Part 55: One Piece of PaperUpdate 50: One Piece of Paper
I hesitate a little before opening the door to Lilly's room again, quickly rehearsing what I should say if I get questioned about Hanako. After a few seconds, I still can't come up with anything.
I open the door and make sure to close it behind me, lest any passing students catch a glimpse of the wine, before turning my attention to the two girls at the low table. Akira's casually smiling, as is Lilly. I welcome the change from the mood in Hanako's room.
LILLY: "Is that you, Hisao?"
HISAO: "Yeah. I got Hanako to her bed; she's sleeping now."
LILLY: "That's good. I have to admit I hadn't thought that she'd drink quite so much."
AKIRA: "Hey, it's fine. She's all safe and tucked up in bed now. With the way she is..."
She awkwardly trails off, though Lilly and I would hardly protest. For someone so anxious and fearful, drinking would give an easy out from those constant feelings.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Nocturne
I wish I could do more for her. I feel useless. Looking at Lilly, I think back to what I asked myself in town. My relationship with her is that of a friend, and has only ever felt that way, but now I think I know why. Lilly's been there for both Hanako and me since I first met her, but she's like that for everyone, trying to do her best to make them feel better. With that in mind, then what's the bond between me and Hanako? After rescuing our relationship following the panic attack I inadvertently triggered during class, I feel like we're back to being friends, but she's on my mind more and more. I can't say I view any other girl in quite the same way, but maybe it's just a normal reaction to someone acting like this.
HISAO: "Say, Akira?"
She yawns before looking at me. It is getting pretty late.
HISAO: "You know about what happened with Hanako, don't you?"
AKIRA: "Yeah. Lilly told me. I negotiated pretty hard for a break so I could come down and help make her birthday a bit brighter. We get along pretty well."
It's surprising to hear that from someone as extroverted as her, but if Hanako came to know her through Lilly, maybe she had time to get used to Akira.
AKIRA: "And on that note, I'd better get going. I'm already going to be a bit late as it is."
LILLY: "But it's already so late..."
AKIRA: "Sorry. We got a bunch of work dropped on us, so overtime it is."
She levers herself up with a grunt and heads past me towards the door. Just before she leaves, she turns back towards us.
AKIRA: "You haven't forgotten about the time for the flight and all the rest?"
LILLY: "Don't worry, I have everything ready. It's just a matter of packing when it gets closer to the time to leave."
AKIRA: "'Atta girl. I'll see you guys later, then."
And with that, she disappears through the door with her hand held high in farewell.
HISAO: "Your sister is... something, all right."
I probably should have thought that comment through before saying it. Regardless, Lilly seems quite amused at my appraisal.
HISAO: "You okay after all that drinking? Not wasted and just hiding it well?"
LILLY: "I assure you, I am quite all right. I can moderate myself. You seem quite self-possessed as well, if I do say so myself."
HISAO: "Yeah, well, I guess your moderation applies to me as well."
With a little hesitation, I take a seat at the table in front of Lilly. I want to address this directly, if for no other reason than to settle my own thoughts.
HISAO: "I've been meaning to ask this, but it took me a while to make up my mind... Do you have any idea about what triggered that panic attack? I gathered it was something to do with her birthday, but I don't know anything more. Even Akira was being really careful around her, so I assume she knows as well."
Lilly's smile drops, the gaiety of the birthday party now well and truly over.
LILLY: "To be honest, I'm not sure of all of the details myself. Hanako told you that she was in a house fire. She told me as much, after we met and spent a lot of time together. Other than that... she quite simply never told me."
HISAO: "She never told you..."
LILLY: "Assuming the worst, what does she have to look back upon? A life of isolation and possibly even the death of her family? Maybe even going as far as blaming her existence for their deaths?"
Even thinking about what little I know of Hanako's past is bleak. To have lived through all that, and to live on with those memories, must be infinitely worse. Lilly looks similarly depressed, but I can see her rebuild at least some of her composure before my eyes. I get the feeling that both of us are talking more frankly than we might otherwise do thanks to the wine, but it feels like just talking this out is a good thing anyway.
HISAO: "I feel kind of helpless about it. When it's put like that, what can I possibly do for her?"
LILLY: "I'm not wholly sure I should tell you this, but Hanako told me that you visited her the day after we both went to check on her. I must admit that I did not predict she would take such a step so quickly after what happened, nor did I expect you to. I think it was a nice gesture on your part."
HISAO: "It wasn't much, really. It's just... at times like this, I sometimes think it would be better if we never had to leave Yamaku, or at least this town. Things are so much easier without others around."
I didn't expect Lilly to look quite so troubled at what I say, and for a while she looks lost in thought. She moves to speak, but stops herself as soon as she does, and rethinks. It's a bit off-putting.
LILLY: "I think... Tell me, do you have anything planned for Friday evening?"
HISAO: "Friday evening? No... Isn't your flight to Scotland the next day? I don't think it would be a good idea to tire yourself out before you even get there."
LILLY: "I'll be all right, you needn't worry about me. I'd do this tomorrow evening, but I imagine Hanako will be feeling rather off for a while."
The thought of how she's going to be tomorrow makes me grimace. Maybe we should count our blessings that she didn't end up simply throwing up from drinking so much while having such a low tolerance.
HISAO: "Well, I'm going to be able to attend whatever you are planning. What is it?"
LILLY: "Nothing unusual, I assure you. Just a little excursion. And you'd better be off, Hisao. I can't imagine it's long at all until curfew is here."
Oh damn, curfew. I'd completely forgotten. I look at the clock next to Lilly's bed, but it seems to be some oddity without written numerals. Which I suppose makes sense, given Lilly's condition. Not wanting to risk a haughty security patrol giving me a scolding, I get up and decide to go to my dorm as she says.
HISAO: "Well then. I guess I'll see you and Hanako tomorrow, assuming the both of you manage to get up in the morning."
LILLY: "Thank you for your concern, Hisao. Until then."
With that, I make my way out of her door and into the hallway. I hope her idea will be a good one.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
The hammering of a fist against the door feels like a nail being pounded into my head. Once, twice, three times, I let out a long, annoyed breath and bear it while pressing my eyelids shut, fervently hoping for whoever it is to just go away. I feel pretty damn awful. My face feels like it's cast out of lead, my arms feel heavy, and I feel very queasy. It's been like this since I woke up half an hour ago, and I can't summon the energy to pick myself up out of bed. So... this is what they call a hangover. I wonder if perhaps this is the best treatment for teenagers who desperately want to try drinking as a way to feel like an adult. Considering how unpleasant this is, it's not something I want to repeat.
A series of thumps rings out again, reverberating around the small room. I wish they'd just give up already; I have no intention of getting out of bed for them. Seconds pass, turning to minutes. Since no more knocks are coming from the door, whoever it was must have left. Thank goodness.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
Looking to my clock, the time when I really should think about getting dressed and ready for class is approaching. I don't think I can manage it, though. I hate cutting class, but I don't think I'm going to be able to get much done at this rate. I can tell I look like a mess without needing to look in the mirror to confirm it, too.
The morning rush is giving me enough time to stand outside the classroom for a little while without looking too suspicious. I hope that Mutou doesn't ask any awkward questions about my not attending school yesterday. I was sick, that much is true, it's just the reasons for it that I have to hide. Confident I can get by with a tactical omission of certain truths, I stride into the classroom doing my best to appear normal. The instant I open the door and take a single step in, I can feel a dozen eyes looking at me. There is no way I'm imagining this; they're not even making any attempt to hide it.
Her sprite starts out smiling at us before looking down.
My eyes take a quick sweep around the classroom, and I spot Hanako. We make eye contact momentarily, before she looks down and stares very hard at her desk. Did she spill the beans? Mutou may be okay as far as teachers go, but underage drinking on campus is not exactly something that would be taken lightly. I look to him with some trepidation.
MUTOU: "Feeling better today?"
HISAO: "Yeah. Thank you."
He motions for me to take my seat, my legs feeling like sticks as they carry me there. This is going to be a long day.
As soon as the lunchbell rings, I'm on my way to Hanako's desk to ask her what's going on.
HISAO: "Hanako... did you tell...?"
She looks up at me and shakes her head. That's a big relief.
HANAKO: "It's just..."
MISHA: "Well hello there, Hicchan. It's nice to see you again today~!"
Katawa Shoujo OST - Fripperies
I grimace and turn towards the unmistakable voice coming from behind me. That was way too upbeat a tone of voice to feel comfortable, even from Misha. Misha's happy smile is nothing out of the usual. Shizune's, though, is a very bad sign. The one she wears has become notched into my brain as her I have got you seven ways from Sunday smile.
HISAO: "Hi Shizune, Misha. You uh... you look happy to see me."
MISHA: "Not feeling well yesterday, Hicchan~?"
HISAO: "No, no I wasn't. But I'm feeling better now, at least."
MISHA: "That's good to know, Hicchan."
Why do I get the feeling that Shizune is leading me into a trap?
HISAO: "You sound like you're not being completely serious."
MISHA: "Oh no, Hicchan, we're genuinely pleased that you're all better now~."
Shizune is positively overflowing with happiness. There's only one reason why she would be like this.
MISHA: "In fact, we were quite worried about you. After all... You, Hanako and Lilly were all absent from class on the same day."
Yep, she's got us. So thoroughly that all I can do is sigh in defeat.
HISAO: "I guess you have your own theories about this. Could you just kinda... not tell anyone?"
MISHA: "It's a bit late for that, Hicchan~."
I suppose she's right, considering the looks I got as I entered class. Still, things only seem to be at the level of vague suspicion rather than outright accusations, so we'll probably be fine. Hanako's face sinks a little further. Such attention is troublesome enough for me, let alone for her. Going by Shizune and Misha's reactions, I think they notice this as well.
MISHA: "The only reason why we're giving you such a hard time is that you ignored us yesterday morning~!"
Yesterday morning? It takes a while to recollect what happened then, given the haze induced by the generally awful state I was in at the time.
HISAO: "Oh, right, the knocking. That was you two?"
MISHA: "It was, and you left us there for ages after we'd taken all the effort of coming to your dormitory early in the morning."
HISAO: "Sorry, I was having a... problem with nausea? A problem with nausea."
They're not buying it. I can't blame them. Shizune's head drops in resignation before she reaches into her pocket. Something white and yellow can be seen sticking out a little, and as she pulls it out, it turns out to be an envelope with very bright decorations on it. Since she points it towards me, I duly take it.
MISHA: "This is what we were trying so hard to give you, Hicchan! You don't check your..."
I tune out the sound of Misha's voice as my eyes register what's written on the envelope.
I stare at the envelope for a moment, before suddenly remembering that there are people around me. There's a very strange, somewhat invasive feeling about their expressions. I kind of want to be alone right now.
HISAO: "It's nothing. Thank you for bringing me this, you two."
MISHA: "I should think so, after what we went through to get it to you~."
I step back and say my goodbyes. Misha theatrically pouts even as I go out the door, but Shizune and Hanako remain very visibly curious about my reaction. I hope they won't interrogate me on this later.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Lullaby of Open Eyes
The smell of the gardens is, as always, a very pleasant sensation. Some of the most visible signs of how well-funded this school is, aside from its sheer size, are the expanse and condition of the grounds. A good number of students can be seen eating lunch, chatting, and playing on the bright green lawns. Even some of the staff is enjoying the summer here, keeping watch over the students and idly walking along the long concrete paths. I'd never seen a sight like this in my home city. On excursions, maybe, but certainly never in the school or anywhere near where I lived. Even the bench I sit on to read is warmer thanks to the summertime sun, reminding me of why I haven't worn the school blazer even once yet.
Considering this, the sunflowers and splashes of vibrant yellow coloring adorning the paper are quite appropriate for the time. If only the words written on it were as well. Here I was, thinking I'd managed to get over her, when this troublesome thing shows up. Her handwriting looks vaguely familiar at best, and only now that I see it again I remember that she used to write in pink pen a lot. She was always very girly, for lack of a better term. But she was also quite fragile. I never knew if I liked this aspect of her or not, though with the arrival of this letter, that question seems to have become largely moot. The letter begins with not much more than an update on the state of things going on in her life. My old class had a good start to the school year, many are anxious about the exams that will be coming up in the future, etcetera. But it ends on a very personal, if brief, note. It feels a bit like she wrote most of the letter just to try and soften the blow from the ending.
Iwanakos letter posted:
I wanted to somehow express my feelings, but the right words didn't come to me. I couldn't say anything to comfort you. I am really sorry for not being able to support you when it mattered the most, even though I like you so much. At least now, finally, I can be more honest.
If I could go back to those quiet days in February and March, I'd tell you to not give up on yourself. That's what I would say. Maybe you wouldn't have drifted so far away if I had just said something. I hope you've managed to get back on your feet on your own.
Now that the distance between us is also physical, it also feels more final, somehow. I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Still, if you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back. I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing. I wish you all the best.
And so, that's that. Our relationship is over. Nice, neat, and tidy, with no ambiguity. I hadn't held on to any illusions that it could ever begin anew. The last time she visited me, neither of us said a thing, except for the one word she said as she left for the last time. Goodbye. Be that as it may... this feels more final. The capstone on an experiment that both of us tried, and failed at. A loud shout draws my eyes away from the letter. It's just some students horsing around, with one of the teachers standing nearby coming over to talk to them.
YUUKO: "Are you okay?"
A tentative voice comes from my side. For a moment I assume it to be Hanako, but it's actually Yuuko.
HISAO: "Oh, hello Yuuko. I thought you'd be in the library."
She gives a cheerful smile, one quite fitting the atmosphere, and flourishes the empty wrapper of a roll in her hand. She must have someone else covering for her while she grabbed something to eat. It reminds me that I haven't had anything to eat yet. I don't feel hungry though, and skipping one lunch won't hurt.
YUUKO: "Mind if I sit here?"
HISAO: "Sure, go ahead."
I quickly slide the letter back into its envelope, slipping it inside my bag propped against the side of the bench as Yuuko takes a seat. She drops the wrapper into a bin beside us. Without much else to do, I lean back and take what enjoyment I can from the sun, silently reflecting on the letter. The lush lawns, the clear blue skies... everything looks so different from the way it did back then. Even the school's surroundings, from the hill it's on to the woods around it, are completely opposite to the urban scenery I remember. Maybe this is what it's like to feel homesick. Then again, it's not an outright bad sensation; the feel of the area around Yamaku, while very different, is also nice. I think I could get used to it.
YUUKO: "Hey, Hisao?"
YUUKO: "You didn't answer my question from before. I wasn't going to say anything, but you still look troubled. If you don't want to say anything though, that's okay, I don't mind at all. Um, s-sorry for asking something strange like that..."
HISAO: "I don't mind. It's just... I got a letter from someone I knew before I came to Yamaku. It made me think about some things. I thought I'd managed to get over most of the problems that my accident caused, but now I'm not really so sure. I kinda wish I'd never seen it."
YUUKO: "I don't think that's good, Hisao. When my boyfriend left me, he did so very suddenly, and never let me know why. At first I was very depressed about it, but I decided to forgive him."
HISAO: "You forgave him? Couldn't he at least have talked properly with you about it?"
YUUKO: "He was always one of those people that found it difficult to come close to others. In the end, I decided that I fell in love with him for a reason. He was a good person, and I think that if I had been in his position, I would probably have found it just as hard to try and talk to him."
HISAO: "I don't... really see the connection to the letter I got."
YUUKO: "I mean that... um, how should I put this...
YUUKO: "It must have been very hard for that person to send that letter, and if they did, I think they must have thought very hard about exactly what to say."
Iwanako managed to write this letter and bring a final close to our relationship; something that I'd never managed to do. Whereas here I am, trying to protect and help Hanako as best I can, especially with Lilly leaving for a while, and I'm not even able to deal with my own problems.
YUUKO: "Does that make sense?"
She's taken my nonresponse and furrowed brow as doubt. She really reads faces too much, just like a certain other person.
HISAO: "Yeah, that makes sense. The letter was just kind of a shock, really. I think I'd tried to fool myself into thinking that my life reset when I came into Yamaku, but now I'm suddenly aware that it didn't. I'm at a bit of a loss about how to deal with these feelings.
YUUKO: "I think that's something I can't really help you with. Sorry."
HISAO: "It's fine. I think being able to talk with you helped me get things sorted out a bit better in my head, so thank you anyway."
She nods and smiles sweetly. Yuuko is a nice girl, so it's a shame she's so highly strung so often. The school bell ringing out startles us both.
YUUKO: "Ah, I was supposed to be back before the bell!"
She jumps off the bench and almost races off without a second word, but turns on her heel as she remembers she was talking to me just now.
YUUKO: "I'll see you later, Hisao. Cheer up, okay?"
HISAO: "I'll try to. Thanks, Yuuko."
With a quick bow, Yuuko takes her leave and begins her rush to the library. Her flight catches the curious eyes of a few passing students, who are unenthusiastically trudging back to their classes after their fun. Reluctantly standing from the bench, I dust myself off and join them. Even while I walk through the gardens back to the main building, the thought of the letter in my bag doesn't stray far from my mind.