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Hanako Epilogue Part One

By: mehkanik on Jan 18th, 2012  |  syntax: None  |  size: 32.37 KB  |  views: 11,201  |  expires: Never
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  1. Hanako Epilogue; Part One
  2. Two Plus Two
  3.  
  4. =====
  5. Edited/Updated 07/10/13
  6. =====
  7.  
  8. Holding a pen carelessly, I toss a pensive stare at the stationary in front of me addressed to 'Iwanako'.
  9.  
  10. Soft sunlight pours through the nearby window, causing my eyes to glance out towards the morning sun over the city.
  11.  
  12. My eyes drift back to my letter.
  13.  
  14. It had taken me a long time, but I'd decided to ignore the fact that Iwanako had completely stopped communicating with me since my little 'accident'.
  15.  
  16. Even though my old life was over, I realize I still want to share this new one with my former. I had lost a lot of friends and made a whole bunch of new ones, but I couldn't just erase my past.
  17.  
  18. I realized I wanted to show how much of a person I'd become to all the people who had just left me behind.
  19.  
  20. Iwanako,
  21.         A lot has changed.
  22.  
  23. That was the only way I could think of starting my letter.
  24.  
  25.         I hope everyone's graduation went well, I graduated a few months ago myself. It doesn't feel that way, though. It's like I graduated Yamaku just the other day, it's still pretty fresh in my mind.
  26.  
  27.         I met a lot of people and most of them changed me, even though I changed plenty on my own.
  28.  
  29.         My parents are paying for an apartment so that I can commute to my university easier. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do there, but I plan to take it as I go for the most part.
  30.  
  31.         A few days at a time with a few goals to go with it. I'm studying sciences, seeing as that was what I received highest marks for in Yamaku.
  32.  
  33.         Plus, my homeroom teacher, our science teacher, highly suggested it. I'm liking it so far, so I can't say it was a bad decision.
  34.  
  35.         Life is really interesting now. I started dating someone and because they'd been living at Yamaku or shuffled between foster homes (they're an orphan), so I invited her to come live with me.
  36.  
  37.         It might seem strange that given my circumstances I'm writing you now, but I felt I should at least keep in touch with one person from my old life. How have you been? Going to university or are you looking for work now?
  38.  
  39. It was about here that I ran out of ideas for what to talk about. And when I felt a chin resting on my shoulder.
  40.  
  41. "W-Who are you writing to?" A familiar voice from over my shoulder.
  42.  
  43. A smile plays on my lips. That hesitant voice of hers and soft tone always gets me smiling. "Iwanako." I don't skip a beat in my response. Hesitation would make her worry more than she's going to.
  44.  
  45. I could sense a slight frown forming on her face, but she seems to understand as she reads the letter from over my shoulder.
  46.  
  47. "So, when's Lilly coming over? She said she's been wanting to see our apartment." Hanako drapes her arms around my shoulders.
  48.  
  49. "She said later tomorrow, but I d-don't know if she'll make it. She can't seem to decide if she wants to move back home to Scotland or s-stay here." I could understand that. I miss my parents too sometimes, but I try to not let it get the best of me.
  50.  
  51. A soft kiss greets my cheek and Hanako wanders off to the couch, turning on the TV and our video game console.
  52.  
  53. I had picked up an old last gen system from a flea market on the cheap and Hanako loves it. If she isn't reading, she's surfing the internet or playing video games. I always hassle her, calling her a nerd, which does a marvelous job of flustering her.
  54.  
  55. I put down the pen, stretching a bit. Life around here is pretty lazy when it isn't a school day. Weekends were my days off from morning jogs.
  56.  
  57. As much as I hate being reminded of my own mortality, Emi made me promise during graduation that I'd take care of myself and improve my own fragile health.
  58.  
  59. "Other people are relying on you and care about you, so you better not let them down!" Her cheerful words still echo in my head sometimes.
  60.  
  61. Sometimes the people I knew from Yamaku called or texted me, making plans to hang out. Even Kenji, which surprised me sometimes. I'm personally amazed he can even see the keys on his phone to call me.
  62.  
  63. I scoffed to myself. Kenji, that kid. He had words with me regarding Hanako.
  64.  
  65. "Hey, you two are living together now? You and that crispy chick?" Kenji had asked me one day when we were hanging out and had what he referred to as 'a manly picnic'. It was less a picnic and more solely a bottle of Jack passed between us.
  66.  
  67. "Yeah, but don't call her crispy. That's wrong." At this, Kenji chuckled at my expense. "No worries bro, just I prefer my girls medium-rare, yagetwhati'msayin'? Plus, you gotta be careful nowadays, never know what women are part of the feminist fascist movement."
  68.  
  69. It was entertaining, I'll guiltily admit. Listening to Kenji while drinking straight from a bottle of booze is probably one of the seven wonders of the world.
  70.  
  71. "Yeah, don't worry. I've already interviewed her. She's definitely not a feminist or part of the vast conspiracy to enslave mankind. She actually seems to be on our side," More than a few sips of whiskey let me keep up with his nonsense, which I've grown endeared to.
  72.  
  73. "Good, good. Man, my job gives me such a fuckin' hard time about my knowledge. I bet my boss is a feminist. He's probably sucking up to the spies in the feminist regime, trying to keep himself from being killed when the invasion begins." Kenji would shake the whiskey bottle angrily, like it'd help prove a point.
  74.  
  75. "Little does he know that they'll just kill him anyways or just turn him into a sperm factory for their baby machines. Did you know that? They've got  baby machines, man. Crazy artificial baby factories. All they need is some of our magic juice and BAM, auto-feminist. I've been trying to infiltrate them so I can sabotage their factories, but-" Once things got a bit hard to believe, I'd stop listening, instead opting to chuckle and nod along.
  76.  
  77. I think he mentioned that he wanted to see my apartment too sometime, although I wonder how much of it he could actually see.
  78.  
  79. Honestly, I miss Yamaku. All the unusual and unique people made life interesting. Going to a regular university... just seemed boring.
  80.  
  81. Everytime I meet someone, I try finding anything I can about them that might hide beneath the surface. Rin would be proud. She actually gave me a couple tips on what to watch out for when people watching.
  82.  
  83. I had made some new friends, some people who took to me pretty quickly. Called me 'interesting'. Probably a bit of Yamaku that rubbed off on in me the year I spent there. I smirked to myself, figuring out a little way I could tease Hanako.
  84.  
  85. "You know Hana, around Thursday some people I know invited me to a restaurant." I flop over the couch's back, laying on my stomach in some awkward otter-like position while watching her play Tales of Symphonia. She always played as the ninja chick in purple instead of using the main character.
  86.  
  87. "Y-Yeah, I remember. You didn't come back until late and woke me up when you got into bed." Oh ho, is that a little indignation I detect in your voice, Miss Ikezawa?
  88.  
  89. "Well, you know, there were some girls there." Hanako's character faltered a little in the middle of a battle. She didn't use an item quickly enough to heal one of her comrades, causing their death.
  90.  
  91. I glance over to Hanako. She's pouting. One day she's going to give me a heart attack from one of her pouting faces.
  92.  
  93. "O-Oh y-yeah?" Her stammer was growing likely due to insecurity.
  94.  
  95. "Yeah, one of them asked me out on a date." This of course wasn't true, but one of my friends had informed me that a girl in our circle of friends has a thing for me.
  96.  
  97. The game was paused and I'm being greeted by a glaring Hanako, waiting for what I said next.
  98.  
  99. "I told her sure, but I'd have to get back to her after asking you for permission." Hanako's response was almost instant.
  100.  
  101. "A-A-Absolutely not!" She declares, with uncharacteristic force.
  102.  
  103. I can't help but laugh. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding."
  104.  
  105. Hanako has come a long way. Before she used to give the impression that jokes like that would send her spiraling into a life-ending depression.
  106.  
  107. She takes the jokes pretty well, although she always reminds me that she can't think of living without me.
  108.  
  109. Hanako did wind up telling me one day that it was okay for me to joke around with her like I did with others. "I w-won't break. I promise."
  110.  
  111. An hour drags by I find myself draping my legs over the arm of the couch, placing my head in Hanako's lap.
  112.  
  113. She rests her controller on the side of my head, causing me to groan in protest, although the remote doesn't move. I was watching her play, swerving in and out of the borders of sleep and waking.
  114.  
  115. After some time, Hanako saves her game and tugs ona lock of my hair, trying to wake me a little more so she could get up.
  116.  
  117. "I'm going to take a shower."
  118.  
  119. I nod in response, lifting my head from her lap so she can head to the bedroom to change. She exits a little while later, wearing only a pair of underwear and one of my white tee shirts.
  120.  
  121. "Hey, why're you stealing my clothes?"
  122.  
  123. Hanako playfully aims a tongue at me, her eyes darting away from mine at first, as if she was in fact stealing something.
  124.  
  125. "I-I like wearing your clothes. It m-makes me feel like you're hugging me when I wear them." I was sitting up, but I threw myself backwards while clutching my chest.
  126.  
  127. "I feel a heart attack coming on, too much... cute... gonna... die..." I groan, causing Hanako to rush over to me, concerned even though she knew I was just joking.
  128.  
  129. "Y-You better not have a heart attack! I will be the most uncute g-girlfriend ever if it means you won't die on me! You better not, e-ever!" She grabs me by the shoulders, dropping the clothes and shaking me more than a little.
  130.  
  131. "Agggghhhhh, it's getting woooooorse..." I tell her, making a silly face as I mock died.
  132.  
  133. Instead of staying mock dead, I spring back to life, managing to deliver a kiss to her lips before she can react.
  134.  
  135. "But don't worry, I won't die on you. I'm gonna outlive you, you know. That's why I've been exercising lately, because I don't want you to have to say goodbye." I put on a sincere smile. Hanako sighs in relief after smiling, a slight blush creeping into her cheeks.
  136.  
  137. "P-Promise?" Hanako extends a pinky.
  138.  
  139. "Pinky promise? I thought only kids did that."
  140.  
  141. Hanako's gaze turns away from me. "W-Well, in the orphanage, no one ever broke pinky promises. T-They're the highest form of promise! If you break them, you have to do what the other person says forever." I laugh, extending a pinky of my own and wrapping it around hers.
  142.  
  143. "That sounds like a repercussion I could live with."
  144.  
  145. She leans forward and kisses me on the lips.
  146.  
  147. "T-That seals the promise then."
  148.  
  149. Honestly though, what good is the repercussion if I die? I won't be alive to do whatever she says. How could I obey her every wish? It doesn't matter though, it's a promise for the sake of emotion.
  150.  
  151. I watch her walk into the bathroom and consider surprising her by joining, but decid against it.
  152.  
  153. Maybe another day, she'd probably expect it now if I did. Instead, I stand up and head back to my desk where I do my schoolwork research on the desktop Hanako and I built together. I figure I'll continue working on that letter.
  154.  
  155.         I'm really happy now. I have a lot of people in my life who care about me and are able to cope with my condition. For granted, most of those people have their own conditions, but I think that's irrelevant. It's important to me that the people I've met are so kind and accepting.
  156.  
  157.         Hope you're happy too. Feel free to write back. Snail mail is inconvenient, but I like the novelty of having a pen pal.
  158.  
  159.         Regards,
  160.                 Hisao
  161.  
  162. My cellphone being off to the side of my paper, I decide to take a look at it. I always leave it on the desk while sleeping and usually ignored it during the morning. I hate being woken from my blissful rests with Hanako in my arms or dealing with people while groggy in the morning.
  163.  
  164. I flip it open, just to check if I missed any calls or text messages.
  165.  
  166. I actually missed three calls and a text from my father. Huh. I wonder what's so urgent. Lets start with the text.
  167.  
  168. "Hey son, your mother and I are going to stop by around noon. You didn't answer your phone so I had to type this out. I hate text messages."
  169.  
  170. Well, maybe if he wasn't a perfectionist with a T9 flip-phone, he wouldn't hate texting as much. My eyes move to the phone's clock.
  171.  
  172. It's eleven thirty.
  173.  
  174. They'll be here in a half hour.
  175.  
  176. Oh crap.
  177.  
  178. I never told my parents that I had someone else living with me. Or that I had a girlfriend. Or that my girlfriend was living with me.
  179.  
  180. Oh crap. Oh shit. Shit shit shit shit.
  181.  
  182. I have about twenty minutes to figure something out. I've never even had a girlfriend before. I have no idea how my parents are going to take to me living with a girlfriend.
  183.  
  184. I have even less of a clue as to how they're going to react to Hanako. People have a tendency to stare and although she's gotten more comfortable with her scars, it still upsets her a lot when people fixate on it too much.
  185.  
  186. She usually would hide behind me the minute people started asking too many questions and I'd have to deflect the conversation. Some people didn't have tact, unfortunately. I would admit I was one of those people at one time, though.
  187.  
  188. I can't just CALL them and be like:
  189.  
  190. "Ohhimomanddadbythewayihaveagirlfriendlivingwithmewhohasburnscoveringhalfofherbodyokayseeyouintwentyminutes."
  191.  
  192. It doesn't really work like that. If it did, this probably wouldn't be a big deal. I should probably at least tell Hanako that my parents are coming so she isn't completely blindsided by this.
  193.  
  194. She'll at least be able to mentally prepare herself for the potentiality of my parents asking all sorts of questions.
  195.  
  196. As I reach for the bathroom door, my doorbell rang. My hand freezes in place.
  197.  
  198. No. My watch says I still have at least fifteen minutes.
  199.  
  200. I walk towards the door and open it a crack.
  201.  
  202. My dad's grinning at my surprised expression. He's a pretty big guy, broad shouldered and hardened looking. Opening the door a bit wider, I see my mom besides him.
  203.  
  204. My mother is pretty much the opposite in appearance. Tiny, like she'd break if my dad bumped into her the wrong way.
  205.  
  206. It's been such a long time since I had seen them, I feel like I'd almost forgotten what they looked like.
  207.  
  208. My father's dark brown, unkempt hair was where the untameable nature of my hair came from, but I have my mom's dirty blonde color.
  209.  
  210. "We decided to leave a bit early as a surprise, seeing as it's been so long since we've seen you." My father's voice as gravelly as I remembered.
  211.  
  212. "Oh." That seems to be the only thing I could muster up as I hear the water turn off in the bathroom.
  213.  
  214. All my senses seem so much more keen right now.
  215. Probably because I'm feeling a little panicked.
  216.  
  217. "Aren't you going to invite us in?" My dad clasps a heavy hand on my shoulder. He's being playful, but at the same time, forceful.
  218.  
  219. "Oh, yeah. Sorry. Heh." I lead them in, not sure of what to do about this situation.
  220.  
  221. To make things worse, the bathroom door swings open and Hanako exits, a towel around her head while she dries her hair.
  222.  
  223. "Hey, Hisao, who rang the bell?" I freeze in place and dodn't even want to turn towards my parents.
  224.  
  225. If they aren't angry at me for having someone else living with me in what was probably intended to be just my apartment, they'll probably get mad at me for never letting them know about the girl I had fallen in love with.
  226.  
  227. When she removes the towel from her head, she's greeted to my deer in headlights expression and then my parents behind me.
  228.  
  229. The first thing Hanako does is let loose a little yelp and then the second thing, well...
  230.  
  231. I can't say I've ever seen a human move so fast or close a door as quickly as she did.
  232.  
  233. =====
  234.  
  235. I spent roughly a half hour trying to coax Hanako out of the bathroom. My mother seems neutral in this whole situation, but my dad's arms are folded and he's been wearing a look of disapproval on his face since he sat down.
  236.  
  237. "So, who's that? Some chick you picked up?" Is the first thing my dad asks when I failed my most recent attempt to get Hanako out of the bathroom, which she has locked.
  238.  
  239. I frown at his assumption. "What kind of guy do you think I am?" For a second, it looks like my father had something to say about that, and I feel a wave of unease when looking back retrospectively.
  240.  
  241. I'm not exactly the poster boy for good guys incorporated, there were definitely a couple of times I've let my... er, libido, get the best of me.
  242.  
  243. Hanako and I's first night together was an example of that and it didn't strike me until much later that I had been a complete retard.
  244.  
  245. "No, she isn't. She's my girlfriend and we've been dating since the middle of my school year at Yamaku."
  246.  
  247. My father sighs. "You couldn't have done better than that?" Yep. My father has a habit for aiming straight for my nerves.
  248.  
  249. I think my mother picks up on that from my expression. "I think she's very pretty, even with the scars." She states, deflecting my frustration. I'll leave that alone for now, I guess.
  250.  
  251. I take in a small breath. "She is. And I should probably tell you a little about her."
  252.  
  253. Man, where to begin? The insecurities, the inferiority complex? The anxiety and social pressure? All the things we've fought to break through?
  254.  
  255. I guess I'll start with the things that are important. "Hanako's a bit sensitive about her past and it makes her uncomfortable when people focus on her scars. Which you just saw most of when she walked out of the bathroom."
  256.  
  257. "It took her a long time to open up to me about her scars in the first place. She's also an orphan and has been living at Yamaku. Problem is,"
  258.  
  259. "When we graduated, she had to wait for the government to find her a new living situation. No idea whether it'd be a good home or not."
  260.  
  261. "Instead, I asked if she wanted to stay with me instead of having to go through that and be homeless during the time she's waiting for what might be an awful apartment."
  262.  
  263. "On top of that, her closest friend goes back and forth between Scotland and Japan with her family so she probably couldn't rely on her."
  264.  
  265. My explanation seems to resonate with my father a little, which I'm glad for.
  266.  
  267. "I can respect providing for your woman, but don't you think you're being a bit hasty? How long has it been since you two got together? Most people wait years before moving in together."
  268.  
  269. That's true -- but I couldn't just abandon Hanako. Living together hasn't caused any complications for our relationship, either."
  270.  
  271. "We've been together for about eight months."
  272.  
  273. My father nods slowly. Clearly that isn't long enough for him, but he doesn't seem to be arguing with me about it. Thankfully, he changes the subject.
  274.  
  275. "Well, seeing as she's living in the apartment we're paying for, why don't we have lunch here? I want to get to know her a bit better." He unfolds his arms, scratching his chin.
  276.  
  277. "Your mother did make a good point, I am being too superficial. I should be giving her a chance if she's who you're sticking with."
  278.  
  279. I just hope Hanako can handle this. My mother nods in agreement, as quiet as ever.
  280.  
  281. I walk back to the bathroom and knock a couple times softly.
  282.  
  283. "Hey, Hana. You didn't grab any regular clothes, did you? Want me to grab something for you so you can change and come out?"
  284.  
  285. It seems that was the ticket. I hear the door unlock and it opens a sliver. What I could see of Hanako's face is bright red.
  286.  
  287. "Those are your p-parents, aren't they?" Her voice is hardly higher than a whisper. I nod, though.
  288.  
  289. "Oh God, I w-wanted to m-make a better first impression than this. This is s-so emb-barrassing!" Her whispers are frantic, which I'm having a hard time thinking of as anything but cute.
  290.  
  291. "Don't worry about first impressions too much. They're staying for lunch because they want to get to know you a little better, which I think is a good sign in itself." Hanako looks horrified by this concept, though.
  292.  
  293. "Oh no."
  294.  
  295. I smile. "Don't worry, I told them that you're a little sensitive about your past so they shouldn't ask too many uncomfortable questions. They shouldn't ask about your scars, either."
  296.  
  297. "I don't know how many times I have to say it before you start believing it, but you're beautiful with or without them." Although her face had been slowly retreating to a neutral color, I sent it flying right back into red hues.
  298.  
  299. Pulling open the door a little and dragging me in, she plants a quick kiss on my lips, whispering which clothes she's like me to get for her.
  300.  
  301. She also tells me about the undergarments she wants me to get her, too. 'For later', she tells me.
  302.  
  303. =====
  304.  
  305. While Hanako changes, I figure I should change my clothes too.
  306.  
  307. Hanako was fairly on top of certain aspects of fashion and actually forced me to stop wearing that sweater-vest of mine.
  308.  
  309. I don't see what's so bad about it. Though, with that little smile on her face, she said it was kind of tacky and advised me to expand my wardrobe a little.
  310.  
  311. I did just that, but it's not part of my plans to throw it away. That girl could try justifying the Nazi regime while smiling and I'd probably agree with her.
  312.  
  313. I switched into a plain black waistcoat, some dark jeans and an unbuttoned collared shirt, rolled up to the sleeves.
  314.  
  315. Hanako finally vacates the bathroom, wearing an abashed smile on her face. As for clothes, she's wearing a headband that kept her bangs from her eyes, something I always complained about. I liked seeing her face, but it was always hidden by her hair.
  316.  
  317. It's incredibly refreshing to see her with her hair out of her eyes. She's wearing a black skirt and a nice long-sleeve blouse with a light purple ribbon tied around the collar.
  318.  
  319. "N-N-Nice to meet you!" She exclaimed, bowing deeply towards my parents.
  320.  
  321. "Likewise." My father responds. My mother giggles a little at Hanako's shy nature.
  322.  
  323. "You picked a looker, Hisao. She's very cute."
  324.  
  325. I smile out of relief. I good to hear at least half of my family thinks that. I aim a glare at my father, though. I was hoping he'd follow suit in complimenting her, but it seems he decided not to.
  326.  
  327. "You can just call us mom and dad. Mr. Nakai is my father and we'll wait for you to get to know us better before we get on first name basis." My father chuckled, as carefree as ever. My mother nodded.
  328.  
  329. "I agree. So, mom and dad?" She asked Hanako. She looks a little upset, but forces a smile.
  330.  
  331. I know what both parties are trying to do here. My parents are trying to reach out to her, because she has none of her own. Hanako's trying to appreciate the sentiment without being reminded of how much she misses her family.
  332.  
  333. She has no photos of them, everything she had of them was destroyed in that house fire.
  334.  
  335. Still, it seems like something grew in her when she spoke the next words she chose. "Okay, m-mom and d-dad."
  336.  
  337. This girl will certainly be the end of me one day.
  338.  
  339. "Um... is there anything you'd like specifically to eat for lunch?" Hanako asks all of us.
  340.  
  341. Suddenly a good idea hits me. "Oh, Hana, do you think you could make that stir fry you did last week? That was pretty good."
  342.  
  343. Hanako's expression turns disapproving.  "We only had fried food that day because you got an A on an exam. Fried foods aren't good for your heart, Hisao." At these words, I could practically hear my parents smiling.
  344.  
  345. My mother hums in approval. "You know, maybe Hanako staying here is a good idea. This way someone can keep an eye on you, making sure you stay in good health for us."
  346.  
  347. Hanako lights right up. It was praise and the start of acceptance in terms of her place in my life.
  348.  
  349. I move the topic back to the food.
  350.  
  351. "Well... I'm sure my parents would like it at least. You can make me whatever else. I'd make my own food, but you remember how that went." I'm suddenly feeling very uncomfortable from that traumatic event.
  352.  
  353. My mother arches an eyebrow at me. "Oh?"
  354.  
  355. Hanako's unintimidating glare meets me once again. "Y-Yeah. He set the stovetop on f-fire. He's not allowed to cook a-anymore."
  356.  
  357. My father bursts into laughter. "Hey, so I'm not the only one who managed to pull that off!"
  358.  
  359. I sigh.
  360.  
  361. =====
  362.  
  363. When lunch is finally served, I find my eyes wandering to the plates of delicious-looking stir fry that Hanako had made for my parents. They were chock full of delicious vegetables, chicken and fried noodles.
  364.  
  365. Hanako and I on the other side of the table were sitting with a bowl of salad and a tuna sandwiches on wheat bread. "You could've had some stir fry too, you know." I said, jabbing my chopsticks into the salad to mix the dressing along with the lettuce.
  366.  
  367. "W-Well, I think it's unfair for me to have it too if y-you can't." Well, I won't complain. I just hope she didn't try to get too experimental with my parent's food.
  368.  
  369. Hanako has a knack for picking up things quickly, she ignores that novices shouldn't always experiment before learning the basics. A few of her more peculiar dishes taught me that little pearl of wisdom.
  370.  
  371. After saying our thanks for the meal, we began eating -- mostly in silence. After a while, my mom chirps a well-aimed question at Hanako.
  372.  
  373. "So, do you any particular plans for the future, Hanako?"
  374.  
  375. My father doesn't have anything to say. He's too concerned with gobbling up his food as fast as possible, disregarding temperature.
  376.  
  377. "W-W-Well..." She begins, looking fidgety. A quick look and I can see that she's alternating between wringing her hands and pinching the fabric of her skirt.
  378.  
  379. Uh oh. Panic attack?
  380.  
  381. Time to prevent this mess before it happens. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to, Hana."
  382.  
  383. Instead of nodding in relief, she bites her lip. "But I w-want to."
  384.  
  385. Well, that's good. I always feel nervous when people asked me questions about my future, so I'm sure it bothers Hanako even more.
  386.  
  387. "W-Well, I wanted to keep this a secret from Hisao, b-but..." A deep breath and exhalation. "Hisao has made me think a lot about my f-future, seeing as he seems like he knows what exactly he's going to do with his life."
  388.  
  389. "So I've been volunteering at a local orphanage, it's a train ride away. I-I grew up in one really similar to it, so I figured I would help people who need it. I r-really want to help people. I want to make sure the o-orphans feel l-loved."
  390.  
  391. Her voice is starting to shake. Even though she's struggling a little, it's something she wants to say. I reach under the table, placing my hand on hers for a little support while I continue listening.
  392.  
  393. I wonder how often she thinks about the days she spent alone in an orphanage while all the other kids she knew were taken away to live happy new lives.
  394.  
  395. "I-I want to become a social worker. Maybe start attending university and s-study child psychology. But I want to see what it's like first, before I enroll, which is w-why I'm volunteering."
  396.  
  397. "I-It'll cost a lot of money and I want to be s-sure before I start working really hard to pay for the t-tuition." Just like that, the tension filling Hanako leaves her like a deflating balloon.
  398.  
  399. My father nods, placing down his chopsticks a bit harder than he might've intended to.
  400.  
  401. "That's admirable. I like you!" A grin I can only describe as corny spreads across his face, food complimenting his expression.
  402.  
  403. My mother sighs, taking a napkin and cleaning off his face. "Oh, sorry. I was enjoying the food too much to pay attention to where it was landing, I guess."
  404.  
  405. He clears his throat. "Anyways! If you ever need help, feel free to ask us. We don't really know much about the business or anything, but we can help you look for good colleges."
  406.  
  407. "Plus, you seem important to Hisao." A slight pause before he shoots me a dirty look. "Otherwise he wouldn't have kept you a secret this long."
  408.  
  409. Hanako seems confused by that. My mom giggles. "Hisao is the kind who knows he can't ever get what he wants when it comes to his father."
  410.  
  411. "No is always the response I get, even before I'd ask anything." I tell her. "That's not even the case here, though. I just was caught up living life."
  412.  
  413. "I guess I should apologize for not bringing her up though, huh?"
  414.  
  415. My mother just waves it off. "Oh, it's fine Hisao. We already knew."
  416.  
  417. "What?"
  418.  
  419. My father repeats it again, slower for me -- like I'm some kind of idiot. "We knew."
  420.  
  421. "The landlord told us you were living with someone else. What you don't know is that tenants have to be on the lease. More people cost more money." I'm dying. They knew? The entire time? ...And were paying extra because of it?
  422.  
  423. My dad snaps a finger. "Actually, we knew about Hanako before this. The head nurse at Yamaku seems to have his ear to the ground when it comes to his students. When he called us to let me know how your health has been, he mentioned that you started dating a girl named Hanako Ikezawa."
  424.  
  425. Seriously? Hanako and I have been pretty quiet with our relationship. ...Either word moves fast in Yamaku, or the nurse actually has a network of spies worthy of one of Kenji's conspiracy theories.
  426.  
  427. My mother seems to be enjoying my sudden anxiety. "It was your father's idea to rattle you two up a bit and see what happened."
  428.  
  429. This time it's my turn to shoot pops a dirty look, which he regards with a smirk.
  430.  
  431. "People are most honest when they don't have the opportunity to lie. I wanted to see what you two were like together. It looks like you two are a good match. I'm glad you found someone special after your crisis."
  432.  
  433. "You were pretty beaten up mentally when you were in the hospital. I wasn't sure you'd ever snap out of it. Took a nice girl, it seems." Hanako gives me a little inquisitive look. I don't like talking about those dark days in the hospital. My transition wasn't exactly smooth.
  434.  
  435. "You two should come by our place sometime during the next holiday. We can have a big dinner." Pops says, standing up.
  436.  
  437. My mother nods, agreeing with the sentiment. Hanako and I both stood up as well. "Leaving?"
  438.  
  439. My dad nods. "Yeah, gonna head back home. It's a little bit of a drive and driving is boring."
  440.  
  441. Hanako and I walk them to the door, saying our goodbyes and hugging.
  442.  
  443. "Hanako." My dad's sudden use of her name causes her to jump.
  444.  
  445. "Y-Yes?" She responds, plaintively.
  446.  
  447. "Would you mind stepping outside for a moment?" I give my dad a look and he shoos me off like I'm unimportant here.
  448.  
  449. "Sure..." She responds, and they step outside, closing the door behind them. Joke's on them, this door's really thin.
  450.  
  451. "When my son was diagnosed with the heart condition and what it meant, something in him broke."
  452.  
  453. "In just a couple months, he shut out the world. He would just read. The kid hid in his own head, hid from the world that was pulled right out from under him.
  454.  
  455. A moment of quiet. "Whatever you did, I think you changed him. You made him better. He looks like my old son, but newer. Stronger. I wanted to say thank you for giving me back my son."
  456.  
  457. I groan from the other side of the door. When he's not being a belligerent man-bear, he's busy being the sappiest thing since maple syrup.
  458.  
  459. "I was serious when I said call me dad. You're part of our family now and I'm looking forward to you being part of it. You two better not split up any time soon, got me?"
  460.  
  461. Her response is soft, like it'd get swept away in a breeze. "We won't. I d-don't intend to at least."
  462.  
  463. My dad's boisterous laughter blew away her words. "Good. Take care, Hanako. You two, eavesdropper." A loud bang explodes into my ear as he hits the door.
  464.  
  465. I'm sent reeling back and onto my rear from the shock of the surprise.
  466.  
  467. Hanako enters the apartment, standing in front of the door with her doors behind her back.
  468.  
  469. "So, I made you better?" She asks with a beaming smile.
  470.  
  471. I let a little one sneak onto my face. "I suppose you did, though I think more of the credit should go to Lilly."
  472.  
  473. Hanako immediately pouts at me. "That's not true!"
  474.  
  475. I laugh at her, pulling myself to my feet and her into a hug. "Of course it isn't."
  476.  
  477. With her face buried in my chest, she starts talking.
  478.  
  479. "Y'know, everyone I've ever met has always tried fixing me when I just wanted someone to accept me."
  480.  
  481. "When I met you, I saw that you were sad. I was s-sad too."
  482.  
  483. "I think I liked being with you at first because we were both sad people. I kept you at arm's length because I thought you'd end up like everyone else when I just wanted some company."
  484.  
  485. "I'm glad you weren't another person just trying to fix poor broken Hanako. S-So, I gave myself to you. I'm glad I d-did. Because I cared so much about you, you got better. A-And so did I."
  486.  
  487. A little bit of mutual love can fix people.
  488.  
  489. The only thing I can think of responding to that with is something she always wanted to hear from me; something I didn't often say because I never wanted the meaning or value to cheapen.
  490.  
  491. "Hanako?"
  492.  
  493. "Y-Yeah, Hisao?"
  494.  
  495. "I love you."
  496.  
  497. She pushes me against the nearby wall, pressing as tightly against me as she can; all so she can kiss me.
  498.  
  499. "I love you too, Hisao."
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