Part 51: Antiques and PiesUpdate 46: Antiques and Pies
(Silence, City Noises)
As we walk back out into the city, Lilly takes hold of my arm once again.
LILLY: "So, did you get any good ideas for a present?"
HISAO: "To be honest, no. I've never been very good at picking them."
LILLY: "As absurd as it sounds, perhaps we should just... look around?"
Hearing Lilly utter those words throws me for a moment.
HISAO: "Er... right. How do we do that?"
LILLY: "That's just the reaction I was expecting. It's simple; you can go window shopping, and just tell me what is around. If something interesting comes up, then we might get an idea."
HISAO: "Right... I'm still not so sure of this, but I'll take your word for it."
LILLY: "I think we'll manage. Hanako, my sister, and I manage to do it well enough."
With Lilly's simplistic and rather optimistic statement, we set off into the shopping district of the city and I start describing everything I see to Lilly. It's hard to think of Hanako going window shopping. She doesn't feel like the type to place much stock in fashion, nor have I noticed her reading magazines or the like. In fact, all I think I've really seen her do as a hobby is read books.
HISAO: "There's a housewares shop just ahead. Looks like it's mostly crockery though."
LILLY: "I can't think that she'd have much of a need for that, and what type of message would that send to her?"
HISAO: "Um... cook more food? That's not such a bad idea, maybe..."
LILLY: "Sometimes it's best to leave these things alone, Hisao."
Once again, I get the feeling that Hanako's exploits in the kitchen aren't always successful. Lilly must have had to help her with that sometimes.
HISAO: "Let's see, next along is a bookshop... that seems like a good one, she's always reading."
LILLY: "Yes, but there are a few problems with books. I'm not quite sure what she has and hasn't read."
HISAO: "What about a gift card then?"
LILLY: "There's nothing as impersonal as giving someone a gift card. It's like saying I don't know enough about you to work out what you'd like."
HISAO: "I always thought of it as making sure they got what they wanted."
LILLY: "Giving people gifts is supposed to show them the level of affection you have for them. If you can't decide on a simple gift for them, then how much could you think of them?"
HISAO: "Right, right, no gift cards."
Lilly seems overly passionate about this, but I can see her point. If you're going to get something for someone, then you should put at least some thought into it. If I want to get something for Hanako that reminds her of us every day, then what good is a gift card?
HISAO: "In that case, what did you get Hanako last year?"
LILLY: "A porcelain doll. I thought that if she had someone to talk to, it might help her ease her pain. A doll isn't ever going to criticize her, after all."
HISAO: "So should I be looking for a doll shop?"
LILLY: "If you could be so kind to keep a lookout for one, I would be grateful."
HISAO: "Sounds good to me, though I wish you'd mentioned it earlier."
LILLY: "But if I did that, then you wouldnt have started thinking for yourself, would you?"
Once again Lilly has a point. My brain is currently analyzing every store we pass for gift options. If Lilly had mentioned a doll shop to begin with I wouldn't have thought of anything else.
We wander through the city's streets, but seem unable to find anything that resembles a doll shop, or anything that I could consider a fitting present. The simple act of searching is starting to clear my head. The events of last week are starting to fade away, and I'm looking forward to giving Hanako her gift...
...if I can find one, that is.
HISAO: "This is hopeless. I thought we'd be able to find something in the city for sure. And I'm sure we've walked down this street at least once before."
LILLY: "That almost sounds like you're giving up, Hisao."
HISAO: "I'm not, but it's a lot harder than I thought."
LILLY: "Try not to be so restricted in your thinking. Maybe we should actually go into some shops and have a look around?"
HISAO: "That might work. I've never really been any good at window shopping."
Lilly and I circle around the city's streets once more, this time popping into stores that catch our attention. In the end, though, nothing comes up as especially appropriate. Hanako's tastes are often quite hard to pin down at the best of times, thanks to her intensely private nature, and those tastes we do know are hard to accommodate.
LILLY: "May we take a break for a minute? I'm a bit exhausted."
I agree and leave Lilly to rest against a railing while I go to get a couple of drinks from a nearby vending machine. After walking up to the vending machine and grabbing myself some lemonade, I find myself at a bit of a loss. Not really knowing Lilly's tastes, I decide to take a guess and grab something that seems a little girly, but not too weird; strawberry-flavored milk.
I walk up to her and place the carton into her outstretched hands, making sure she has a grip on it before letting go. She feels out its contours before opening it and taking a very tentative sip, her approving smile afterwards telling me I made the right choice. We both rest and have a quiet drink for a few minutes. A familiar soft ringing begins to sound from Lilly's side. She quickly apologizes as her hand goes into her pocket, pulling out her mobile phone.
LILLY: "Do you mind if I take this?"
HISAO: "It's fine, don't worry."
She nods to me in thanks before turning away and flipping the phone open, bringing it to the side of her face as she picks up the call. Going by the tone of Lilly's voice, the person on the other end is no doubt some friend or another. I tune out of their conversation pretty quickly, as the snippets that Lilly says make it sound like little more than gossip. Without much else to do, I find myself watching Lilly. She really is a pretty girl, which would hardly hurt her popularity in school. It's interesting just how much Hanako and Lilly contrast with each other, in both personality and appearance. For a few minutes I just lean back and drink, watching her. Before long, Lilly says her goodbyes to the person she's talking to and hangs up, placing her phone back in her pocket and leaning back against the railing as before.
LILLY: "Sorry, just a friend from class."
I take one final swig from my can before throwing it into the bin. Lilly gives me her carton to throw away soon after, finishing it off relatively quickly.
HISAO: "You seem to have a lot of friends."
Lilly waits for me to continue, her interest piqued.
HISAO: "I was just thinking that you and Hanako contrast really heavily. It's hard to imagine Hanako doing a lot of the things you do, or knowing the people you know."
LILLY: "You seem to think about Hanako quite a bit."
HISAO: "I don't know. It's just... she's mysterious, I guess. I kinda want to know more about her, which isn't that easy."
LILLY: "It almost sounds like you're doubting your relationship to her."
HISAO: "I don't think it's that. I just want to do more for her, being her friend and all. I don't even really know how she sees me."
This statement seems to interest Lilly quite a bit. I wonder if Hanako's said anything about me to Lilly during their conversations. I'm about to ask what's on her mind as she picks herself up from the railing.
LILLY: "Shall we be off, then?"
Her voice and expression show that she's playing games with me. Lilly knows damn well that she's leaving me hanging. With a sigh, I pick myself up off the railing as well and have a brief look around. We have stuff to do, so I'll just try and get back to her about this later.
Tucked in between a newsstand and a convenience store is a small shop. The sign above the door reads Othello's Antiques in decorative English script. It would be easy to miss if we were walking along the street, but since we're stationary and I'm purposefully looking around, it's just noticeable.
HISAO: "Say, Lilly... that doll you got Hanako; was it new?"
LILLY: "Well, yes, but I'm not quite sure I know what you mean."
HISAO: "I think I've found our shop. It's across the road."
LILLY: "Oh? What is it? Some kind of toy shop?"
HISAO: "It's an antique shop. I think it's probably going to be our best bet."
LILLY: "Really? I didn't know we even had one of those near here."
HISAO: "Neither did I, I missed it the first time we went by here. It's pretty well hidden."
LILLY: "Well then, it can't hurt to check."
Inspired by this new find, we quickly dust ourselves off and head towards the store, Lilly's hand finding its way to my elbow for guidance.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Air Guitar
(City Sounds Stop)
The store has a strange, musky scent to it. The layout is more like a garage than a store; things are strewn around the floor without any immediate semblance of order.
The shopkeeper gives us an almost bored look though his particularly small eyes. His face looks weary and tired, and his dress style is distinctly anachronistic. He gives us a polite nod of welcome before going back to his book. Lilly holds tightly onto my arm, and I find myself having to split my efforts between making sure we don't miss a potential gift for Hanako and making sure Lilly doesn't inadvertently bump into anything. The task is quite difficult given the haphazard way the store is laid out, and the many things poking out of the shelves they're on or sitting on pieces of furniture, but eventually we safely arrive at an old desk covered in dolls and teddy bears.
HISAO: "I think this is the right place. There's pretty much every kind of doll you could imagine here."
LILLY: "That should make the choice much simpler. Could you please pick one for me, Hisao?"
I had a feeling that it would come to this. I picture Hanako in my mind, and try to imagine which of the dolls before me would suit her the best. My eyes wander across the collection; each one is as exquisite as the one before it. The sheer number of styles is boggling, but eventually one catches my eye.
HISAO: "Here, what about this one?"
I pick up a small porcelain doll that looks to be at least somewhat affordable. Dressed in a Victorian era green dress with a little brown hat sitting atop its blonde hair, it looks a little like Lilly. I gently pass it to her, who delicately feels her way around the object while wearing a look of slight concentration.
LILLY: "It certainly feels beautiful. Do you think it would suit Hanako, in your opinion?"
HISAO: "I think it would; it could look good in her room."
LILLY: "In that case, I'll trust your judgment. Will you be getting her something as well, or shall this be a shared gift?"
HISAO: "Hmm, I'm not sure. I think I should get her something myself, but I don't think getting her another doll is such a great idea. Maybe..."
I let my voice trail off as I look around the shop. Resting on a writing table not far from us is a decorative box that catches my eye.
HISAO: "Wait here, I think I've found something..."
LILLY: "My my, that was fast."
I gingerly walk through a collection of crystal glassware and pick up the box. The wooden sides are covered in carvings depicting ancient battles around a castle. The top, however, looks far too familiar. Alternating squares of white- and black-varnished wood are arranged on the lid.
SHOPKEEPER: "That's a really nice item. It's a chess set from overseas."
The store owner's sudden appearance startles me a little; I didn't see him approaching at all. I suppose he's trying to help us because we don't really look like we know what we're looking for. ...Or on the other hand, maybe he wants to keep an eye on us because he suspects we might shoplift instead.
HISAO: "I'm... looking for a present for a friend."
SHOPKEEPER: "I see. In that case, this chess set would make a fine choice."
Realization floods into my mind. This is a pretty good-looking set, but this is an antique shop. They're not well known for their bargain prices.
HISAO: "How old is this?"
SHOPKEEPER: "This is a reproduction. My best estimate is that it's about five years old."
HISAO: "I see. How much?"
He thinks a little before telling me, which is slightly disconcerting.
SHOPKEEPER: "I'll let you take this now for 7000 yen."
I balk a little; I wasn't expecting to spend that much, but this does seem perfect. Then again, maybe that's a testament to how well he worked out how much he could make me pay.
HISAO: "Couldn't make it 5000?"
SHOPKEEPER: "5500, no lower."
HISAO: "I'm sold. Oh, we'd also like to get that doll..."
The store owner looks over my shoulder, focusing on Lilly and the doll in her hands. His eyes narrow, and he visibly takes a moment to switch mental gears. In the process, his smile drops slightly."
I guess that means that not everything in his store is a reproduction."
SHOPKEEPER: "Are you quite sure that you want that doll, miss?"
LILLY: "I trust my friend's judgment."
SHOPKEEPER: "I see... oh, no offense..."
LILLY: "None taken. If you could please wrap it for me, it would be appreciated."
SHOPKEEPER: "Yes, of course, but it is 20,000 yen..."
Lilly reaches into her purse and presents four crisp-looking 5,000 yen notes."
LILLY: "Here you are, 20,000 yen."
The storekeep dutifully takes them and the doll, and proceeds to the counter. I take Lilly's arm to guide her there.
HISAO: "Are you sure about this?"
LILLY: "It's okay; I... have the funds I need. As I said, I trust your judgment."
I feel a little guilty on two fronts; firstly because Lilly has just spent a lot of money on my recommendation, and secondly because I have a feeling the value of my gift isn't high enough. Nevertheless, Lilly does seem to get somewhat awkward whenever the mention of money comes about... I hand the shopkeeper my present and the money for it in turn. He puts the cash into the register before busying himself with wrapping the doll and repeating the process on the chessboard. Eventually, he finishes the giftwrapping and hands us both our presents.
SHOPKEEPER: "Please be careful on your way back, and do come again."
LILLY: "Indeed, thank you very much."
The store owner bows deeply to us as we leave.
(Silence, City Noises)
LILLY: "Well, it did take us all day, but we found something in the end."
HISAO: "That we did."
Now that the presents are wrapped, I'm feeling a little impatient to give them to Hanako. It's a common reaction to buying gifts; wanting to see the reaction of the receiver as they discover what it is. And part of me wants to return to Hanako, just to confirm her condition with my own eyes.
HISAO: "So should we head back?"
LILLY: "Let's. We've done a lot of walking today, so I shan't mind taking a rest back at the dormitories."
Lilly's right. Now that the need to find a shop is over, my legs are feeling quite tired.
HISAO: "Well then, back to the school for us. I'm looking forward to resting for a bit, too."
Lilly holds out her arm, and I link mine with hers. Together, we make our way back to the bus stop.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
Katawa Shoujo OST - Stride
Mutou reads equations and formulas to us one by one, in his usual, unenthusiastic monotone, directly from the book. It's possible that he might be excited about what he teaches us; sometimes he can display an awkward spark of passion for it, as if he's starting to get into the material. Most days, however, are like this one. What we're covering is fairly simple, so I find it increasingly difficult to keep my concentration on him. It's not too long until my legs begin aching again, which only makes it even harder. I'm almost starting to regret walking around the city yesterday with Lilly. Since leaving the hospital, I've done very little physical exertion. Walking to and from the local corner store hardly counts. Despite Emi's attempts when I first arrived in Yamaku, I've largely given up on the idea of ever returning to my old level of fitness. I have little doubt that's why walking around town for so many hours has made me quite so sore. It's depressing, and it reminds me of one more thing I can't do since I had my heart attack. It makes me feel pathetic.
MUTOU: "Now... Ikezawa?"
It's odd for Mutou to ask Hanako a question, but not unheard of. She quickly jumps to her feet, a little startled, and immediately pins her eyes onto him. She knows that Mutou calling on her is rare, so all eyes in the classroom are going to be on her. This way, she doesn't run the risk of making eye contact with anyone else.
MUTOU: "In this particular example of a redox reaction, the combustion of methane reaction actually produces one more product than is listed. That product is...?"
Even though it's a softball question, she timidly waits a bit before answering, biting down slightly on her lower lip as if to keep her concentration.
HANAKO: "Um... h-heat?"
MUTOU: "Well done. This is an exothermic reaction, with the reaction giving more heat than is put into it."
Receiving a nod from Mutou, Hanako takes her seat once again and gives a relieved sigh. A shaky start, but it's something. It'll be nice to take her out for her birthday, somewhere different from the usual isolation of her room and the tea room. With the progress she's made until now, I don't think she'll have much of a problem going to the city.
MUTOU: "Right then. For the remainder of this class I'd like you to work in groups of three or four on the problems in chapter 12. I'll be here if you need me."
Mutou sits down behind his desk, pulls some loose sheets out of a folder and starts on some kind of paperwork of his own. I thought teachers were supposed to do that kind of thing after class, not during it.
Regardless, I look to my right to pick out someone to form a group with. Given the two smiling faces hovering near mine, I don't think I'm going to get much say in the matter.
HISAO: "I suppose we have a group, then."
MISHA: "Hicchan~! You want to work together? Okay, okay~! That's great! It's really been a while~!"
The class begins the process of noisily shuffling the desks around, with Shizune doing the same as she puts hers in front of mine. She's a little lucky to not be able to hear the din of the classroom, which is loud enough to cause some discomfort. Truth be told, working with Shizune and Misha is probably a good outcome - Shizune and I are pretty good at this subject, and Misha... has really nice handwriting.
As I look to Misha, I notice a tall figure behind her. The shadow catches Misha's attention as well and she turns to face the dark-haired observer.
MISHA: "Good afternoon, Hanako~!"
HANAKO: "Um... hello..."
Shizune finally notices Hanako, after looking up and following the gazes of Misha and I. In quick measure, she taps Misha on the shoulder to get her attention before signing away.
MISHA: "Shicchan says, if you're looking for a group, you can join ours~!"
Hanako looks down and blushes a little at the offer. Out of all the people in the class, Hanako's most familiar with the three of us, so it's reasonable that she'd come to us first. Then again, her actually coming up to a group with the intention of joining them is something she apparently very rarely did before. She leaves briefly to drag her desk over, and Shizune and Misha wheel back to me as soon as her back is turned.
MISHA: "I guess we get to play again, Hicchan~! You hardly ever play with us any more..."
HISAO: "I wonder why? You two always seem to have some ulterior motive."
MISHA: "That hurt, Hicchan... I'd almost think you were insulting me~! But~! It's Hicchan, so I know that you're joking!"
HISAO: "Such a great sense of humor about it; it'd be awful if someone were to take advantage of your good nature. Like making you help them with their work."
Shizune seems excited for a second, a little surprised that I'm willing to challenge her, but when she sees Hanako coming back, she backs off with a smile. I guess the mind games are over early today.
Hanako gently sets down her desk in front of Misha's. Her eyes are locked downwards, and I'm left wondering why until I look around the class. Most are busy setting up their own groups, but a few are casting curious glances at her. At this range, it's hard to tell whether that is where their interest in her ends, or if they are talking about her as well. It's strange. No one bats an eyelid when Hanako runs out of class to avoid group work, but now that she's making an effort they're staring at her as if she's done something wrong. We all move to sort ourselves out, spreading our textbooks and worksheets around the larger surface created by the four joined desks. It isn't long before the class as a whole gets down to work.
MISHA: "Hi, Hanako~! It's nice to finally work with you~."
MISHA: "Are you the reason Hicchan has been avoiding us, lately~? Shicchan says it's a little rude, but if Hicchan wanted to spend time with a cute girl, it's understandable~!"
HANAKO: "I-I don't t-think it's like that..."
Hanako starts to fidget, unused to this kind of attention. I think that an ordinary person would drop the conversation by now, but Misha is like the antithesis of Hanako. Part of that includes being blind to ordinary social cues, while Hanako is overly sensitive to them. Because of that, Misha barrels ahead with the questions, too quickly for me to get a chance to interject and guide the discussion somewhere more comfortable.
MISHA: "Really~? So~! He wasn't hanging out with you yesterday?"
HANAKO: "N... no..."
I can feel my cover being blown already. Lilly didn't want Hanako to know that we were out buying presents for her, let alone planning out her birthday party. It wouldn't be good for her to find out.
HISAO: "Yeah I was... doing something else. You know how it is..."
MISHA: "Really~? I wonder what was so important, for Hicchan to blow us off like that~! If it wasn't to spend time with Hanako, then what could it be~? It's really interesting..."
Now this is starting to feel like an interrogation. I'm surprised at how Misha is able to exert such a feeling of pressure without actually intending to.
HANAKO: "W... were you with L-Lilly?"
Out of nowhere, Hanako manages to stumble on the answer. She may be dreadfully quiet and shy, but she's very intuitive.
HISAO: "W-what makes you say that?"
HANAKO: "Y-yesterday Lilly said something s-similar."
MISHA: "Suspicious~! Hicchan~! I demand that you explain yourself!"
HISAO: "Hey, shouldn't we be doing the assignment?"
MISHA: "But~! It's so mysterious... Even Hanako wants to know~!"
I turn to look at Hanako. It's true; from the expression on her face, it's obvious that she wants to know as well, and I think we're past the point where I could weasel out of having to provide an explanation. I apologize to Lilly in my mind. She really did want to keep it a secret, but now it doesn't seem possible any more. I feel a rush of conflicting emotions, so jumbled that I can't readily identify them, but they crash around in my head as I try to calm down and speak.
HISAO: "All right, I'll tell you. I went into town with Lilly, but it wasn't what you think. Lilly and I were... uh... for Hanako's birthday... we were..."
The cat is out of the bag. But it looks like Hanako is taking it a little better than I thought she would. A brief silence passes around our little group as Shizune and Misha look at each other sheepishly. I can tell that they didn't expect their game to turn out like this.
Misha looks up to Hanako in order to apologize, then pauses. Hanako is staring at the middle of her desk and barely moving, a maudlin expression on her face. I guess I was wrong about her taking it well.
MISHA: "Hanako? I'm sorry..."
There's a few seconds' pause, but Hanako lifts and shakes her head.
HANAKO: "I-it's... okay..."
Her expression looks odd, like she's very tired. That doesn't seem natural, but it's nothing alarming. Nobody really wants to continue with the current conversation, so we open our textbooks and begin our group work.