Part 38: Whispers of the PastUpdate 34: Whispers of the Past
The words hang in the air, and I can see that Emi's afraid that I'll panic and disappear in response. Which a part of me almost wants to do. But it would be stupid of me to back out, or to suddenly abandon the promise I made to be there for Emi when she needs me. The nurse thought it was so weird of her to bring me along. She doesn't bring anyone along, or at least I'm willing to bet that she hasn't before today.
The day seems to take on an even greater significance. What has it taken Emi to even get this far?
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
And why is that the best I can manage as a response?
HISAO: "I uh, I don't know what I should say."
EMI: "Nothing, I think. Just promise that you're going to come with me."
HISAO: "Of course! You know I will."
Emi smiles wanly, looking a little relieved.
EMI: "Good. In that case, we'd better get going."
The bus pulls up just a little after she finishes the sentence.
Vague memories of my first trip out here come to mind as I step off the bus, but unfortunately, they're too vague to be of any use. I will be the first to admit that I don't quite recall how to get to Emi's house, so I let her lead the way. She seems content to walk in silence, and I myself have no idea what I could possibly say, so the two of us arrive at her house having said nothing since getting off the bus. Emi's mother opens the door and doesn't seem surprised to see me standing next to her daughter. I expect that Emi would have phoned ahead to let her mother know of the change in plans.
MEIKO: "Emi, Hisao, you're just in time! Lunch is just about ready."
EMI: "Great! I was afraid we might be running late."
HISAO: "As fast as you were going this morning, I doubt there was much of a chance of that."
MEIKO: "I certainly hope she wasn't too much of a bother, Hisao. She tends to get a little paranoid about being on time when food's involved."
HISAO: "I hadn't noticed."
This earns me a swat on the arm from Emi, who despite the serious nature of our conversation on the bus and the almost brooding quiet walk has quickly become cheerful again. Probably to keep her mother from worrying about whatever it is Emi plans to tell me later. Mrs. Ibarazaki ushers us in, and in short order we're around the table devouring lunch. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I got here, but for once I seem to be eating almost as much as Emi.
MEIKO: "Goodness, it's a good thing I made so much. The two of you are acting like you haven't eaten in days!"
HISAO: "I skipped breakfast this morning."
EMI: "Me too."
MEIKO: "Had to catch the bus, I assume?"
EMI: "That and I figured you'd make too much food so it wouldn't matter if I skipped breakfast."
MEIKO: "Well, it's good to know that I'm predictable."
Emi nods enthusiastically, and conversation falls off again as we very nearly clear the table of anything edible. It is a testament to the sheer amount of food on offer that we don't finish everything. I lean back in my chair with a sigh and thank Mrs. Ibarazaki for the food.
MEIKO: "I'm glad you liked it, Hisao. Now, has Emi told you where we're going?"
HISAO: "Yeah, sort of. Is it far from here?"
EMI: "Not really, but we'll drive there to save time. It closes kind of early."
I nod in assent and stand up, ready to go.
HISAO: "Well then, shall we?"
Mrs. Ibarazaki nods and leaves the room to grab her keys. Emi, I notice, has started to fidget nervously.
HISAO: "Second thoughts?"
Emi smiles tightly at me and shrugs. She's fallen silent again, which probably means that I'm right, and she is starting to regret bringing me along. Not that I blame her; she's done such a good job of shutting me out that I doubt it's easy to suddenly open up. Honestly, I'm worried that she's forcing it. But she said while waiting for the bus that I'm not supposed to give her a chance to back out, and since I promised to go with her anyway, I suppose there's not much of a choice. I can't go back on my promise, and she can't go back on hers. I just hope the both of us are up to it.
MEIKO: "We're off!"
Emi's mother blows through the dining room, collects the two of us, and heads out the door at a brisk pace. Now I know where her daughter gets it from.
The car pulls up at the cemetery gates, and I feel Emi tense up beside me. I reach over and give her hand a comforting squeeze, which causes her to relax a little. Emi's mother doesn't follow us, explaining that she prefers to visit the grave alone. Emi steps through the gates and looks back, as if to make sure I'm still there. We step into the cemetery.
I don't feel comfortable in cemeteries. Gravestones litter the ground, each one serving as a reminder that someone used to be alive and is no longer. How many died young? How many were as old as I am now? When do I wind up with a marker of my own? How much longer do I have left? The concept of not waking up, not seeing Emi any more, is not a happy one. It frightens me, and I very nearly turn around and exit right then and there. I don't want to go among dead people, I don't want to see their stones and think about who they were or what they could have been if they'd only had more time.
Then I look at the girl next to me, and my resolve returns. Emi's striding purposefully down the path, eyes clear, setting a pace that's very nearly a jog. The sooner we get there, I suspect she thinks, the better.
EMI: "We're here."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Friendship
A gravestone, wholly unremarkable in everything except for the name etched upon it. The grass has grown up around the base. Emi's eyes are riveted to the stone. After a few moments she turns around, looking surprisingly calm, yet solemn.
EMI: "Pink's not actually my favorite color, you know."
HISAO: "Er, what?"
EMI: "I'm warming up to it."
EMI: "People tend to think that pink's my favorite color. I think it's because I like strawberries, and even though those are red they just assume that pink's the right color for strawberries. And that it's my favorite color. But it's not. I'm too polite to tell anyone otherwise, of course, and it's not the kind of thing worth getting worried about, but I'll bet even you thought pink was my favorite color.
EMI: "Blue. That's my favorite color. My mom and dad are the only two who know that, and now you do too."
HISAO: "Thanks for telling me, I think."
EMI: "You're welcome."
There's a pause as she considers what to say next, drawing a quick breath.
EMI: "I can't carry a tune to save my life. I can hum, but actually singing a song is something I've never been able to do. I don't mind, because I'm not a fan of karaoke anyway."
HISAO: "Well that's one potential date idea out the window."
EMI: "People all think that I'm a really popular and friendly person, but I only have a few close friends. Probably because I keep everyone in the dark, but I think it's also because I hate the idea of losing a close friend. There aren't many people worth the risk. I'm terrible at saying goodbye. I sometimes think that I only run because it's what I used to do with my father. You're not my first boyfriend. I dated a guy for a long while during my second year at Yamaku, but in the end we broke up, because I didn't want to get closer to him. He couldn't live with that distance between us."
Her rate of speaking increases slightly, as if she's rushing towards a finish line.
EMI: "I'm actually one year older than you. Everybody thinks I'm younger because I'm short, but I had to skip one school year because of my accident. They initially thought I was paralyzed when they pulled me out of the wreckage. I'd lost my legs already, but they were afraid that I wouldn't even be able to use what was left of them. After surgery, it was clear that their initial assessment was mistaken. I couldn't feel my legs because of shock. Short term paralysis due to the other trauma I'd experienced. My recovery was one of the fastest they'd ever seen, or so they told me. I never found out if they were serious about that or if they told that to all the patients learning to walk again. I...
She pauses, gathering herself for one last effort.
EMI: "Eight years ago today, I lost my legs. And I lost my father as well. He died on the way to the hospital. I didn't even get to go to the gravesite until two months later, and couldn't attend his funeral."
HISAO: "I'm so sorry."
EMI: "Don't be. That's what everyone always says, that they're sorry. I hate hearing that. Like anyone could have done anything to change what happened. You know the best piece of advice I got? These things happen. I don't even remember who said it, but I guess they didn't have anything better to say.
EMI: "But it's true, you know? These things happen, and there's nothing you can do about it. They aren't necessarily planned, and they aren't always bad, and they aren't always good, but they are.
EMI: "So I made the decision that I would live without worrying about the future. And to be sure that I never had to say goodbye again, I decided I wouldn't let people get close to me any more. After all, they could be taken away at any time. And you know what?"
She laughs, a little bitterly. Her eyes start to well up with tears, and I step forward to embrace her but she holds up a hand to stop me.
EMI: "M'not finished."
A deep breath, and she continues.
EMI: "It worked pretty well! Until I met you and saw that you were trying to adjust to stuff here, so I thought I'd help and then you were so nice and I couldn't help it, I just..."
The tears are flowing now, and she accepts the embrace this time. The rest of her sentence is mumbled into my chest.
EMI: "I tried not to fall for you, but I did. And then I tried to keep you at a distance, like with my first boyfriend, but I couldn't. But I've been so scared, because I don't want to lose you and I might anyway"
HISAO: "Hey, I'm still around, right? And maybe I won't be forever, but don't you think it'll be fun while it lasts? Neither of us could survive the day, there could be a bus crash or something, but so long as I know that I've been with you, I don't think it matters."
A sudden thought strikes me, and I can't help laughing. My condition had me scared of dying so badly that I immediately seized on the opportunity Emi presented to improve my odds of living longer. But without Emi, would there have been any motivation to keep up with my running? It hits me that Emi is the reason I want to go running every day, so I can spend as much time with her as possible. Emi looks up at me, confused.
HISAO: "We'll go on living until we stop. And when we stop living we'll be able to know that at least we've had time together, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Because I love you, Emi, and right now that's enough for me."
Emi smiles through her tears, and steps back from me.
EMI: "You know, it's funny."
HISAO: "What is?"
EMI: "I thought that the best way to live in the moment was to do it alone. But now, I don't think I'd have it any other way either. I'm glad I met you, Hisao."
HISAO: "Well, these things happen."
Emi and I stay by the grave for a while, as Emi pays her respects to her father. When she's ready to go, we exit the graveyard side by side.
Emi's mother drives us back to Yamaku. The trip back is very quiet. We wave goodbye as the car drives off, and I glance down at the girl leaning on my arm.
HISAO: "How are you feeling?"
Emi shrugs noncommittally.
EMI: "I'll be fine. Come on, let's go."
We pause outside the girl's dorm and I turn to face Emi, ready to say goodbye.
EMI: "Why don't you come up for a while?"
The walk up to her room is in silence. I'm not sure why I supposed I'd be turned away at the door. I guess I just assumed she'd want to be alone. Her mom, the nurse, hell, everyone who knew the significance of today seemed to think it best to leave Emi alone. But she took me into the graveyard with her. She told me the whole story of what happened on the day she lost her legs.
She wanted me around. The significance of this does not escape me.
Emi opens the door and steps into her room, not even bothering to invite me in, holding the door for me expectantly. I step in, and the door swings shut behind me.
EMI: "Hey, can I ask you a favor?"
HISAO: "Sure. Can't guarantee I'll do it, but..."
Emi giggles and pulls me into a kiss that starts out soft but deepens into something almost desperate.
EMI: "Stay with me? Please?"
Her voice has dropped to a whisper, the question is barely audible over the sound of my own breathing. There's something about the way that she asks that question, the hesitancy in it, the quiet voice, that makes me think she doesn't mean tonight. No, she means exactly what she said. Stay with me. Not tonight or forever, because both of us know there's no such thing as forever. There's no time limit to her request, there's just the request. The favor. Can I do that? Can I stay with her?
HISAO: "Of course."
Katawa Shoujo OST - Comfort
They frantically strip each other.
EMI: "Wait a second... Are you still in your socks?"
I pause, and look down. Apparently, I am.
HISAO: "Er, yeah. Does that matter?"
EMI: "Take 'em off, it's weird if you still have them on."
HISAO: "You know, you've still got your socks on too."
EMI: "Yes, but I don't have my legs on. So it doesn't count.
Unable to deny her logic and impatient to have the conversation over anyway, I quickly remove the offending items.
They make love again, but its both less intense and more emotionally intimate than the last couple times; they clearly know and trust each other better. Its full of smiles and laughter, and its both quick and immensely satisfying to both of them.
For a while, we lay in silence, savoring the feeling of being next to one another. Emi is the first to speak.
EMI: "Hey, Hisao."
EMI: "Thanks for coming with me today."
I smile and plant a kiss on her head.
HISAO: "Of course. My pleasure."
Emi snuggles closer, and I can feel her breathing begin to slacken as she begins to drift off to sleep. Just as she's about to fall asleep, she wakes up enough to mutter a single sentence.
EMI: "I love you, Hisao."
Then she's out like a light, leaving me feeling like I'm on top of the world. I draw the slumbering Emi as close as possible, pull the covers over us to keep the chill off, and fall asleep as happy as I've ever been.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
The morning light seems to reach further into Emi's room than it does into mine. This results in my waking up earlier than I would have if I had gone back to my room last night, as had previously been our routine. I did not realize it until this morning, but this is the first time we've actually spent the night together.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Aria De lEtoile
A small movement from my partner's still-slumbering form causes me to look to the side. Hair splayed across her face, Emi continues to sleep peacefully curled up next to me. It's slightly weird seeing her without her trademark twintails, but it's also a look I could get used to. The small size of the beds here necessitates her curling up, but I'm pretty sure she would have done so anyway. The covers are nearly over her head, and I smile as an errant strand of hair causes her nose to twitch slightly. Unable to help myself, I draw her a little closer, a move which she seems to think is a good idea. Her steady breath raises a trail of goosebumps on my chest, but I don't mind. I am no longer tired, but I do not feel a need to move from my current position. Emi's warm body in repose against mine is far too comfortable to move.
I gaze up at the ceiling and consider how it is that we got to this point. We've been close for a while, but not this close. It seems like only yesterday that she ran into me in the hallway and after apologizing decided to take an interest in my well-being. But that grew into something else, which I at least was not expecting.
One thing is for certain: having found Emi, I will try as hard as I can not to lose her.
My morning musing is interrupted by further movement from Emi. Her eyes flutter open, and she seems briefly confused by my presence in her bed as well as her current state of dress, which is nonexistent. Then she smiles happily and sits up, her face looking down at me.
We get a new shot here, one of her sitting up from the back. Its cute, sweet, and technically worksafe, but shes clearly nude and it also has a lot of butt, so I cant show it here.
EMI: "Good morning, Hisao."
HISAO: "Hi. Sleep well?"
EMI: "Yeah. Yeah, I did. Exhausting day yesterday, you know?"
I think back over yesterday's trip to the graveyard.
HISAO: "Yeah. Glad to hear you slept well."
EMI: "How'd you sleep?"
HISAO: "Well enough, although you kept hogging the covers..."
This earns me a shove and a stuck-out tongue. I chuckle, and Emi giggles a little, and we fall quiet for a while. I soak up the feeling of how right it all seems, waking up with Emi by me, crammed into a bed made for one person. It's something I could get used to.
EMI: "Hey, Hisao..."
EMI: "Thanks for sticking around."
HISAO: "No problem. Saved me the walk back anyway, right?"
This draws another giggle, but then Emi's expression turns serious again.
EMI: "No, really. I kept trying to push you away, because I thought that was the right thing to do, and you stuck around through it all. I haven't made any of this easy for you, but you stuck it out anyway. So really, I mean it. Thank you."
She punctuates this by giving me a kiss, pulling back and looking at me with an expression of affection. I reach up and ruffle her hair, smiling all the while. I'm stupidly lucky, I think. To have come through everything after my heart attack and to somehow have found this girl is nothing short of a miracle.
HISAO: "You're very welcome, Emi."
I couldn't bear the thought of giving you up.
HISAO: "I'll even continue to stick around, if you want."
EMI: "I'd like that."
That settles it, then. I don't know how long my heart will keep working, and I don't even really know what I'll do after this year is over, apart from going to university. As long as Emi's around, I think I'll be okay. I've managed to help her, and she's managed to help me.
If we keep doing that, we'll be okay, I think.
EMI: "So, Hisao."
EMI: "What do you want to do today?"
Katawa Shoujo OST - Romance in Andante
Finally, we get a brief credit sequence featuring pieces of Emi concept art everything from the original manga page to an early screenshot. And as the song wraps up and the credits reach their end, we reach the natural endpoint of our story. Emi and her Hisao are free to live their lives as they please, but we have other characters to meet and get to know after we take a look at her route in more depth.