Part 90: Off By OneUpdate 80: Off By One (Act 4, Scenes 1-2)
Katawa Shoujo OST - Fripperies
Only a day later, the weekend has already arrived. I drop a heavy stack of books on the librarian's desk, not meaning to slam them, but they weigh so much that it happens anyway.
Yuuko bolts out of her chair with enough force to dislodge her glasses. She barely holds on to them.
YUUKO: "Oh, hi."
HISAO: "Sorry. I'm here to return all those books I was supposed to."
YUUKO: "That's great, but I wish you had brought them back sooner. It wouldn't be a problem if the library had more copies of everything, but it doesn't... and they act like that's my fault."
YUUKO: "Other students. They can be... um, pretty pushy."
HISAO: "Sorry. It just kind of slipped my mind. It's been a pretty rough couple of days."
YUUKO: "Oh... Um, I suppose you don't want to talk about it..."
Yuuko meekly turns to the task of logging all the books I've brought back as returned, treating them with extreme care and precision, like she's a bomb disposal technician rather than a librarian. Over the past couple of days, I've been thinking about something Misha said. Of course, I'd thought about everything she said, but one thing in particular keeps coming back. She talked about how she didn't want to miss people or think about being apart from them any more. When I recalled those words, they stopped me cold, like a sharp slap across the cheek. In just a few months, we'll be graduating. Misha and Shizune were nearly inseparable, but after graduation, they might never see each other again.
I wonder if that thought is what started all of this. If Misha were to try and talk to Shizune about it, Shizune likely wouldn't think about it at all. It would sadden her, and for that reason, she would try and toss it away. For someone like Shizune, who is so quick to suppress her worries, it would be easy. Misha turned out to be more sensitive than she seemed. It would have crushed her, even more so because Shizune's reaction could come off as pretty cold. I don't know if that's how Shizune handled it, but it seems likely, and I can understand why she would act that way.
I can also understand why Misha would be troubled by the thought of drifting away from someone who is such an important part of her. I'd never thought about graduation until that moment. Then I began to think things like, Has it really only been less than a year? I started thinking of everyone I've met. Not only Shizune and Misha, but everyone else. They were fond thoughts. Then, I thought of losing them. Suddenly, I could understand Misha's anxieties. It could be nice to talk to someone about it.
HISAO: "Actually, I kind of want to."
YUUKO: "With whom?"
I can sense an obvious tinge of apprehension in her voice.
HISAO: "With you."
YUUKO: "Ah... Really? Are you sure? W-why me?"
HISAO: "Because you're an adult."
YUUKO: "That's it? Ahhhh... that's..."
Wincing, she fidgets a little in her seat, trying to get comfortable in a pretty uncomfortable-looking way. I guess this means she's okay with it.
HISAO: "Is it hard, being an adult?"
YUUKO: "Yes. I don't think I'm that old, though... It's surprising that students now, l-like Shizune and you, wear stuff like perfumes or cologne... I never did. I still don't use them... Um, by the way, you're not wearing your grape cologne today."
HISAO: "Yeah, it wasn't working out for me."
YUUKO: "Oh, that's good. I thought the same thing... Sorry."
Yuuko looks genuinely sorry, and I feel a pang of guilt. I smile, despite myself. A tiny lie like that can come back to bite me in the butt. For Misha, trying to conceal how she felt in order to put on a happy face for Shizune for so long must have been crushing.
HISAO: "Someone I know brought up that we're going to be graduating, and I realized that I've never thought about it before. I feel stupid that I could go so long and never think about these things. I've met a lot of great people, and I've never thought about what it's going to be like to graduate and maybe never see them again."
YUUKO: "There are still ways you could keep in touch..."
HISAO: "Yeah, I guess. I feel childish. I know everyone is going through the same thing, probably. I bet you hear this kind of problem a lot."
YUUKO: "N-no... I haven't been working here that long... I worried about the same thing when I graduated from high school. Um, I didn't go to school here, though. I also miss my friends... and I wish I had kept in touch with them better. I should have tried harder."
Yuuko isn't really helping me feel better, and she clams up quickly when she sees it on my face.
HISAO: "I don't want to look back and have those same regrets. I wonder if Shizune even thinks about that kind of stuff. Because she goes on sometimes, about how she doesn't want to live with any regrets."
YUUKO: "Wow... That sounds impossible, to me..."
I nod, only halfway wanting to agree.
YUUKO: "Even so... I think that is kind of admirable, too... Kind of brave. Don't you think so?"
HISAO: "Brave is a new way to put it."
Yuuko shakes her head insistently.
YUUKO: "It's true, though. And also kind of intimidating..."
HISAO: "Geez. You shouldn't be intimidated by high schoolers."
YUUKO: "I'll try..."
She turns away to start folding a sticky note over and over. Pretty idle behavior for a university student, but more importantly, I wonder if I said the wrong thing to her. Being around Shizune for so long, I can't stop reading as much as I can into every moment of silence. If Yuuko were the type of person who didn't get intimidated by high schoolers, it probably wouldn't be so easy to talk to her. It's all too easy to want to shed some negative quality of yours. When I think of everyone I know, it's those qualities that I like the best.
YUUKO: "Um... I don't think I really regret it. I thought, as long as I could remember the good times, that was enough. I don't know. ...Sorry."
I notice a couple students starting to trickle into the library, and decide that my time is up.
HISAO: "No, that was helpful. I feel like two of my friends are fighting because one of them is taking the fact that we might not see each other again after we graduate really hard. And the other is probably being stoic about it, which only makes it worse. I don't get how I'm supposed to handle this kind of situation. It doesn't seem like the kind of problem where I'll have to end up taking a side, but it could turn out that way, and then I have no idea what I'm going to do."
YUUKO: "You should tell them they shouldn't fight."
HISAO: "I know. Fighting is bad. It's not Shizune and Misha, by the way."
YUUKO: "Okay... Um, I wasn't really thinking that, though..."
How embarrassing. Even though I knew it would be, I still feel my cheeks redden, and even so, I still said something so transparent and blatantly a lie. But it could be that sometimes that is the right way."
HISAO: "Do you have any books about people who have to make hard decisions?
YUUKO: "We have a lot of self-help books..."
It's funny that I can find that surprising, because I wouldn't have only a few months ago.
HISAO: "I meant about, not for. There aren't many, right?"
YUUKO: "Yes. Um, not many, I mean."
Though I feel a bit apprehensive about it, I want to talk to Shizune. I don't understand why I feel nervous about it, and that disgusts me a little. It also motivates me to look for her, right then and there, although I don't have to look very hard. She's in the student council room, as always.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Stride
Worryingly, Misha isn't with her. When Shizune notices me and looks up from her paperwork, the first thing I ask is where she is.
SHIZUNE: [I don't know.]"
There is so much uncertainty in her answer that I can't let it go just like that.
HISAO: [She's missing a lot of school.]"
SHIZUNE: [Are you the attendance police?]"
HISAO: [That's really strange, coming from the Student Council president.]"
Shizune hides a laugh behind a cupped hand, and I start to think that I might be worrying for nothing, but then her laughter slowly fades away to a more serious and pensive expression.
SHIZUNE: [You're right. Yesterday,]"
I catch the hint of a knowing smile on her face when she sees my poorly-hidden panic at the word. Despite her best efforts, she can't help being satisfied in eliciting surprise from everyone else, to the very end. Even then, I can see that she has bigger concerns from how quickly her smile vanishes.
SHIZUNE: [...before either of you noticed me, I saw what you were saying. I'm not stupid. If I hadn't, I could still see through Misha while we were walking back. Even if she hadn't told me everything later. She didn't make a big deal out of it, but any way you look at it, it's my fault, isn't it?]"
HISAO: [What did she tell you?]"
Shizune winces at the question, though it's clear she's been expecting it. She follows it up with a very grand gesture.
SHIZUNE: [A lot. Like, that I can be selfish, and confusing. I try too hard to bring people around me, and then push them away. I didn't know what I should do. I thought she was right to mention all of those things, so I just agreed with her, but that only made things worse. I don't understand.]"
Adjusting her glasses, she looks pretty tired. I hope it isn't because she's been busy avoiding Misha, but I can't help considering the possibility, seeing where this conversation is going.
SHIZUNE: [It's true. Even the Student Council being this small, and us always being swamped with work, is my fault. I might have even ended up driving a lot of people off, and away from the Student Council, acting like that.]"
Shizune wags a finger mischievously, acknowledging that might is an understatement. However, from how wearily she does it, it's obvious the humor is only to put me at ease, and therefore not genuine.
SHIZUNE: [Like Lilly, for instance. She was the first person to join when I started trying to recruit people again after everyone else left, because they couldn't stand me, I guess. We managed to put together the last festival, and even ran a booth together at the last minute. But I didn't like her because I thought she was selfish, always holding us up in order to tend to one friend of hers or another, and leaving Misha and I alone to sort out things involving the whole school by ourselves. If there were any problem she was going through, she would leave us high and dry while she panicked over it, and wouldn't come back until it was solved. She would focus on it one hundred percent, and be too preoccupied to focus on any student council work! That was the worst, to me, that she could be so nice and still take so many people for granted. Why even join the Student Council, then? It seemed so shortsighted and selfish, don't you think? But, it's actually me who's that way. Like Misha said, always trying to pull people close to me and then shutting them out. That is how I've treated her, which makes me a bad friend. And it feels like I did the same thing to you, then, so I guess I'm a bad girlfriend, too, even if Misha says that you might as well replace her. I'm angry that I screwed things up enough for it to get this out of hand. All I wanted was to...]"
She pauses to look for the right words, tenting her fingers in concentration.
SHIZUNE: [Make people happy, I think. Even though that seems like a simple way to put it.]"
As she rests her head against her hand, Shizune's bangs fall delicately across her eyes, hidden behind those polished glasses reflecting just the tiniest bit of light. It may be wrong to think so, but right now, she seems especially beautiful. Like a more complete person. It feels like this is my first chance to respond to her outpouring of emotions. Replacing Misha as Shizune's interpreter? Misha must be joking. It took all my energy to keep up with her just now, her signing filled with gestures that I've never seen before. Likely, they're habits picked up from Misha, and developed from years of them being together. I could never replace someone so close to her.
HISAO: [I like you because I like you, not because I got tricked into it by you."
Despite how hard she tried, anyway. I continue to stare back into her eyes, as sharp as ever. The first time I saw them, they had seemed a bit intimidating to me. Like the eyes of a predator. That hasn't changed, which I find reassuring.
SHIZUNE: [I still want to make everyone happy.]"
HISAO: [Starting with Misha?]"
Katawa Shoujo OST - The Student Council (Shizunes Theme)
Shizune looks a bit annoyed that I would imply she would start with anyone else, and smiles confidently, as though a friend's sadness is a physical opponent she can just strangle into submission.
SHIZUNE: [Of course; obviously; naturally.]"
Taking off her glasses, she leans back in her chair and lets out a sigh. It's the first time I've seen her without them on, but I don't get a good look before she slips them back on.
SHIZUNE: [But, I'm too tired to start today. First thing tomorrow. Do you want to help?]"
SHIZUNE: [And... I have other student council stuff you could help me with, while you're at it.]"
Although it turns out that there isn't much other work at all.
Katawa Shoujo OST ~ Passing of Time
There's no school today, so I expected to be able to sleep in late. Unfortunately, I'm awakened by someone mercilessly pounding on my door at eight in the morning. At first, I think it could be Kenji, but when my shouts of annoyance go unanswered, I realize it's Shizune.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Fripperies
She immediately backs away from the door when I open it, quickly concealing something behind her back. Kind of ominous.
HISAO: [What's that? Is it a surprise? I don't really like surprises.]"
The displeased expression on her face says that she wants me to stop being such a wet blanket, but she's too busy fumbling with what's behind her back to sign it. It must be frustrating for her, because seconds later, she swings the object out, proudly, and also a little dangerously.
SHIZUNE: [Ta-da. A picnic basket. We can have lunch together, the three of us.]"
It's not really a basket, it looks more like a plastic bag. Taking a quick look inside, I can see that most of the food inside is also store-bought, not homemade. Some items still have the price stickers on. There's a very diverse selection here, though. Even a tiny tin of caviar. I'm slowly becoming more impressed with this lunch. I pick a grape out of there and pop it in my mouth.
SHIZUNE: [Don't just take things like that! I spent all night perfecting this final weapon.]"
Shizune places it down on the ground to free up her hands, and immediately starts playfully tapping it between her feet like a soccer ball. Definitely not what you should do to anything you're going to call a final weapon.
SHIZUNE: [All part of my get-Misha-to-stop-being-so-depressed plan. I stayed up all last night working on it. When we tried to order in last time, Misha barely got anything, and used it as an excuse to leave early. I won't let her get off so easily this time. The food is already here. She'll have to sit down and eat with us. It's the perfect bait. Doesn't everything look irresistible? I tried to make it myself, but I don't know how to make it look all fancy, so I ended up buying everything. Still looks delicious, doesn't it? It should be.]"
She's very perky today, juiced up on the thought of cheering Misha up. Although it's odd to see her so happy about it, I know that she's just as unsure now as she was yesterday. The only thing that has changed is that by viewing it as another sort of challenge for herself, she can put her worries aside and throw herself into it recklessly. It has worked well enough for Shizune so far. It wouldn't surprise me if it's the only way she knows how to live.
HISAO: [It's a little early, though...]"
SHIZUNE: [It's already eight in the morning, that's late! Even Misha gets up at eight or nine. She goes to bed at 7:00 p.m., but that isn't important.]"
HISAO: [It's very important.]"
Shizune ignores me, gagging my hands by taking them in hers instead of a more proper rebuttal. The way she lingers against me a moment longer than expected feels really comforting.
SHIZUNE: [The point is, she's awake right now, walking around somewhere. Let's go find her.]"
She sprints out the door impatiently, and her gusto as she drags me along looking for Misha makes me feel more like I'm following a hunter on a safari than looking for a mutual friend. We don't have to look very hard. Even cropped short, her pink hair stands out. The fact that she's just meandering around the grounds out in the open makes it even easier. Now I'm sounding like a safari hunter.
HISAO: "We were just looking for you."
SHIZUNE: [It's a good day for a picnic, you should join us. We even have caviar; not sturgeon, of course, but really tasty.]"
MISHA: "Caviar? Surgeon?"
Apparently finding it annoying to have to explain anything at length with only one hand, Shizune gives up quickly.
SHIZUNE: [Fish eggs.]"
SHIZUNE: [It tastes good."
MISHA: "Sorry, Shicchan, I think I'll pass for today."
When Misha starts to walk away, Shizune holds the bag out towards me, needing me to take it so that her hands can be free. As soon as it's out of her hands, she darts in front of Misha, cutting her off.
SHIZUNE: [I made so much food, though."
MISHA: "Sorry, I'm just not hungry right now."
SHIZUNE: "... [When are you going to be hungry, then?]"
MISHA: "Shicchan, that's impossible to know~."
SHIZUNE: [You can guess.]"
The tension between them infuriates Shizune, and she's trying to deal with it by trying to tear through it. But that approach isn't going to work. I'd thought, and hoped, that Misha had gotten herself together, but I guess she was just cut too deep by what happened. In that case, it's really out of anyone's hands. I believe that Shizune might understand that, on some level. If she didn't, she wouldn't have any doubts at all. Because she can't speak, though, I've learned to notice her hesitation. It's very clear; she might as well be screaming.
Misha waves her hands in front of her, not wanting to continue the discussion any further, and quickly slips away. Shizune fumes silently, reluctant to let her go but having no way to keep her here.
Misha's back grows smaller in the distance, I wonder where she's heading off to. Is Shizune wondering the same thing, as she bites her lip in frustration? I want to touch her reassuringly on the shoulder, but I stop myself, not knowing if it's the right thing to do. Not because she looks fragile, vulnerable, or sad. It's the opposite. After a while, her expression belies no emotion at all. Only contemplation.
Suddenly, she whirls around.
Katawa Shoujo OST - Raindrops and Puddles
SHIZUNE: [Now all this food is going to go to waste.]"
SHIZUNE: [That makes me mad.]"
Although it's obvious Shizune is more hurt than mad. The bag dangling from my hand feels like it's filled with lead.
SHIZUNE: [Let's go on a date.]" HISAO: [Let's use it, then.]"
SHIZUNE: "... [Where do you want to go?]"
HISAO: [I don't know.]"
SHIZUNE: [The roof. It's my favorite spot.]"
A wry smile appears on her face, disappearing just as quickly.
On the roof, I immediately crack open the caviar, ignoring a derisive look from Shizune all the while. I end up putting it down immediately.
HISAO: [Where are the toast points?]"
SHIZUNE: [I didn't make any. Like I told you, I bought everything.]"
HISAO: [Not toast points, though...]"
SHIZUNE: [Why is that important? Anyway, they don't sell just toast points. That would be stupid.]"
HISAO: [I bet they do.]"
SHIZUNE: [Maybe in stores for the exceptionally lazy, but not here. Why don't you use a tortilla chip?]"
HISAO: [A tortilla chip is not the same.]"
SHIZUNE: [They're both triangles. Stop being such a princess. I didn't know there was a proper way to eat caviar, this is the first I'm hearing of it.]"
HISAO: [It's not the same thing at all.]"
I can't be decadent like this. And anyway, how can she not know? She lives in a huge mansion. Shizune takes the opportunity to scoop half the tin onto a single chip in the meantime.
I'm sure it doesn't even taste good like that.
There is too much food here for two people. Because we can't communicate with each other while we eat, both Shizune and I have a lot of time to sit in silence and think about the fact that Misha, the person she set all this up for, isn't here.
SHIZUNE: [It's annoying that she isn't here. I can't even enjoy my meal like this.]"
I stare at the paper cup next to her, still half-full of juice.
HISAO: [I thought you didn't want all this food to go to waste.]
SHIZUNE: [I wanted Misha to be here, too. That was the whole point. I wasn't able to accomplish what I wanted to, so it doesn't taste good. You should eat it. Eat more.]"
HISAO: [I want the fried things, though. You keep eating them all, even though you say they don't taste good.]"
SHIZUNE: [Fried things are always delicious. There is always an exception for them.]"
HISAO: [You'll get fat. I think you're being too aggressive.]"
SHIZUNE: [It's like I told you yesterday, I'm only trying to cheer her up.]"
HISAO: [Yeah, but it seems more like you're planning a military campaign.]"
SHIZUNE: [I'm only trying to take it seriously.]
SHIZUNE: [...And this is the only way I know how to do it seriously. I feel so powerless. I hate it. I can't even yell at her, too, even though I want to. Yelling is for serious occasions, right?]"
SHIZUNE: [You should yell at Misha for me. You can tell her that I want her to stop being so down. Even if she feels sad and alone, it's no reason to stay gloomy forever.]"
HISAO: [Why don't you?]"
SHIZUNE: [I already did. Over a game of dice. Under-Over, to be exact. I won! Five times!]"
Only the two of them would take so much pride in winning games of pure chance.
SHIZUNE: [Then, I tried to talk to her, but it didn't go so well, obviously.]"
HISAO: [Well, so did I. I tried and failed.]"
SHIZUNE: [My goal has always been to do everything better, though.]"
HISAO: [Yeah, your one-upmanship is really something.]"
SHIZUNE: [But I failed too... That's why I want your help. I don't understand what I'm supposed to do any more.]"
For someone like Shizune, who has only ever interacted with the world by locking horns with every obstacle in her path, understanding only goes so far. I want to tell her that she doesn't have to worry. That she is great at cheering people up, because she managed to cheer me up, my first week here. In retrospect, I must have looked like kind of a dick, being in such a sour mood from the moment I came here. Even though I don't think I was being unreasonable. Even having months to digest it, finding out that you have a heart defect like I did is hard to deal with. I'd had had much less time to mull over suddenly being transferred to Yamaku, on top of that. Spending the festival with Shizune really helped me out of a rut. I was happy, enough to forget that the entire time it had felt as though she were manipulating me. I understand now that I had allowed myself to be manipulated.
Even though I felt like I was at the bottom of the world, I still wanted to have a normal life again, I'm sure, because I enjoy what I have now. I think it must be the same for everyone. Including Misha. Everyone wants someone there to pull them up, out of their self-pity. It's just that Misha always wanted Shizune to be that person, but because they can't be together, I think Misha feels that she can't accept Shizune's hand. And that frustrates Shizune. But if she could cheer up a stranger like me, then she'll die trying with Misha. I can see it in her eyes, too. Though she tries to treat it like any other problem in her life, Shizune cannot do that with Misha's depression. Her thought processes are entirely different, in some ways more careful, in some ways more reckless and frenetic. She cares that much more.
I end up not saying anything. Partly because sitting next to her like this, just the two of us, is pleasant enough in itself that I don't want to interrupt the moment with a question. And partly for a more cowardly reason. I've started to think they weren't, but I don't know if her actions that day might not have been an afterthought, or even a fluke, just a collection of coincidences. I don't know if that would change anything, but I'm uncomfortable thinking about it.
The fence behind me trembles slightly, and I turn to see that it's because Shizune has fallen asleep leaning against it. Considering she was up all night, it's not surprising. Where does all that motivation come from? Not just in regards to Misha. I'm cynical, so it's hard for me to just accept that anyone can simply be that strong. My first thought was that maybe it's because she hates herself. It's very plausible. Leaning against her, I feel sad knowing that that might be the case. But it could be that we're similar in that we both want to be better people.