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[KS] The Purest Form of Love Pt 4 - Spaghetti

BlackWaltzTheThird May 18th, 2013 348 Never
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  1. Original post: http://ks.renai.us/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=7281&p=163398#p163398
  2.  
  3. I stifle a small yawn behind my hand. I’m so glad to be back amongst the exhausting tedium of the classroom. Not. I return my hand to my book, and finish turning the page I had unsuccessfully tried to turn by tilting the book with my other hand.
  4.  
  5. Oh, it seems like the beginning of a new chapter. I should put it away now, before I get too engaged and have to stop part-way through another when Mutou arrives. Or… I could read a tiny bit more. Yeah. There are still a few minutes left, and I’m a fast reader. I could totally get through another chapter.
  6.  
  7. It’s a pretty interesting story so far. A boy lives with his wealthy family, who own a zoo. He deals with a lot of bullying… something I can more or less relate to. But just as the ship on which the boy and his family are travelling heads into a fierce storm, I hear Mutou enter the classroom. I guess I couldn’t get through another chapter after all. I hastily mark my page, stow my book away and look to the front.
  8.  
  9. To my surprise, a boy follows Mutou into the room. His brown hair is a neat kind of messy, with a centre-parted fringe and a lock that sticks upwards at a weird angle. He looks a little thin, and somewhat nervous. His posture is a little slouched, and he looks tired, like he hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a long time. And yet… it seems to suit him.
  10.  
  11. He looks around the class as Mutou introduces him. For some reason, when he makes eye contact with me, my body goes rigid, and I throw my hand up in front of my face out of habit. I find my chest to be tight; so much so that I’m unable to release my pent up breath.
  12.  
  13. Because of this, I miss Mutou’s introduction. When the boy looks away to introduce himself more personally, I finally regain my self-control, letting out a long breath. I manage to catch the newcomer’s name this time; ‘Hisao’, as it would seem. The class applauds Hisao, and he is directed to take a seat next to Mikado.
  14.  
  15. Mutou begins handing out group assignments for us to complete. Once, I would have just completed the work by myself. More recently, I’ve been kind-of-sort-of working with Ooe and Inoue next to me. This time, however, I decide to shift my desk nearer to Hakamichi and Mikado, so I can observe Hisao, whom they have roped into working with them.
  16.  
  17. I fill in the questions in between stealthy glances up at Hisao. He seems quite nervous; he doesn’t say much, and when he does it’s with hesitance. The same can be said for his work, which ends up mostly being completed by Hakamichi. I notice that he absent-mindedly rubs his chest from time to time. It reminds me of my tendency to cover my face, even though I’ve been trying to avoid that.
  18.  
  19. Eventually, though, class nears its end. I have an unexplainable urge to talk to Hisao, but I can’t bring myself to do it. In any case, it seems the Student Council have lead him away for lunch. Knowing that Lilly is busy with Class Representative Duties today, I stay in the classroom to eat my lunch.
  20.  
  21. When the class files back in after lunch, I notice the distinct lack of a pair of Student Council members and their captive new student. Shortly afterwards, the former arrive alone, with no sign of Hisao. I begin to wonder where he may have gone, especially as the day draws on, but he never returns to class.
  22.  
  23. Thoughts of him keep me up rather late. For reasons I can’t explain, I find myself succumbing to an insatiable curiosity. My mind formulates idea after idea as to where Hisao went, why he didn’t come back, and what he’s like.
  24.  
  25. It’s kind of strange, really, being this interested in someone I’ve never even talked to. Eventually, though, my imagination isn’t enough to stave off the beckoning of the Sandman, and I fall asleep.
  26.  
  27. Only to be awoken what seems like moments later for another day of class. Damnit. I yawn heavily, with a stretch so powerful it causes my back to pop. How little did I sleep? I could catch up on lost sleep by skipping class. No. I’m not supposed to do that anymore.
  28.  
  29. With a frustrated groan, I kick my sheets off and get out of bed. It’s what Emi would do. It’s what Emi does every day, when she goes for her run. If she can handle early mornings, so can I. I throw on my uniform, brush my hair quickly and wolf down some breakfast. Rushing keeps me awake.
  30.  
  31. I set a brisk pace heading to room 3-3. Unsurprisingly, I’m the only one there when I arrive. It is only 8 o’clock, after all. Sitting at my desk like this, I find myself drifting off. I try reading my book to keep me awake, but despite the intensity of the ship sinking in the storm and the main character’s awakening face-to-face with a tiger, I fall asleep.
  32.  
  33. The ocean swirls before me, raging in the storm. Lightning cracks above, the rain pelts down, and in the distance a great inferno consumes a house. I can see a boy with messy hair calling out for help from inside its crumbling confines.
  34.  
  35. I try desperately to swim towards him, but the water is too strong. Lightning flashes again, and in the temporary light I see two sharks circling ominously – one that seems to be laughing maniacally, and one that seems to wear a devious smile under its gleaming eyes.
  36.  
  37. Then a thunderous bang tears me from my dream world. I sit bolt upright, searching frantically for the source of the commotion. At the door, Mikado stands in a state of apologetic shock, before Hakamichi pushes past her into the room, with Hisao bringing up the rear.
  38.  
  39. I try to smile at Hisao, but end up shrinking into my seat under Hakamichi’s intense gaze. The three take their seats, followed soon after by the rest of the class. Once again, we’re set a group assignment. Before I can act, Hakamichi and Mikado snap up Hisao for their group.
  40.  
  41. I huff in disappointment. Ooe and Inoue both give me a concerned look, to which I smile reassuringly, but I neglect to join their group. I realise I’m being quite petty, and again I question my motives for doing so. It doesn’t make sense to be so interested in someone.
  42.  
  43. I put my head down and start the work, but I find myself unable to focus. Turning towards Hisao, I catch him looking my way. For the second time, I feel myself go tense. In a panic, I do the first thing that comes to mind – run. As soon as I’m out of the room, I press myself against the wall and take a deep breath. I need to calm down.
  44.  
  45. With that in mind, I head for the disused classroom that Lilly and I have made our own. As usual, it’s empty. In anticipation of Lilly’s arrival, I begin preparing a pot of tea. The habitual routine and the familiar aroma still my nerves.
  46.  
  47. Just as I finish preparing my tea and a small snack to accompany it, Lilly arrives. She tilts her head towards the direction of the still-bubbling teapot, and smiles.
  48.  
  49. “Hanako? You’re quite early.”
  50.  
  51. “Yes, well, I…” I trail off, unsure of how to justify my early arrival. It’s been a while since I last skipped class.
  52.  
  53. “Never mind,” Lilly says with a reassuring smile. “Is there tea ready?”
  54.  
  55. “Y-yeah. Sandwiches, too. Would you like some?”
  56.  
  57. “That would be lovely, Hanako.”
  58.  
  59. The question and answer are always the same, but the pleasantries have become habitual after all this time. I pour us both a cup of tea, and we sip it quietly while the students outside make their way to their own lunch spots.
  60.  
  61. “Is something on your mind?” Lilly asks.
  62.  
  63. “N-nothing. Just… thinking.”
  64.  
  65. “Would you like to talk about it?”
  66.  
  67. I hesitate for a brief moment. I see no reason the keep it a secret.
  68.  
  69. “O-okay. There’s a new boy in my c-class.”
  70.  
  71. Lilly raises her eyebrow curiously.
  72.  
  73. “Really?”
  74.  
  75. “Yeah. He transferred in y-yesterday.”
  76.  
  77. “Hmm. I was not aware that we would be receiving a transfer student, much less this far into the year. How would you describe him?”
  78.  
  79. “Um… he has m-messy hair. And he’s skinny. And kinda tired-looking. B-but not in a bad way.”
  80.  
  81. “He sounds like a cute boy, if you ask me. Did you find out his name?”
  82.  
  83. Cute? That’s a hard question. He had a nice appearance, and funny hair… but his eyes… they seemed so lost. I guess it could go either way.
  84.  
  85. “Y-yeah, cute I guess. His name is Hisao.”
  86.  
  87. “Hisao, hmm? Did you talk to him?”
  88.  
  89. I cast my eyes downward shamefully, despite the fact that Lilly can’t see it.
  90.  
  91. “N-no… he was in a group with Hakamichi and Mikado.”
  92.  
  93. “My, my, that’s most unfortunate. Maybe you’ll have a chance to talk to him later?”
  94.  
  95. “Yeah, maybe…”
  96.  
  97. Before either of us can add any more to the conversation, the bell that signals the end of lunch time rings. I pack up the tea set and, along with Lilly, make my way to class. We say our farewells outside room 3-2, but as I turn to enter my own classroom, I spy Hisao with Hakamichi and Mikado again. I feel a twinge in my guts that causes me to hesitate outside the room, even as the hallway empties.
  98.  
  99. Why does this keep happening? I clench my fists and screw up my eyes to fight the feeling. I take in a deep breath, and exhale slowly, opening my eyes and relaxing my hands at the same time.
  100.  
  101. “Whatcha doin’?”
  102.  
  103. I nearly jump backwards out of fright. The girl in front of me stands in a somewhat coiled, springy posture, leaning forward with a curious expression and her hands in front of her chest. If she were wearing the school uniform instead of the gym uniform, she’d probably be clutching her bow.
  104.  
  105. “Emi! You scared m-me…”
  106.  
  107. “My bad. So, whatcha doin’?”
  108.  
  109. “I… I don’t really f-feel like going to class.”
  110.  
  111. “Great! Come with me!”
  112.  
  113. “Huh? Where are you g-going?”
  114.  
  115. “To the track! I usually have P.E. now, but they’re doing a pool class today. Water and I don’t mix very well. So, you gonna come?”
  116.  
  117. “Sure.”
  118.  
  119. “Great! Let’s go!”
  120.  
  121. Turning on her ‘heel’ without a second thought, Emi strides off towards the stairwell. I follow shortly behind her. The solitude of the empty hallways, along with the rhythmic clicking of Emi’s legs, calms me. We walk for a short time in silence, but when we breach the doors of the school building and step into the sun, I speak up.
  122.  
  123. “Hey, Emi… have you seen the new b-boy?”
  124.  
  125. Emi stops mid-stride, whirls around to face me and continues walking to the track, backwards.
  126.  
  127. “There’s a new boy? Is he cute? Does he like sports?”
  128.  
  129. “I don’t know… I haven’t b-been able to talk to him yet.”
  130.  
  131. “Aww. What’s he look like? I’ll keep an eye out for him.”
  132.  
  133. I repeat the description I earlier gave to Lilly, except using more visual indicators, like approximating his height. Emi cups her chin in her hand thoughtfully, presumably trying to picture Hisao.
  134.  
  135. “Sounds like he’s pretty good looking. Why didn’t you talk to him?”
  136.  
  137. “I-I tried. But… every time he looked at me, I f-froze up. But it was different to usual. It was r-really weird.”
  138.  
  139. “Really? Heh. You~ like him!”
  140.  
  141. “W-what?”
  142.  
  143. “You so do! You’re nervous around him, you’re afraid to talk to him, and you’re getting flushed just thinking about him.”
  144.  
  145. I raise my hand to my face, and feel that I am indeed rather flushed. Knowing that makes my cheeks glow even redder. Emi continues her spiel with excitement.
  146.  
  147. “Tell you what. I’m gonna help you get this guy. Just like I did that time at the beach.”
  148.  
  149. I’d almost forgotten about that. Emi cheered me up and led me to play a ball game with some boys in the water. At one point, I got nailed by a wave in the deep water and a handsome boy named Haru helped me up.
  150.  
  151. Remembering the way he looked me in the eye gives me a twinge in the guts, just like looking at Hisao did before. I guess Emi’s right; maybe I do like Hisao. And, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure it was Emi that threw the short ball that made me go into the deeper water. She’s right about that too. Though, one thing gives me pause.
  152.  
  153. “Wait, didn’t you just s-say that you don’t mix well with water?”
  154.  
  155. “Yeah, why?”
  156.  
  157. “But you were in the w-water with me at the beach.”
  158.  
  159. “Oh. Yeah. I’m not really supposed to take my prosthetics into the water, but I thought it would be okay for a little while so I could get you out there. And it went pretty well, huh?”
  160.  
  161. “Y-yeah, I guess so…”
  162.  
  163. “See, that’s the spirit! Now, listen up; I’ve got experience with this sorta thing, so I’ll give you some advice.”
  164.  
  165. Emi stops walking, and gestures towards the bleachers beside the track a short distance away. I hadn’t even realised we had arrived. I take a seat on the first row and Emi sidles up beside me.
  166.  
  167. “You said it was hard to talk to him. That’s easy! First, you just gotta pretend you already know him.”
  168.  
  169. “H-how do I do that?”
  170.  
  171. “Well, you talk to me easily enough… pretend he’s me.”
  172.  
  173. I ponder the idea. Something like that is more easily said than done. Emi coughs, evidently still requiring my attention.
  174.  
  175. “Come on, then.”
  176.  
  177. “Huh?”
  178.  
  179. “Pretend I’m him. And then pretend that him-me is me-me. And then talk.”
  180.  
  181. “…You’re starting t-to sound like Rin.”
  182.  
  183. “Hey! Am not! Ah, forget it. Strike up a conversation with me, except say his name instead of mine. C’mon, go.”
  184.  
  185. This is ridiculous. I grimace unconvincedly at Emi, but she maintains her peppy, encouraging smile, and her eyes seem to go all cute, like a puppy. Fine, I’ll give it a shot.
  186.  
  187. “O-okay… Ahem… Hi, Hisao…”
  188.  
  189. “Oh, hello, what’s your name?” Emi says, in a somewhat deeper-than-usual voice, puffing out her chest and tensing her arms in attempt to look more masculine. It’s quite comical, and I struggle not to laugh.
  190.  
  191. “I’m Hanako. S-so, you’re new here, huh?”
  192.  
  193. “Yup, that’s me; Hisao, the new guy. I don’t know anything about this place, can you show me around?”
  194.  
  195. My efforts to suppress my giggling fail. I force out my words in between fits of laughter.
  196.  
  197. “S-sure. Tell me a little bit about yourself, Hisao.”
  198.  
  199. “Alright. I, uh, like books! And cooking! And… singing! Yes, lots of singing! La-dee-da-da, la-dee-da!”
  200.  
  201. All pretences of seriousness now abandoned, Emi and I break into uproarious laughter. I don’t doubt that half the school could hear us laughing out here. Emi wipes a tear from her eye and continues speaking, in her regular voice this time.
  202.  
  203. “Secondly, relax. You can’t be tense and over think things. Laughter is a good thing.”
  204.  
  205. I nod my head in understanding. “O-okay, what else?”
  206.  
  207. “Number three. This is a big one. You ready? Be prepared to fail.”
  208.  
  209. “W-what?”
  210.  
  211. “That’s right. You can’t assume that you’ll succeed. You’ll get overconfident, and then cocky. Confidence is good, but you don’t want to come off as self-absorbed. And, more importantly, if you do fail, big deal! It happens to everyone. Heck, it happened with my first boyfriend, too.”
  212.  
  213. “Really?”
  214.  
  215. “Yeah. It sucked when we broke up, but that’s all in the past now. That’s what you’ve gotta do. Every try is a clean slate.”
  216.  
  217. “Okay. I think I’ve g-got it.”
  218.  
  219. “Great! Now, I need to get running, otherwise I’ll be late for English class and Miyagi’ll have my head again.”
  220.  
  221. “Sure. Thanks, Emi.”
  222.  
  223. “No worries, Hanners. Stick around and watch if you want, otherwise, good luck!”
  224.  
  225. And with that, Emi takes off at warp speed around the track. I go over her advice in my head. So; one, talk to Hisao like I already know him; two, be relaxed and laugh; and three, don’t be afraid to screw it up. Sounds simple enough. With renewed confidence, I stand up, and head for the school building, waving to Emi as she runs past.
  226.  
  227. My late arrival to class goes nearly unnoticed. Though less frequent as of late, everyone’s gotten used to me stepping in and out at unusual times. Everyone, that is, except Hisao. He turns an inquisitive gaze towards me where everyone else merely glances and gets back to their work. I feel my heart freeze in my chest as I step over to my desk, maintaining eye contact with Hisao all the while.
  228.  
  229. When I take my seat, Hisao looks away, and my heartbeat returns to its normal rhythm. The classroom is silent, save for the teacher lecturing on about some topic I fail to catch myself up on. Surprisingly, not even Mikado is making a sound.
  230.  
  231. I tune out the lecture and make to catch Hisao’s attention, but stop short. Even if I could figure out what to say to Hisao, at this distance it would be far from discreet. Even passing notes would not even approach subtle. Man, if only I knew how to sign like Hakamichi and Mikado.
  232.  
  233. I sit patiently until the end of class. When the carillon finally rings, I’m already packed and ready to go. But, somehow, Hakamichi and Mikado are faster. Mikado talks animatedly with both voice and hands as the Student Council temptresses lead Hisao off to places unknown.
  234.  
  235. I try to call out, but my voice ends up being nothing more than a strained whisper that goes unnoticed by everyone except Inoue, whom merely shrugs. It’s not fair. How can I even put Emi’s advice to good use if I can’t even get into a conversation with Hisao to start with? Useless.
  236.  
  237. I push my way through the last of the crowd and walk. I don’t have any destination in mind. Anywhere that I can get some time alone to think is good. I don’t really pay attention to how long I walk for, or where I go, but I somehow manage to end up at the library. Well, so be it.
  238.  
  239. I head inside, say a quiet ‘hello’ to Yuuko, and take a seat in my usual place; a beanbag near the back of the library. I extract my book from my bag and begin to read. It doesn’t really sink in. My thoughts keep drifting away to my failure to talk to Hisao earlier in the day.
  240.  
  241. I hold the book close to my face and force myself to think each word on the page, kind of like how one would dictate a story to a small child. The forced focus seems to make me acutely aware of just how long I’ve been sitting here.
  242.  
  243. Eventually I manage to get settled enough to read properly. Slowly, the world around me begins to get tuned out as I fall back into the world of fiction. My focus becomes so tight that I don’t notice the person opposite me until the comparatively loud sound of him sitting in a beanbag.
  244.  
  245. I start violently, only to look up and realise the person that scared me is, in fact, Hisao. He and I stare into the other’s eyes for an eternal second. That fleeting feeling takes hold of me again, rendering me unable to look away. Hisao doesn’t look away either, but manages to gather his composure enough to speak.
  246.  
  247. “Hi! I’m new here. Hisao Nakai. We’re in the same class.”
  248.  
  249. My mind refuses to take in the introduction. Like the words on the pages of my book before, Hisao’s words just bounce off with no effect. Not having received a response, Hisao continues.
  250.  
  251. “Um… I just transferred here the other day. Maybe you don’t remember?”
  252.  
  253. My mouth opens and closes like a fish out of water, refusing to form a sentence.
  254.  
  255. “I did a self-introduction too.”
  256.  
  257. Come on, Hanako, say something! You spent all that time trying to talk to Hisao and now he’s right here talking to you! What did Emi say to do again? Don’t be overconfident? No – well, yes, but that wasn’t what I was trying to remember. The other thing. Oh, wait, there were three things. Think think think.
  258.  
  259. “I’m still getting used to the place so I’m trying to meet as many people as I can.”
  260.  
  261. Oh! Right! Pretend I already know him! Pretend he’s Emi. Yeah, that’s it.
  262.  
  263. “So, er… what’s your name?”
  264.  
  265. Suddenly my palms feel all sweaty. My knees go weak, and my arms feel so ridiculously heavy that holding my book becomes a struggle.
  266.  
  267. “H… Hanako…” I sputter out. Pathetic.
  268.  
  269. “Hanako, eh? So what are you reading?”
  270.  
  271. My tongue appears to swell up, and my mouth goes drier than the Sahara Desert. I can’t even begin to form the words. Instead, I tilt the book so Hisao can see the title.
  272.  
  273. “‘Life of Pi’? I’ve never heard of it before. What’s it about?”
  274.  
  275. Oh man, oh man, oh man. What is it about? I was just reading it not a second ago! Try and remember! Wait, no; Hanako, you dumbass, you’re holding the book right in front of you! Read it! Okay, mmhmm, that’s right. Yes.
  276.  
  277. “A boy… and a tiger… on a boat…”
  278.  
  279. “Sounds interesting. Is it any good?”
  280.  
  281. No more questions. Too soon. I can’t even – I need time for my brain to recover. I take the path of least resistance and just nod. He nods in understanding, and the conversation – if you could call it that – drifts into silence.
  282.  
  283. How is this happening? Why is this happening? I can feel my heart beating a million times a minute. Adrenalin courses through my bloodstream. All of a sudden I feel really cold and really hot at the same time, and I start to shiver.
  284.  
  285. “Is it a library book? I’m looking for new ones to read, but there’s just so many…”
  286.  
  287. “N-no. It’s mine.”
  288.  
  289. Yes, that’s better! Don’t think about it. Just say it. Yeah.
  290.  
  291. “Oh. So… do you come here often?”
  292.  
  293. What? What. What?! What-what-what-what-what-what? Is he hitting on me? He’s hitting on me. Oh my god. Oh-my-god-oh-my-god-oh-my-god. Relax. Chill. Don’t blush. Okay, fine, blush. A lot. But don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. Ohhhh no, oh no, oh no. I’m freaking out. Aaaaaahhhhhh!
  294.  
  295. Whatever he says next flies completely over my head. I can’t. I’m panicking. I’m going to have an anxiety attack. I have to… I have to go away. I…
  296.  
  297. “I… I…”
  298.  
  299. “I…?”
  300.  
  301. “I’vegottogodosomething!”
  302.  
  303. Before I even realise what I’m doing, I’m on my feet and out of the library. I sprint down the hall at a speed of which I’m sure Emi would be proud. It’s only a short distance to the tea room, and seconds later I burst through the door and throw myself into one of the seats.
  304.  
  305. I slump forward, and heaving sobs wrack my body. Point number three; be prepared to fail. Well, I failed alright. Failed on all three points, even. I slam my fist into the table with a loud bang.
  306.  
  307. “God damnit!” I scream into the table. I don’t even care if anyone hears the profanity.
  308.  
  309. “Hanako? Are you alright?”
  310.  
  311. “L-Lilly?”
  312.  
  313. I lift my head off the table, and see Lilly standing in the doorway, with a decidedly worried look on her face. Oh, please don’t look at me like that; it cuts me up when people worry about me. I drop my head back into the cradle formed by my arms on the table.
  314.  
  315. “Hanako… Hisao told me what happened. Is everything okay?”
  316.  
  317. “I tried t-talking to him, Lilly, I really did. But I c-couldn’t do it. I kept getting nervous and my voice wouldn’t work, or he’d g-get talked into going somewhere with the Student C-Council, and then, when he finally n-noticed me in the library, I took something he said the wrong w-way and I freaked out and I… I ran away…”
  318.  
  319. By the time I’m done retelling what happened, I’ve worked myself up into a blubbering mess again. “Why am I s-so bad at being normal?!”
  320.  
  321. I look to Lilly through my tears, silently imploring her to answer. Instead, Lilly steps over to the table, pulls up a seat next to me, and wraps her arm around my shoulders, pulling me into her embrace.
  322.  
  323. “Normal? My, my, getting nervous talking to boys is the most normal thing in the world. Even I struggle to maintain my composure around someone I fancy.”
  324.  
  325. “R-really?”
  326.  
  327. “That’s right. There was someone I knew before I came to Yamaku. He… well, let us just say that he inspired me to take to English as strongly as I do. I always got so flustered that I’d spend hours practicing just to talk to him without tripping up.”
  328.  
  329. The thought of Lilly becoming flustered is a shocking prospect for me. Lilly, the ever-calm, -composed and -rational diplomat, susceptible to something as feeble as nerves? Preposterous. Nevertheless, I crack a small smile as Lilly continues.
  330.  
  331. “I never did manage to control myself around him. I learned a great deal from the experience, though, so I don’t believe it was wasted. The same can be said for your experience. Use it to learn how better to act next time. It’s not the end of the world.”
  332.  
  333. “Th-thanks, Lilly,” I whisper, with a sniffle.
  334.  
  335. “You needn’t thank me, Hanako. For now, how about we have dinner and call it an early night?”
  336.  
  337. I smile wider, relieved to have a distraction from the events of today.
  338.  
  339. “Sounds g-great.”
  340.  
  341. *****
  342.  
  343. I stifle a yawn behind my left hand. Beside me, Lilly stirs as well. I’m glad Lilly offered to let me spend the night with her; her presence gave me peace of mind enough for a good night’s sleep.
  344.  
  345. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I flop out of Lilly’s bed and gather my clothes. I make use of our shared bathroom for a quick, refreshing shower and, by the time I’m done, Lilly has also awoken and prepared for the morning.
  346.  
  347. “G-good morning, Lilly.”
  348.  
  349. “Good morning, Hanako. How did you sleep?”
  350.  
  351. “Great! I feel loads b-better than I did yesterday.”
  352.  
  353. “Wonderful. Shall we head to class?”
  354.  
  355. “Sure. Let’s g-go.”
  356.  
  357. We collect our respective belongings and step out into the dorm hall. Curiously, the usual flurry of activity is absent. I dismiss the anomaly and make my way over to the school building with Lilly at my side. Like the dorms, the school grounds and even the school building are empty.
  358.  
  359. “W-where is everyone?”
  360.  
  361. “I’d though it was rather quiet. Are we early? The grounds are often quite sparse in the mornings.”
  362.  
  363. “I’m not sure… I can’t r-read your clock. I don’t think it’s that e-early, though… and I don’t remember h-hearing your alarm.”
  364.  
  365. “Oh, dear… I must have forgotten to set it, what with our unusual sleeping arrangements. Never mind; it isn’t like we’ve never been late before.”
  366.  
  367. I sigh with resignation. Being late means people are gonna notice my arrival. Which means Hisao is gonna notice my arrival. Which means he’s gonna talk to Mikado and Hakamichi about it. Great. Hopefully Hakamichi isn’t feeling too vindictive today. She should realise just how much her enmity for Lilly affects others.
  368.  
  369. In no time at all we arrive at our destination. Lilly and I share a quick farewell before entering our respective classrooms. I keep my eyes lowered as I enter, afraid to make contact with the judging eyes of no one in particular.
  370.  
  371. Unusually, the feeling of over a dozen eyes burning into my back is absent. Everyone seems to be arranged into groups and hard at work on some assignment. Only one person notices my arrival – Hisao.
  372.  
  373. I shoot him what I mean to be a smile but what actually ends up as some kind of half-grimace, and get to working on the assignment by myself. It’s not difficult in the slightest, and I finish the work in record time.
  374.  
  375. With nothing else to do, I observe the others in the class. Around the room, groups huddle around desks and whisper quietly. One group, however, whispers a little louder than the rest.
  376.  
  377. “Hey, that girl over there…” Hisao says to Misha, covering his mouth slightly with his hand.
  378.  
  379. “Huh? Who, Hicchan?”
  380.  
  381. “Her. Hanako. Over there. Does she always work alone?”
  382.  
  383. What? Hisao’s asking about me? I automatically look towards Hisao and Mikado and catch their gazes. Ugh, why did I do that? No! It’ll look like I’m eavesdropping. Well, I am. But they can’t know! I immediately look at the sheet in front of me and retrace my writing as to appear busy. Hisao and Mikado continue their not-so-covert conversation without pause.
  384.  
  385. “I think so, Hicchan. Do you feel sorry for her because she’s alone?”
  386.  
  387. “I was just thinking she could work with us or something.”
  388.  
  389. You were? You want to work with me? No one’s ever even asked me to work with them before. Not even Ooe and Inoue; the only times we worked together were because I kind-of-sort-of implicitly asked to join them, and they didn’t object to it.
  390.  
  391. “Hmmm… No, I don’t think that would be a good idea, Hicchan.”
  392.  
  393. “Why?”
  394.  
  395. Why? I’ve asked myself that a few times. All I know is that Lilly and Hakamichi used to be quite close. And now that they aren’t, Hakamichi seems to have something against me, too.
  396.  
  397. “Just because, Hicchan,” Mikado replies with a strange, nervous-sounding laugh. Beside her, Shizune signs an addendum to the response. “What, Shicchan? The friend of my enemy is my enemy? That sounds so harsh; I’m not going to say that.”
  398.  
  399. Hisao’s words echo my own thoughts; “You said it anyway.”
  400.  
  401. “I know Hicchan; it’s fine if you overhear~!”
  402.  
  403. And what about everyone else? I’m sure everyone in the classroom could have heard your little exchange just now. Well, at least I know what Hakamichi’s deal is. How petty.
  404.  
  405. The three of them get back to their work, so I have nothing to do once again. With a shrug to no one in particular, I extract yesterday’s handouts from my desk and read them over. I haven’t studied this stuff before, but it’s not difficult. I make a few annotations here and there, and before long the lunch bell sounds.
  406.  
  407. The classroom bursts into a flurry of shifting desks, unwrapping lunches and idle conversation. Some students leave the room, possibly to head over to the cafeteria, or to dine outdoors. However, Hakamichi and Mikado stay put, with Hisao alongside them.
  408.  
  409. I look towards the door. Usually Lilly comes over to the classroom to meet me, but, with Hakamichi here, things could get… messy. Maybe I should just go meet her at her classroom…
  410.  
  411. “Hey there, Hanako,” a male voice begins. The interruption gives me a start.
  412.  
  413. “H… Hisao?”
  414.  
  415. Hisao smiles and rubs the back of his head with his hand sheepishly. He looks so tall from my seated position.
  416.  
  417. “Hey… I just wanted to apologise for yesterday. I didn’t mean to startle you or anything. I’m just new here and thought I should get to know my classmates.”
  418.  
  419. I smile in return and, for once, manage to stop myself from instinctively throwing my hand in front of my scars.
  420.  
  421. “T… that’s okay,” I reply. “It… it was my fault.”
  422.  
  423. Hisao waves his hand dismissively, responding, “Nah, that wasn’t anyone’s ‘fault’, it just kinda happened.”
  424.  
  425. He looks to the door, then back to me before continuing, “So, are you waiting for someone? I saw you looking at the door before…”
  426.  
  427. “Y-yes… Lilly.”
  428.  
  429. Hisao’s eyes flash in recognition.
  430.  
  431. “Oh, you mean Lilly, the blind girl?”
  432.  
  433. His rather tactless description leaves me hesitant to validate it, but unwilling to leave Hisao without a response, I wordlessly nod my head. After a brief awkward pause, Hisao continues.
  434.  
  435. “She seems like a nice girl. Are you two friends?”
  436.  
  437. “Y-yes,” I say, looking over my shoulder to check the door again. Hisao follows my gaze and frowns.
  438.  
  439. “Is there something wrong?”
  440.  
  441. “N-no, I’m fine. It’s just easier if Lilly doesn’t come here right now…”
  442.  
  443. “Oh, because it’s hard to get around the classroom?”
  444.  
  445. Really, Hisao? I kind of want to smack my forehead with my palm. I look beyond him, towards Hakamichi, muttering, “Not… really,” as a hint.
  446.  
  447. “Shizune?”
  448.  
  449. Does he have to talk so loud? Hakamichi may be deaf, but no one else is, especially Mikado. I nod my head again, watching for signs that the magenta bullhorn might have picked up on our conversation.
  450.  
  451. “What about her? Don’t they get along?”
  452.  
  453. I shake my head. Be quieter, please. Besides, Mikado just told you this. She still doesn’t seem to have heard us talking about them yet, though. Perhaps the other, rowdier students are masking it. I almost don’t notice the knock on the door amidst the din.
  454.  
  455. “Lilly…” I call quietly as I make my way over to the door.
  456.  
  457. “Ah, Hanako. Is the president here?”
  458.  
  459. With another quick look to confirm the Student Council’s obliviousness, I confirm Lilly’s inquiry.
  460.  
  461. “I supposed we’d best be off, then,” Lilly sighs.
  462.  
  463. “Hey Lilly,” Hisao interjects. “How are things? I’m sorry I made you run off yesterday…”
  464.  
  465. “Oh my, is that Hisao? I didn’t realise you were here…” Lilly says, her voice tinged with embarrassment. Personally, I’d almost forgotten he was talking to me not a few seconds ago.
  466.  
  467. “My bad, I should have said something before…”
  468.  
  469. “That’s quite alright, Hisao. And please don’t worry about yesterday. It was just a misunderstanding.”
  470.  
  471. Hisao shuffles about nervously, mumbling, “If you say so. I’m still working this place out.”
  472.  
  473. Lilly returns to wearing her usual, serene smile.
  474.  
  475. “Well then, I think you’ll find people here are a lot more forgiving than elsewhere. If you are feeling a little confused, please don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
  476.  
  477. “Sure, I’ll remember that.”
  478.  
  479. The ever-decreasing time left in the lunch break presses on my mind. The longer we stay here, the less time we have for lunch, and the more chance there is that the Student Council will notice Lilly’s presence. I clear my throat to catch Lilly’s attention.
  480.  
  481. “I know, Hanako. I’m sorry Hisao, but we must be off.”
  482.  
  483. Hisao nods in acknowledgement, but stands firm. He hesitates for a second, perhaps considering his words, before asking, “Mind if I accompany you two?”
  484.  
  485. Huh? He wants to- ? I look to Lilly, who hums quietly.
  486.  
  487. “I’m sure that we could accommodate you, can’t we, Hanako?”
  488.  
  489. My eyes go wide. Lilly, do you really have to? Even though I really would like for Hisao to join us, I don’t want the spotlight like this…
  490.  
  491. “S… sure,” I sputter out. Gah! What happened to the casualness from before Lilly arrived? I was doing so well, too…
  492.  
  493. The three of use depart the classroom and start on the path to the tea room. I cling tightly to Lilly – something I haven’t done for quite some time – out of fear for what I might do if I got too close to Hisao, and how he might react.
  494.  
  495. As we round the corner, I look over to Hisao, making eye contact for a split second before he suddenly falls backwards at high speed. I shriek loudly in surprise.
  496.  
  497. Sprawled on the floor in front of me, dressed in her P.E. uniform and rubbing her nose, Emi groans. A few metres away, Hisao lies on his back, limbs splayed save for his right hand clutching his chest.
  498.  
  499. The world seems to blank out for an indeterminate amount of time. Or no time at all. By the time I’m returned to reality by Lilly’s panicked questioning, it seems that Emi and Hisao have both managed to get back on their feet and regain their composure.
  500.  
  501. “I’m so sorry!” Emi near-shouts. “I was just heading out for a quick run, and I was kind of in a hurry… I didn’t mean to hit you.”
  502.  
  503. “Would that be Emi?” Lilly asks.
  504.  
  505. “Yup! Hi Lilly, Hanako.”
  506.  
  507. “Do try to be more careful. You might be sturdy enough to endure these sorts of accidents, but there are people who aren’t.”
  508.  
  509. Emi fidgets embarrassedly, pulling a similar face to the one at the track. It reminds me of a little kid trying to worm their way out of trouble by acting adorable.
  510.  
  511. “I know that! I – I was just –”
  512.  
  513. “It’s nothing serious,” Hisao interrupts, “I’m just winded, that’s all.”
  514.  
  515. “You sure you’re okay? I hit you pretty hard.”
  516.  
  517. “It’s okay; I said I was fine and nothing’s broken. No harm done.”
  518.  
  519. Emi doesn’t look convinced. She shrugs, saying, “Well… if you insist. The name’s Emi, by the way.”
  520.  
  521. “Hisao. Hisao Nakai.”
  522.  
  523. “Oh, you must be the new guy! Hanako told me about you. You two’re in the same class, right?”
  524.  
  525. “Yeah. In fact, we were just going to have lunch.”
  526.  
  527. “Really? Is it cool if I join you guys? Rin’s… well, she’s not having lunch.”
  528.  
  529. Hisao hesitates, looking to Lilly for permission, then to me once he realises the futility of the gesture. Lilly can usually tell when someone’s speaking to her, but she stays silent. I guess it’s up to me.
  530.  
  531. “S-sure. The more the merrier, r-right?”
  532.  
  533. Emi bounces up and down excitedly, exclaiming, “Great! I’ll just go change out of this and grab my lunch, I’ll be right back!” before taking off down the hall at a sprint.
  534.  
  535. Hisao watches her depart, and continues to watch for a few seconds even after she’s out of sight.
  536.  
  537. “Another friend of yours?” he asks, turning back to face me.
  538.  
  539. “Yeah, that’s right. We’re pretty c-close.”
  540.  
  541. “Funny, I’d been under the impression that you two didn’t get on well with people so, uh… boisterous.”
  542.  
  543. The way Hisao emphasises the word ‘boisterous’ leads me to believe he’s referring to Mikado and Hakamichi. They’re not comparable; it’s a different kind of boisterousness.
  544.  
  545. “Emi’s… different. A-anyway, shall we be off?”
  546.  
  547. Hisao nods his assent, and we resume walking to the tea room. By the time we arrive, lunch is nearly half over. I guess it’ll be a short lunch, today. Lilly gets the kettle going, while I set out our food. Just as the water boils and Lilly pours our tea, Emi arrives, back in her school uniform and clutching a lunchbox of her own.
  548.  
  549. “Sweet, just in time. Have you got some of that lemon tea for me?”
  550.  
  551. “Of course, Emi,” Lilly says, with a hummed giggle. “We can’t have you missing out on your daily fix, now, can we?”
  552.  
  553. “Psh, I don’t drink it that much. You make it sound like I’m a tea addict like you two.”
  554.  
  555. “You aren’t?”
  556.  
  557. Emi hesitates, before stammering out an unconfident, “N-no!” Lilly and I chuckle heartily, knowing full well just how much more frequently Emi drinks tea since she joined us for dinner in Lilly’s room. Already seated, Hisao looks on with a bemused smile.
  558.  
  559. “So, this is what you meant by coming here every day?”
  560.  
  561. “Hanako and I usually have lunch here, yes,” Lilly replies, sitting down opposite him. “Emi joins us on occasion, though she’d be hard-pressed to admit just how often.”
  562.  
  563. Emi crosses her arms indignantly.
  564.  
  565. “Okay, okay, I admit it; I might be taking a liking to certain perks of having lunch with you guys. Now can we talk about something else?”
  566.  
  567. Emi takes a seat next to Lilly, hand moving almost instantaneously to her cup of tea. She shoots me a knowing glance, flicking over to Hisao, and back. Oh, right. Following her lead, I claim the fourth seat at the table, opposite Emi and next to Hisao.
  568.  
  569. Emi nods subtly, then turns to Hisao, asking, “So, how’re you doing here at Yamaku, Hisao?”
  570.  
  571. “Apart from getting lost every now and again, and getting crash-tackled right outside my classroom? Fine, I guess…”
  572.  
  573. “Hey, I already said sorry! C’mon, cut me a break, will ya?”
  574.  
  575. “You… you looked pretty hurt before,” I add. “Are you really… okay?”
  576.  
  577. Hisao laughs, waving his offhand dismissively.
  578.  
  579. “Don’t worry about it; I just wanted to get in on this ‘friendly teasing’ thing you three have going. I’m fine, really. I was just a bit startled.” He takes a quick sip of tea before continuing, “So, uh… how long have you been in this school?”
  580.  
  581. “Since… since the st-start of high school. Lilly joined then as well, b-but didn’t move into the dorms until last y-year. And I think Emi has b-been here the whole time, too…?”
  582.  
  583. Emi nods, humming “Mmhmm” through a mouthful of tea.
  584.  
  585. “So you’ve known each other since then?”
  586.  
  587. “N-not exactly…”
  588.  
  589. “Since I moved into the dorms, actually,” Lilly clarifies. “I was allocated the room next door to Hanako, so it’s only natural, right?”
  590.  
  591. “R-right. And Emi and Rin only started h-hanging out with us this year.”
  592.  
  593. Hisao frowns, inquiring, “Rin?”
  594.  
  595. Emi fields the question. “Yeah. My dorm mate. You might have seen her around; red hair, bit scatterbrained, likes to paint?”
  596.  
  597. “Uh… doesn’t ring a bell. But, I haven’t been here long, so…”
  598.  
  599. “Ah, you’ll know her when you see her. She’s hard to miss. To be honest, I’m surprised you haven’t met her already, what with all the attention you’re getting.”
  600.  
  601. “Attention?”
  602.  
  603. “Yeah! C’mon, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed you’re having lunch with three bombshell beauties on, what, your third day here?”
  604.  
  605. I blush heavily, while Hisao stumbles over his words, completely failing to form a response. The awkward silence is dissipated by the sound of the bell ringing.
  606.  
  607. “I suppose we’d better be off. Are you going to go with Hisao, Hanako?” Lilly says, as she sets down her now-empty cup.
  608.  
  609. Emi pulls out her puppy dog eyes on me, nodding ever so slightly. I simply can’t say no to that. No one can.
  610.  
  611. “Y-yes.”
  612.  
  613. Hisao smiles and nods, saying, “We should hurry then. Class has already started by the sounds of it.”
  614.  
  615. The four of us quickly pack up our dishes and make our way to our classes. Outside room 3-2, Hisao stops Lilly just short of entering.
  616.  
  617. “Hey, thanks for letting me have lunch with you three.”
  618.  
  619. “It was our pleasure, but I don’t think it’s me you should thank. Farewell, Hisao.”
  620.  
  621. “See y-… uh, I mean, bye.”
  622.  
  623. Hisao turns to me, and repeats his thanks. I manage to work up a smile, replying, “A-anytime.”
  624.  
  625. Emi clears her throat then feigns ignorance, as if she never made the sound. With our attention gained, she says, “It was nice meeting you, Hisao. See you ‘round!” before giving me a wink and a thumbs-up, and stepping into her own classroom.
  626.  
  627. I find myself staring into the space Emi formerly occupied for several seconds, until Hisao speaking up regains my focus.
  628.  
  629. “So, are we going back to class? The more time we spend out here, the more explaining we have to do.”
  630.  
  631. I think about it for a second. We could ditch, but it might raise some suspicion. Better to play it safe for now.
  632.  
  633. “Yeah. C’mon, let’s g-go in.”
  634.  
  635. Hisao enters the classroom first, holding the door open for me. Such a gentleman. Mutou looks like he wants to say something, but neglects to voice it, going back to his lecture. Hisao and I sit down at our respective desks, and settle in for the rest of the class.
  636.  
  637. Lunch today went well, I think. After all that freaking out earlier, today was definitely an improvement. And I have Emi and Lilly to thank for it. More days like this, and I’ll… I’ll what? Be normal?
  638.  
  639. Nah. I already am normal.
  640.  
  641. I’ll be extraordinary.
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