
Now she's even more depressed. It feels like I'm twisting the knife, rather than healing her wounds. With a bit of squirming I shuffle my way closer to her, tentatively putting one hand around her waist to hug her. I'm still not really used to this kind of physical affection, but Lilly seems to like it.
Lilly smiles as she turns to face me, a kiss being the reward for giving in to her. She draws me in, brushing my upper lip with hers before pressing against both. This way, every one of my senses is filled with her. The barely perceptible scent of her hair, her taste as her tongue fleetingly touches mine, the tenderness of her lips, the image of her filling my mind, the total silence apart from her faint breath... We may have kissed before, but even if this is more a kiss of simple affection than anything, it's still a new and pleasant sensation. Judging from her vivid blush as she pulls back, it's obvious she feels the same as I do; even if we're entirely alone, it still feels a little embarrassing to open up to each other this much.
LILLY: "If we take everything day by day, I think that would be for the best. Small steps, right?"
HISAO: "Yeah. Just small steps."
We have plenty of time to be together, even after the school year is over. As long as we move together, I think everything will work out okay; neither of us is going anywhere soon, after all. For now, I'm just thankful for this small moment in time we can spend together.