Part 35: Debate Expresses DoubtUpdate 31: Debate Expresses Doubt
Katawa Shoujo OST - Nocturne
The morning comes too soon, on the heels of a sleepless night. Is this how Emi's been spending her nights? Staring at the wall, or ceiling. Trying to stop thinking about whatever it is. Her, in my case. That clenched feeling in my gut is still there. I can't rely on you. Words spoken so casually. Almost like she were teasing me, or chastising me for suggesting that the Earth is flat. That's how it's got to be.
The way it's got to be sucks.
I'm feeling so miserable that I very nearly decide to skip the run. That would be stupid, though. It's not something I should do just to see her. Sure, that was the original reason, but it's something more now. I've started to enjoy the running itself. There are worse ways to get the blood flowing, anyway. Never thought I'd say it after that first week or so, but I feel a lot better after a run, like no matter what else I do today, I've at least done that one thing. It wakes me up, too, and Emi herself said that running always clears her mind. Maybe it'll help clear mine.
I hope so.
The morning is cool and clear, if a bit humid. Summer's making itself known, it seems. Emi's already stretching out when I arrive, and greets me with a smile and a wave.
EMI: "Hey, Hisao!"
The sight of her so chipper is like a kick in the nuts. How can she be so happy after yesterday? I give a half wave and am surprised to receive a hug.
EMI: "Hey, about last night."
Here it comes.
EMI: "I wanted to say thanks. I actually managed to get some sleep for the first time in a while, and I think it's because of our talk. So, thanks."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Caged Heart
How could she sleep better after our chat? She basically told me that she wouldn't get any closer to me. And that let her sleep well? Excuse me, but what the hell? Emi either doesn't notice my bafflement or chooses not to notice. No telling with her any more.
HISAO: "Oh, no problem. Glad it helped."
The venom that threatens to drip into my voice is controlled for now, but I think I'd better start running now, before I do anything stupid. Emi seems equally willing to get started, and before long we're darting around the track. I can tell she feels more relaxed. Her running has gone back to the more graceful movements I remember from when I first watched her. It's a stark contrast to the almost brutal way she's been hurling herself around the track these past few days. Our talk really does seem to have helped her.
A pity it couldn't help me.
I get into the rhythm of the running, thinking back to when I couldn't afford thinking about anything else but keeping my breathing steady and legs moving. Guess those days are gone. At least for the first couple of laps. Annoyed at the lack of success I'm having with clearing my head, I increase the pace.
Ah, there's the burning sensation in my legs. The breaths coming ragged in my chest, the pounding of my heart. Which I still need to be careful about. But it does seem to have gotten stronger; I can feel it pumping blood through my veins. The sound thrums in my ears, but instead of being panicked as I was that day in the snow, I'm instead filled with elation. Yes, it's working! My heart, that fatal flaw that landed me here, has improved. I'm able to keep going now, and maybe one day I'll be able to stop worrying as much.
Right now, it doesn't matter that I have no idea what to do about Emi and I. All that matters is that my arms and legs continue to pump in concert with one another. Nothing else.
As I hit the final stretch, I remind myself that running really does help, though not as much as I'd hoped. I do feel better, and as I walk a few laps to cool down, I begin to remember last night in a slightly less emotional manner. Emi wants me to stay distant from her. I can't bring myself to do so.
There's got to be a way around this, some kind of middle ground I can reach. Not sure what that middle ground is, though. Damn, I was almost feeling optimistic.
EMI: "Nice run, Hisao! You've really improved!"
Nice run. That's all I can hope for now, isn't it? Congratulations, Hisao. You're pathetic. I gotta change my attitude.
HISAO: "Well, you know. I am pretty awesome."
And yet I just keep saying things that I don't mean. Any second now I'll be as good at hiding my problems as Emi is.
EMI: "I like to think so."
Why does she do this to me? Say something like that with such real affection in her voice that it makes my heart leap? She doesn't mean it. She can't. I must be doing a worse job than I thought, because Emi peers closely at me.
EMI: "Hey, you feeling okay? Maybe we should get to the nurse, huh?"
HISAO: "Yeah, I'd hate to keel over on you."
Emi looks a little shocked at my bitter tone.
EMI: "Don't say things like that! You've already done it once before, you know."
Why does she act so affectionate? She doesn't really care, I thought she made that clear. But despite all of that I find myself apologizing, even though I shouldn't have to. Even though she's probably just putting on an act.
HISAO: "Sorry, heh. Come on, let's see the nurse."
I can't get myself to calm down the whole time. Every time it feels like I've gotten over what happened last night, Emi does something or says something that shows affection, and I'm back to the beginning. The image of her ending that conversation haunts me. It was like the final twist of the knife that left me feeling bereft of any hope that Emi and I could be more than what we are. And what are we at this point? Little more than friends who happen to fuck. And really, it's not like I don't enjoy the time I spend with her. Said so the other day myself. I very nearly didn't even bring anything up with her, was just gonna hop on in there and let it ride, wasn't I?
With this running through my head, I find myself in front of the nurse's office, still brooding as he checks out Emi. Emi comes bounding out of the door, gives me a kiss, and darts off to shower, I assume. Meanwhile, the nurse beckons me into his office to give me the ritual once-over.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Ah Eh I Oh You
NURSE: "Any problems today?"
HISAO: "Nah. I even pushed it a little harder today than I have in the past, and I seemed able to handle it."
NURSE: "That's uncharacteristically risky coming from you, Hisao. You've been hanging out with Emi too much. She's rubbed off on you, and not necessarily in a good way."
At the mention of Emi's name, I can't help but frown unhappily in spite of my efforts at control.
NURSE: "Well, now. This is new, don't you think? Last I checked, your usual response to Emi's name was a grin, not a frown. What exactly happened between you two? Because Emi doesn't seem to be in on it, whatever it is. She looked more relaxed than I've seen her in weeks, which is unusual for this time of the year."
HISAO: "What do you mean by that?"
NURSE: "By what?"
HISAO: "For this time of year. I keep trying to find out what's been bothering her, but she clams up as soon as I broach the subject. Then last night, she said"
NURSE: "Let me guess. She won't tell you, because she says she can't trust you? And now you're crushed, because you thought that the two of you were so much more than she seems to think, right?"
HISAO: "Er, more or less. How the heck did you know?"
NURSE: "Hisao, I'm the nurse. It's my job to know these things. Plus, I've known Emi for long enough to know that she'd try to do something like this; it's just like her."
He says this in the sort of half-affectionate, half-frustrated tone that would seem more appropriate if he had a cigarette dangling from his lips. As it is, he seems willing to make do with a pen.
NURSE: "Look, you mind if I give you some advice?"
>"Sure, why not?"
>"No, this is my problem."
Our confusion is understandable, given that we just got the mother of all mixed signals, but were letting the hurt get to us and its tainting our perspective. We are looking at everything in the worst possible light and we need somebody to pull our head out of our ass and give us some perspective. And who better to perform cephalanalectomy than a medical professional?
>"Sure, why not?"
What was it Mutou said yesterday? If you can't observe the thing, then observe what's around it? Worth a shot. The nurse knows Emi better than I do, I'll wager.
By the way, if you blew off Mutou earlier, you automatically blow the nurse off here too.
HISAO: "Sure, I'm open to suggestions. Honestly, I'm kind of lost. I've got no idea how to deal with this."
NURSE: "I never would have guessed."
He grins while he says this. I think he's kidding.
NURSE: "Look, here's the deal: Emi is... stubborn. You should know that by now, and if you don't then you're pretty unobservant, but I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here."
HISAO: "I'm so grateful."
NURSE: "Anyway, if she's decided that she doesn't want to talk about what happened, then she's not going to talk about what's happened. Has she said anything about what's been bothering her? Even a hint?"
HISAO: "Well, she did say she'd been having nightmares about the accident..."
NURSE: "Really? You're making progress, then. That's good.
NURSE: "Well, I guess I can fill you in on this without violating my strict non-interference policy when it comes to Emi making stupid decisions. The anniversary of her accident is coming up soon. She gets depressed around this time, because it was a pretty traumatic event, considering what she lost.
HISAO: "That's the other thing. She acted like she lost more than just her legs. What happened?"
NURSE: "Whoa! Nope, not going there. You'll have to ask someone else about that, because that's a whole can of worms I'm not about to open. If Emi wants you to know, she'll tell you in her own time. You've just got to be patient, that's all."
Did he just maintain doctor-patient confidentiality
HISAO: "Why are you even helping me with all this?"
NURSE: "Because you're good for her. She trusts you, even if you don't think she does. And you've got the best chance out of anyone at this school right now to help her through this time of year. She won't accept my help, but she might accept yours if you don't screw it up. So don't screw it up, got it?"
I open my mouth to respond but a knocking sound at the door interrupts me.
EMI: "Hey, you guys still in there?"
NURSE: "Just a moment, Emi. Give us a second to get our pants back on."
The door bursts open and Emi glares knives at the nurse.
NURSE: "Didn't mean to get your hopes up."
HISAO: "Hey, can we... leave me out of this? Anyway, what's up, Emi? Forget something?"
I try to take a more cheerful tone with her. No need to upset her. Two can play the everything's fine game.
EMI: "Actually, I forgot to ask you something."
HISAO: "Oh? What's that?"
EMI: "Do you wanna come with me on a trip to my house? My mom's making dinner, and I thought you might want to join us."
NURSE: "Well, of course I accept."
Emi punches the nurse in the arm playfully.
EMI: "Not you, idiot. You were over last week. I was talking to Hisao."
Wait wait wait, youre both in charge of her health on campus AND close enough to her family to come over for dinner? Arent you NOT supposed to get that close to your patients? I thought that sort of thing compromised your ability to make objective decisions in a medical context. I dont even know whats going on anymore
NURSE: "Oh? How interesting! Meeting the parent!"
HISAO: "I'd love to go, Emi. Thanks."
The nurse raises an eyebrow, but says nothing.
EMI: "Great! I'll be in my room, swing by after you shower and change into something clean and we'll grab the bus!"
HISAO: "Sounds good. I'll see you in a bit!"
This time it's me who leans in for a quick kiss before darting off to my room. What an interesting development. Maybe we're getting closer after all. Maybe Emi's finally ready to open up a little. Or maybe she's just being polite, and a free meal seems like a good way to apologize for last night.
Great. Now I can't decide whether to be excited, nervous, or depressed. I settle for a combination of all three and hop in the shower.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
(Silence, Street Noises)
I don't think I like riding on buses. Actually, I think I'm pretty comfortable saying that as a fact. They sway a lot, and they smell funny, and you can feel every bump in the road. I'm really not looking forward to this. Plus Emi's legs keep making a clanking noise that draws the attention of everyone else on the bus. She's in shorts again, and she's got long socks drawn up on her prosthetics so they don't look so obviously false again. But that doesn't stop the odd look or two every time her legs bump together with an audible clunk. I shift nervously in my seat, and Emi raises an eyebrow questioningly. She doesn't seem to mind the stares; either that or she doesn't even notice that people are staring. I'm sure she's gotten her fill of odd looks before. After a certain amount of time, I doubt she'd notice any more. Not that she'd ever tell me if I asked. Another fact is, I'm not just uncomfortable about the bus. I can't seem to come to terms with the fact that Emi appears to be trying to bring me closer while at the same time pushing me away.
The nurse said she trusts me, even if it doesn't look like it. But I'm not sure I can trust the nurse. He's protective of Emi, just like I'm protective of Emi, and I'd be likely to say something to make her look good if someone asked me about her. So he might just be doing that. Still, there was something about the way he seemed genuinely surprised that Emi invited me along... Maybe last night's talk helped more than I think, but I'm still worried.
Meeting the parents is a big deal, right? Not that I haven't already met Emi's mother, but that was just as an acquaintance. Now it's going to be as Emi's boyfriend, with everything that implies. I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, an echo of that snow-covered afternoon that feels like it was so long ago that it might as well be another life entirely. Except then, I didn't know what was going on; I also didn't have medication to help prevent things spiraling out of control. I've come a long way in terms of my physical health, and for the second time today I feel like I'll be able to live normally now, or at least as normally as possible.
Now if only I could manage my relationship as well as I've managed my heart, I'd be in great shape.
EMI: "Well, we're here."
Emi grabs my hand as soon as we've stepped off the bus. She starts heading down the street almost immediately.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Air Guitar
EMI: "Come on, we've got a couple blocks until my place."
HISAO: "What? Oh, okay."
I follow Emi down the street, watching her confident stride. She's setting kind of a quick pace for just a walk. I guess she's anxious to get there.
HISAO: "So does your mom do this sort of thing often?"
EMI: "Nah, not too frequently. Mom's never been much for playing hostess."
HISAO: "Oh yeah?"
EMI: "Yeah, my dad was always the one pushing her to have people over."
This sudden and unprompted reference to her father catches me off guard. And from the look on Emi's face, I'm not sure she meant to mention him. I think I've only ever heard her talk about him once. All I remember is that Emi's mom told me that he wasn't around any more.
HISAO: "Oh? Your mom prefers solitude?"
Emi laughs, either from relief that I didn't ask about her father or from finding my statement actually funny.
EMI: "Not at all! She's why I'm such an outgoing person, you know. She just prefers to be a guest rather than a hostess; it's less stressful that way, or so she says."
HISAO: "Clearly she's never had to meet her girlfriend's mother for dinner."
Emi giggles again and speaks in a teasing tone.
EMI: "Nervous, Hisao? You shouldn't be, you know! It's not that big a deal! Just dinner at my house, that's all!"
HISAO: "Yeah, but have you ever brought home a boyfriend before?"
I confess that part of me dreads hearing the answer to this. I know very little of Emi's past relationships - I don't even know if there were past relationships.
EMI: "No, I guess I haven't. Hey, maybe this really is kind of a big deal after all..."
HISAO: "Oh good, now I feel twice as nervous."
Though to tell the truth, I'm pretty happy to hear that I'm the first one. Maybe we've got something special after all.
Bolstered by this new thought, I've managed to calm down considerably by the time Emi knocks on her front door.
EMI: "Hey, mom, open up! We're here!"
The door swings open, and Mrs. Ibarazaki stands grinning at her daughter. The grin is still surprisingly similar to Emi's. I'm never going to get used to that.
MEIKO: "You know, people normally wait for a few minutes before they start shouting at the door."
EMI: "And most mothers say hello to their daughters instead of scolding them right away."
MEIKO: "Ah, of course. Welcome home, dear. I've missed you."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Everyday Fantasy
An affectionate hug later we're inside, and it is only then that Emi's mom seems to remember that I'm actually here.
MEIKO: "And hello to you too, Hisao. How are you?"
HISAO: "I'm quite well, thank you. Nice to not have school to worry about for a little bit."
MEIKO: "Ah yes, you've finished up your exams, haven't you? That must be quite a relief for you both."
HISAO: "It's certainly a weight off of my mind, that's for sure."
EMI: "Mine too! I think I slept well for the first time in weeks last night from relief alone."
If this news is a surprise to Emi's mother, she doesn't show it. Still, her response betrays a note of interest.
MEIKO: "Is that so? I'm very glad to hear that, Emi. You know I get worried when you get all wound up about... well, exams."
Certainly Emi's mother knows something I don't - or rather, she doesn't know that Emi's told me about the nightmares. It's interesting, being able to observe how Mrs. Ibarazaki covers for Emi. That protective instinct to make sure that I don't know any more than Emi's willing to tell me. I suppose Emi's got more in common with quarks than I ever realized. Moves around fast, impossible to understand through direct observation, yet she has an effect on everyone she encounters.
I wonder if Mrs. Ibarazaki will figure out that I know about the nightmares, or is she just keeping everything secret from everybody?
EMI: "Yeah, it's not been as bad this year as in the past; Hisao helped me to stay focused."
Okay, I know that's not true. She even cut off contact outside of school hours during exam week! But... she did see me during the day. And she told me more than once that the morning run was the only thing she looked forward to during exams, so maybe it's not that much of a lie. Either way, to hear that being around has helped even a little makes me feel a bit better. Emi's mother raises an eyebrow at this statement. Either she doesn't believe Emi, or she's as surprised as I am.
MEIKO: "Well, then it appears that it's a good thing you two have become so close. I'd tell you to take good care of my daughter, Hisao, but it looks like you're already doing that."
Emi grins at this and seems to take pride in my having managed to ingratiate myself with her mother so easily.
HISAO: "Actually, I'd say your daughter's been the one taking care of me. She's gotten me out and running. I've probably been more active since meeting her than I ever was, even before "
I'd actually never thought of it that much, nor had I ever appreciated the humor in it. I wasn't too active before the heart attack. Pickup games of soccer don't really count since they weren't that common. So now that I know for sure that I have a weak heart, now I run every day, pushing my luck with the help of my medication. I chuckle quietly, then realize that I never finished my sentence.
HISAO: "Well, before I had my heart attack and wound up at school here."
It comes out so casually. There was a time that I would have thought twice about talking about what was wrong with me at all. But now? Now it just seems silly to care, especially in the company of Emi and her mother.
If Emi can be cavalier about her disability, then so can I. I think back to the track meet, where Emi declared herself the fastest thing on no legs. The fact of her obvious loss has never seemed to bother her, at least not in public. Being stuck in the wheelchair frustrated her, I know. But even that was something she dealt with on her own, despite my efforts to the contrary.
MEIKO: "Emi has a way of bringing out the more active side in people. I've never quite figured out how she does it."
Those puppy dog eyes she gets, for starters.
MEIKO: "I'm not surprised that she managed to rope you into an exercise routine. If Rin weren't just as stubborn as she is, I'm sure that Emi would have gotten her out and running with you too."
EMI: "Oh, that reminds me! Rin says hello."
I drift to the outer edges of the conversation again as we move into the dining room to eat. It smells delicious in here, and the spread that Emi's mom has produced is impressive.
EMI: "Woah, you've made enough to feed an army in here!"
MEIKO: "Is it too much? Well, you can always take some leftovers with you when you go."
HISAO: "That sounds great! I can only handle cafeteria food for so long. Something home-cooked would be a welcome change of pace."
EMI: "What he said. Thanks, mom."
The food tastes as good as it smells, and there's a lull in the conversation while we all dig in. Emi assaults her plate with the usual amount of gusto, and I will admit that I set a pretty fast pace myself."
MEIKO: "So Hisao, I hear that you and my daughter here have gotten rather close, hmm?"
The urge to say something like Not really is so strong that I open my mouth to say it, but then reassert control. We are close, there's no getting around it. I mean Emi's brought me here, hasn't she? Fortunately, both Emi and her mother seem to take my reaction as a sign that I'm caught off guard rather than considering saying something cruel.
HISAO: "Heh, I suppose we have. I blame the morning runs, myself."
EMI: "You make it sound like a bad thing, Hisao."
MEIKO: "Well, I for one found it a relief."
HISAO: "Why's that?"
MEIKO: "Emi's always been a popular girl, but never made many close friends."
This is a bit of news to me. I've always seen Emi chatting with her classmates in the hallways. And certainly the whole track team seems to love her, but it is true that she chooses to isolate herself during lunch with Rin and me. Not exactly the sort of behavior one expects from a popular girl, after all. Then again, I've experienced her unwillingness to get close firsthand, so I can't say I'm that surprised.
MEIKO: "I was beginning to have my doubts."
Emi rolls her eyes to the ceiling and grumbles something I can't quite make out.
HISAO: "What's that you just said?"
Mrs. Ibarazaki chokes on her drink with laughter.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Katawa Shoujo OST - Generic Happy Music
MEIKO: "You've been hanging out with the nurse too long, Emi. I'm going to have to talk to him about corrupting my daughter."
HISAO: "Somehow I don't think that would be very effective."
EMI: "I learned most of it from you anyway. Not the nurse."
MEIKO: "Don't listen to her, Hisao. She's a born liar."
EMI: "Hmph. Yeah right."
HISAO: "Oh, I don't know, Emi. I think your mother has a point."
EMI: "What? You traitor! You're supposed to take my side in this!"
HISAO: "Yeah, but you did lie about your leg after the meet"