A Brief History of Thyme is the sixth page of Act 2 of Lilly's route
Hisao "Go away."
Hisao "Leave me alone."
Misha "Come on, Hicchan~."
Hisao "Hmph, let me sleep."
After two nights of not being able to sleep at all, the last thing I want is to be woken when I finally manage to.
It may be the last period of class, with a textbook as my pillow, but I'll take whatever sleep I can get by this point.
Misha "See Hicchan, even Shicchan wants you to get up~!"
I don't care what Shizune wants, leave me alone.
Misha "Geez, Hicchan, I'll just have to wake…"
Wait, Misha's going to…?
This is bad!
Hisao "I'M UP!, I'M UP! YOU DON'T… have to…"
I can feel my face flowering into a scarlet red blush.
The students still in class are sitting bolt upright and staring at the shouting fool who was sleeping just moments before.
I let my head smack back down on the table with a noticeable thud.
Misha's trademark uncontrolled laughter reverberates through the classroom.
As I turn my mournful eyes to the bespectacled Shizune beside her, she carefully adjusts her glasses, desperately trying to maintain a look of serious disapproval.
Narrowing my eyes, I can see the badly-hidden grin spreading across her face.
Hisao "Et tu, Shizune?"
Shizune looks away quickly as she crosses her arms tightly, barely on the edge of her control.
Misha's laughter doubles in volume as she glances at Shizune. All I can do is drag my hand down my face in resignation.
Hisao "You two…"
Misha "Who was the one who slept in class, Hicchan~?"
Hisao "Yeah, yeah, it was me."
Misha "Poor Shicchan was having a fit trying to wake you up. Weren't you?"
I move my eyes back to the standoffish Shizune, who with a single huff of confirmation returns to looking away with her arms crossed.
Hisao "Why was Shizune trying to wake me up?"
Misha "Shicchan wanted to give you the handouts the substitute teacher gave out while Hicchan was sleeping."
I suddenly find two sheets of paper thrust down in front of my face.
Following the hand holding them, I see the still-pouting figure looking down at me with a distinct scowl. I guess I really am in the wrong here.
Hisao "…Ah. Um, sorry about that."
No dice. Her irritated face still holds. I clasp my hands together and flick my head downwards in apology.
Hisao "Very, very sorry."
She huffs and simply drops the papers on the desk.
I look up over my hands to see Shizune and Misha signing frantically to each other, a look of frustration on Shizune's face.
It looks to be less of a dialogue and more of a tirade, punctuated with sidelong glances at me. To say it's unsettling is an understatement.
The two suddenly stop signing and look at me in unison, both having exactly the same look of disapproval. In one fluid motion, Misha's hand suddenly extends high above me and comes rocketing down.
Before I can even hope to react, my head is sent bouncing up and down like a jack-in-the-box.
I quickly bring my hands to my head, more out of reflex than actual pain.
Hisao "Ow! What was that for!?"
I open my eyes to see the two grinning at each other while exchanging an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Misha "Shicchan says she forgives you now, Hicchan~!"
Hisao "Could you forgive me with a little less force next time?"
I look at the two with a blank face. Misha and Shizune: one, Hisao: nil.
Misha "Oh, Shicchan also says that you should check your student mail more often~!"
She produces a bright yellow envelope and hands it over with an exuberant grin.
Strange. Who could have written me a letter? Now is not the time and most definitely not the place to find out, though.
Giving up on the nap so cruelly stolen from me, I rub my forehead and slowly get up, putting the sheets and envelope in my bag before swinging it over my shoulder.
I take a step back and move to depart with a small bow, while Misha clutches her sides laughing and Shizune nods back in a curt farewell.
I join the flow of students exiting the open door, and turn the corner into the hallway.
…only to end up face to face with Hanako.
Hisao "Woah. Uh, hey Hanako."
Hanako "Good afternoon… Hisao."
Silence falls between us as busily chatting students pass us by. She's fidgeting constantly, her eyes drawn to her rather unremarkable footwear.
I take the bridge of my nose in my fingers while I blink my eyes heavily in an attempt to make things seem clearer. I'm barely staying awake as it is.
Hisao "Hanako, you want to say something. What is it?"
Hanako "U-um… I wanted to… give you this…"
She holds out a small rectangular piece of paper. I blink again to make out the text through barely open eyes, slowly starting to make out what's written.
|Bread loaf x1|
|Whole-grain cereal x1|
Hisao "…A shopping list?"
I look upwards, raising an eyebrow.
Hanako "I usually go shopping with Lilly but I can't come, so…"
Hisao "You want me to run errands for you?"
Hanako "I-it's okay if you don't want to! I just thought that, maybe, um…"
She's panicking. I sigh. Yet another battle lost, though this time by a weakly-fought surrender.
I smile tiredly and rest a hand on her head to calm her down.
Hisao "It's fine, I was going to go anyway. Just the stuff on this list?"
She nods then bows deeply, twice, as if to make her gratitude perfectly clear.
Hanako "W-we were going to meet outside the school gates at six… thank you, I was going to get it, but I need to study for the test tomorrow."
Hisao "Test? Ah, that's right, science. How're you doing with it?"
She brightens ever so slightly.
Hanako "I've been… spending more time on it than before. I think I can do… okay."
Hisao "Good work, then."
She too starts smiling, and much more earnestly than I at that.
I have full confidence that I can do fine in it without any extra studying, but the fact that she's putting in the effort instead of just reading in the library is heartening.
Hisao "I'll grab your stuff and take it to your dorm in the evening. Seeya."
With a small wave, we part ways.
I'll go do my homework before meeting Lilly. I should be able to take care of it in time.
Wrangling with a particularly complicated math problem has caused me to be a little bit late for my meeting with Lilly.
Only a couple of minutes, but enough to make me step smartly out into the courtyard and to the school gate.
I make a right turn and start my way towards the small town below, leaving a few students turning the other way to the bus station.
I slip my right hand into my pocket as I walk in the orange sunlight of dusk.
Thankfully the sweltering summer heat's started to die down, making way for a pleasant cool breeze.
When I stretch my hands high above my head, a familiar figure takes form, cane in her right hand.
Hisao "Ah, Lilly."
She stops and turns around, swiveling her head slightly to try and work out exactly where the voice came from.
Hisao "Hey. It's me."
I quickly catch up to her, coming in beside her and matching her slow pace as we resume walking.
Lilly "Good afternoon, Hisao."
Hisao "Hi there."
I glance up at the sky.
A distinct tinge of orange discolors the clouds, washing the footpath in its light. Long shadows from the trees fall across the wide road down the hill.
Lilly "So, Hisao, what brings you here?"
Hisao "Just going to town to grab some groceries. Hanako sent me."
Lilly "Hanako sent you?"
Hisao "Yeah, said she needed to study for a test tomorrow. I was going to come down anyway, so I'll just buy her stuff as well."
Unspoken is that Lilly really could use some help to get food, but it's an obvious fact that neither of us needs to state.
Lilly "It's good to hear she's studying for it."
Hisao "I thought the same thing when she asked me to come with you."
We continue walking down the street, the familiar sound of her cane echoing through the air as we go. Except for the occasional passing car and the leaves whispering in the branches, there's a blissful silence.
Thank God I can finally relax for the first time today.
I glance over at Lilly.
That porcelain face of hers never seems to lack that air of relaxed confidence. I guess the same could be said of her personality, too.
As she silently walks, her face remaining pointed to the street ahead of her, I look ahead and savor the cool air blowing over my face.
This is probably the calmest moment I've had since the about-face my life took so recently.
To have it while walking to get some groceries. What a weird life.
I feel the crumpled-up note rubbing against my hand in my pocket, and pull it out to check its contents.
Hisao "Let's see here… eggs, bread, cereal, thyme, lettuce, shaved ham…"
Lilly "That sounds like quite a bit to carry back along with your own."
Hisao "Yeah. Just how much does this girl eat anyway?"
My mind suddenly clicks that yes, there actually is a person beside me.
Hisao "W-wait, I mean…"
She laughs wholeheartedly.
Lilly "My my, Hisao."
Her giggles punctuate her words, though she's making little effort to suppress them.
Lilly "Quite direct today, aren't we?"
Hisao "Yeah, you got me there. Still, it is quite a bit."
Lilly "Usually I go shopping with Hanako, so I know what she buys. It's the same thing every week."
Hisao "Huh. She a good cook?"
She gives a nervous giggle.
Lilly "It's usually me who ends up cooking. I used to do so for Akira, so it's no problem doing it for Hanako as well."
Hisao "You can cook? But…"
A short hum with an amused lilt emanates from beside me. I wonder if the fact that she seems amused by my comments so often is actually genuine, or rather just from a want to make me more comfortable in addressing her blindness?
Lilly "There are ways around it. Some meals are more difficult to cook than others because of being unable to see what I'm doing, but it usually only takes a little more time. Fingers can double as very useful measurement tools, for example."
It makes sense, but she'd have to be pretty careful not to hurt herself. I wonder how many times that's happened, given that it sounds like she's cooked alone for possibly years while Akira worked and her parents were gone.
With that, the conversation trails off.
Compared to the awkward silences of Hanako, Lilly seems genuinely content to say what she thinks and stay quiet when there's nothing to say.
The slick road under my feet is bathed in an orange glow, the occasional fallen leaf crunching underfoot as we walk. I let out a deep yawn, my lack of sleep coming back to haunt me.
Lilly "Did you not get much sleep last night?"
Hisao "I couldn't sleep at all for the last two nights. Probably insomnia."
Lilly's face suddenly becomes worried. It feels like a personal failure every time she gets worried about my well-being, even if it's genuinely nice to know someone cares.
Lilly "You have insomnia? Aren't you going to see the nurse about it?"
Hisao "Nah, no real need. It's happened before a few times. My meds screw with my sleeping occasionally."
Lilly "…Ah. I'm… sorry."
Hisao "Come on, it's not your fault. At least I shouldn't have any trouble getting to sleep tonight."
Lilly "You do worry me sometimes."
Hisao "I… worry you?"
I reach around and scratch the back of my neck. I kind of want to address this.
Hisao "Hey, Lilly…"
Hisao "I don't mean to sound weird, but… please try to forget about my heart condition."
She looks kind of lost. I hardly blame her.
Hisao "I guess what I'm trying to get at is… just don't treat me differently because of it."
She bows her head slightly, her white cheeks reddening almost imperceptibly.
Lilly "It's only natural to worry about those around you…"
Hisao "Well, it's still nice to know there's someone like that out there."
It may be somewhat embarrassing to say, but it's the truth. Lilly takes a breath to regain her composure and manages a gentle smile, though her cheeks remain flushed.
The final downhill walk to the store passes in silence.
Hisao "I suppose I'll get my stuff first and Hanako's on the second round."
I grab two well-worn red baskets from the stack beside the entrance and pass one to Lilly.
Just as she did before, she lays it on the ground and slides her retracted cane between the basket's handles before picking it back up with her right hand.
When she takes hold of my arm in her own, I'm surprised at just how fast this kind of casual contact became so natural. Mostly due to necessity, no doubt.
Lilly "Shall we?"
While we navigate around the store, the odd person occasionally passing us pays us no heed at all. It's nice, compared to the stares and whispers around the city.
As we reach each aisle, I quickly check with Lilly what she needs and grab it along with what I want, putting our items into their respective baskets.
It's an odd feeling, to be depended on so much for something so basic as shopping. Hanako would be practically a necessity for her to pick out what she wants, after all.
Hisao "Right, I'm pretty much done with both my stuff and Hanako's. You needing anything else, Lilly?"
Lilly "No, this should be everything."
Hisao "Off we go, then."
Oddly, there's a queue a mile long. Considering the store's only large enough to warrant one counter, seems like it'll take a while.
Lilly gives an inquisitive look, unable to see the reason for my complaint.
Hisao "The queue's really long. Looks like we'll have to wait."
Lilly "How strange."
Sharing the same mood of resignation, we reluctantly take our place at the end of the line.
One person finishes, the line moves up. Another person finishes, the line moves up.
By the time we finally reach the head of the line, I'm so close to dozing off that Lilly has to gently pat me on the back for me to move up.
Lilly "Hisao… Hisao!"
Hisao "Hmm? Ah, sorry."
She gives a short sigh of consternation as I move up, getting the groceries for Hanako and I put into separate bags.
Storewoman "Thank you, please come again!"
By the time we emerge from the store, Lilly's holding a single bag while I struggle to carry four, both hands well and truly full. It's a lot of work, but thankfully the items in them are light.
Even without looking skyward it's obvious that a surprising amount of time's passed, the road outside being dark and lit by streetlamps.
Once Lilly retrieves her cane, we set out back to the dormitories the way we came, leaving the welcoming warm glow of the store.
Despite the road being empty of cars, the full bags abundantly make up for the lack of noise, constantly clunking and squeaking together.
Lilly "My my, Hisao, it's good to find that you're eating well."
Hisao "I'm a growing guy after all, I need to eat all I can!"
Lilly "Hmm… it must be nice, being a man."
Seemingly not noticing, or ignoring, my surprise at the completely out-of-left-field comment, she continues on without missing a beat.
Lilly "Weight doesn't really bother you when eating, most of the time."
Hisao "I get what you mean. Women tend to worry about stuff like that more than we do, I guess."
Lilly "Exactly. It makes me somewhat envious, to be honest."
Hisao "Well, it's not like we can outright ignore it."
With an affirmative nod, we continue on our walk.
Hisao "Huh, that's right."
Lilly "What is it?"
Hisao "Hanako mentioned your birthday was earlier this year. Do anything special for it?"
She gives a long pause, lost in thought for a few seconds as she recalls the event.
Lilly "Not really. It was just Hanako and I having a little party during the night after school."
Hisao "Your birthday's supposed to be a big event, you know."
Sounds like a pretty lonely way to spend a birthday, just she and Hanako staying overnight.
Birthdays always felt like a family occasion for me. They were a time when, in spite of their full-time jobs, both my parents would make an effort to be there for the day or at least for a party beforehand.
It reminds me of how Lilly mentioned she hadn't seen her family in such a long time, and even ended up moving away from Akira's house afterwards.
But I guess it's the same in situations as mundane as these. Considering her inability to read the packaging, just getting groceries would be a pain without somebody else around.
In the end, she just has Hanako and I, and Akira when she's off from work.
Be that as it may, she still seems to have many more distant friends among the students, not to mention people like Yuuko.
It seems to be her own choice that there's such a separation between those who are close to her, and those who she only socializes with.
It humbles me a little to see how much Lilly seems to have her life set up and going just as she wants.
Yet Hanako is there for her to celebrate her birthday, and I'm here helping her with shopping. It's a weird kind of symbiosis, I suppose.
Lilly "Are you all right, Hisao?"
Lilly "You just seemed to go very quiet, that's all."
Hisao "Ah, sorry. I was just thinking."
Ah, now I've piqued her curiosity. It feels kind of overly personal to talk about though…
Hisao "I was just thinking about some of the stuff that's happened, don't worry."
She leans in even closer, forcing me to move sideways.
Hisao "Come on, don't you ever do that as well?"
Lilly "You make it sound as if you're hiding something…"
Erk. Why must this girl be so perceptive?
Glancing back at her face though, she wears a cute, playful smile.
She's… playing with me? Even so, I'd rather not pursue this with her.
Hisao "I told you, it's nothing."
Lilly furrows her brow in disapproval.
Lilly "Is that so?"
Hisao "Yes, it is."
Lilly "You're a very bad liar, Hisao."
Hisao "That's true, but that's why I'm not lying. I'm a very trustworthy person."
Lilly "I'm sure you are. I think I can forgive you just this once, though."
Hisao "Forgive? What for, exactly?"
She giggles a little before resuming her quiet walking. Just what is she thinking now?
I look up to the dark sky as I slump my shoulders.
I think this is something I have to sort out for myself, rather than relying on her for everything.
Hisao "It was just kind of… I was thinking about how you seem to have everything so sorted out, even with Hanako relying on you. I can admit that even I kind of relied on you when I first transferred in."
Hisao "I think it's a good quality to have."
I turn to Lilly, surveying her reaction.
She's forcing herself to look forward and furrowing her brow quite a bit. Her face looks a bit awkward, as if she was trying to find just the right words.
Lilly "I would thank you, but… assuming that I don't rely on the presence of others is too much. You'd be wrong to think that Hanako simply depends on me with nothing in return."
She seems to have a bit of trouble saying it, even though it's largely what I'd thought already.
If she's tried so hard to maintain her independence, as anyone would have had to in her position, sighted or not, maybe she finds it hard to talk about her own needs.
It's only now that I realize an omission in what she says, though. I decide to follow it up, largely in jest, to avoid things getting too personal.
Hisao "Oh? And what about me?"
She suddenly runs ahead of me and turns, blocking me off.
With a smile, she holds her hands behind her as she leans forwards.
Lilly "You're different."
And with that, she turns back and continues to walk ahead of me, a newfound spring in her step.
All I can do is raise an eyebrow and give a dazed grin. I don't think I've ever seen this playful and teasing side of her before.
So… I'm “different”. It's hard to work out the exact context, but knowing her, this ambiguity was intended.
Our relationship has been changing, at the very least simply because I've begun to stand on my own feet more and started getting more curious about the situation of those around me.
As to why… probably a mix of personal curiosity, and a want to try and work out how to deal with my situation.
I'm less sure of Lilly, though. That's why her own statement, so similar to my own feelings towards her, throws me off so much.
Watching her make her way up the street, cane tapping from left to right, I decide to settle the matter later, and just smile. This is a nice side to her, and I don't want to forget it.
Eventually we get to the girl's dormitories, both my arms aching from the weight of two sets of groceries.
Hisao "Hah… we're finally here. Phew."
I bend down to wipe my forehead with the back of my hand. Lilly stops in front of her door and sets down her bag, fishing around in her pocket for the key.
Lilly "Thank you, Hisao. I really appreciate your help."
Hisao "Ah, this is nothing."
Lilly "It might be nothing to you, but it's… definitely something for me."
And with that, she steps through her door, closing it behind her.
I blink. Those were nothing but honest thanks, but I can't help feeling something different about them.
Anyway, I have something else to do before I can mull on that at my leisure.
I turn back to the door to Hanako's room and proceed to knock twice in quick succession, the bags still in my hand rustling together.
After a couple of seconds, the door slowly opens. If one weren't looking closely, they could be forgiven for thinking it hadn't moved at all.
I twist my head to the side to try and peer through the tiny sliver of a gap between the door and the doorframe.
Hisao "Hey Hanako, I've got your stuff."
With that, she opens the door completely, making her plain room visible over her shoulder. Sparsely decorated, it's probably even more unremarkable than my room.
I hold out my right arm, both bags almost pulling it straight back down with their weight.
Hanako "Th-thank you, Hisao."
Hanako "I'm sorry to make you… carry them all this way."
Hisao "It's fine, don't worry. Just don't make me do it every day, okay?"
I pass the bags to her as I give a lighthearted chuckle. After the initial transfer of weight she manages to take them easily.
Hisao "I'll be off then. 'Night, Hanako."
Hanako "Good night. Um, s-see you in class… tomorrow…"
With a deep bow, her groceries still held in both hands, she steps back and shuts the door.
Making my way back to my own dorm, I put one bag into my other hand to balance them out.
Even as I do so, I can't get Lilly's lighthearted smile out of my mind. When I'd first met her, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine her like that.
Indeed, it feels like we've become closer in the past few weeks since I first got to know both she and Hanako.
The time that I spend with her each day. The small exchanges of happiness we share. Those small moments of joy as I get closer to her.
I'm far from certain, but I don't think these are just the normal feelings of friendship.
Once I return to my room, I store away my groceries and begin getting ready for the night.
I swap the school books in my bag for those I'll need tomorrow, pulling out the yellow envelope Misha gave me earlier in the process.
I got so sidetracked by one thing after another that I couldn't deal with it earlier. Who could have written me, I wonder?
The name neatly adorning the back of the envelope freezes me in my tracks. It's been so long since I've seen her writing, there's little chance I could have identified it as hers otherwise.
Why… should she have written me? I can't think of any good reason for her to do this.
I almost don't open the letter, but there'd be little point to that. If I just left it alone, its mere existence would gnaw at me until I did something about it.
I look down at the piece of paper on my desk, its bright and summery decoration beaming happily at me.
The lettering is in pink, jarring badly with the yellow sunflower border or the card. The handwriting is neat, the characters having been written thoughtfully and with an unusual amount of care.
I'd barely given the letter a second thought when it was given to me, but now I can't get its contents out of my mind.
|While I'd like to say that I don't know why she used such an old-fashioned method of communication, considering a phone call or an email would be both much faster and easier, the answer feels obvious enough given the content.
A letter leaves a comfortable distance between the sender and the recipient. Unlike a phone, it isn't required that you engage in conversation, and unlike email, there is less expectation of an immediate reply.
Statements such as “the third-years seem to be very anxious about the final exams,” and “it's so weird to think we are already seniors, isn't it?” are just smalltalk. Smalltalk that could have been achieved by simply replying to any of the messages I'd sent her while in hospital.
The ending, though, is the true reason she sent this. The last couple of lines, added almost as an afterthought.
“I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't?”
It's a statement that should hurt. I've always heard breakups are nasty stuff, but it feels like this is simply a reaffirmation of what we both already knew instead.
It's the preceding text, no more than smalltalk, that makes me feel most uneasy. I can't figure out why, no matter how long I sit here and look down at this bright and summery piece of paper.
“If you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back.”
It's plainly obvious that this is not the type of letter to be replied to. In the end, this letter is no more than a simple abdication of responsibility; a final statement to reassure herself that our relationship is over.
As such, I find I have little problem in scrunching the letter and envelope into a ball and tossing it into the wastebin, ridding myself of its existence.
I go to bed with mixed feelings, cheated out of a pleasant evening by this intruder from the past.
Ironically, it takes a while before I can manage to sleep.