KENJI: "Hey man. Sup?"
HISAO: "Not much I guess, just looking forward to the afternoon. You?"
NARRATOR: "He wraps an arm around my slumped shoulders far too comfortably. Something's up."
KENJI: "Let's step outside, shall we?"
HISAO: "I was just about to, before you stopped me."
NARRATOR: "He doesn't take my reaction to his theatrics well. Ignoring him, I walk outside and start down the steps. It doesn't take too long for him to catch up with me again. I wonder if he wants money, or to rant about another conspiracy. Maybe both."
KENJI: "I've got a bone to pick with you."
HISAO: "Uh huh."
KENJI: "It's about that blonde. You know who I'm talking about."
NARRATOR: "Conspiracy it is. For a moment I contemplate feigning ignorance, but realize this will go quicker if I just let him get it all out."
HISAO: "Lilly? The one from your class?"
KENJI: "You're on first name terms with her?!"
NARRATOR: "He looks positively shocked at this development. Did he not expect me to be able to answer? He gathers himself and coughs into his fist. Dramatically, like everything he does."
KENJI: "Well, never mind that. I'm here to warn you. You know. Man to man."
HISAO: "Warn me about what? Lilly?"
KENJI: "Yeah. You don't know her, man."
NARRATOR: "It's mostly true. I've only known her and Hanako for less than two weeks, and even then we've just been exchanging banal chatter about school as we while away lunch."
HISAO: "I'm pretty sure you don't either."
KENJI: "That's not the point. You're the one spending inordinate amounts of time with her."
NARRATOR: "It distresses me that someone like Kenji, who's probably as far out of the loop as one could possibly get, knows about such a trivial fact as who I choose to befriend. Then again... I am a transfer student, and she's not only the representative of their class, but also a tall blonde. Maybe I should appreciate this ranting as a warning that the rumor mill exists in this school, and that I'm firmly within it."
HISAO: "It's just lunch. Nothing special."
KENJI: "Look, man, under the bridge. See this bridge? You're under it. A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to get intel. I just want to make sure you don't end up too far under the bridge."
HISAO: "You're losing me, Kenji."
KENJI: "That's okay, lots of people get lost. That's why I'm here to help. Just be careful around her, okay? She looks all harmless on the outside, but I've heard shit. Bad shit. You know the Student Council, right?"
NARRATOR: "He seems to involuntarily shudder as he says the words. Putting him and Shizune together in a room is an amusing mental exercise. I wonder if they've met."
HISAO: "Yeah, Shizune and Misha are in my class. I seem to have dodged the draft, though."
KENJI: "Good man. Good man. But this blonde? She was there. In the Student Council. Right. Damn. There."
HISAO: "I see. And?"
KENJI: "And she's not there now."
KENJI: "Seriously, think about it. Something must have gone down."
NARRATOR: "I stop walking for a moment, giving the idea more thought than I probably should. It would explain that fight the two had, at least in part. Wait, no, not really. Even leaving the Student Council would need a catalyst."
NARRATOR: "In the end, it doesn't explain much at all. Other than the fact that their feud goes back some ways."
HISAO: "I guess you have a point. I'm not seeing how that really affects me, though."
show kenji neutral with charachange
KENJI: "Okay, now field this one. Lilly's foreign, obviously."
KENJI: "Now, what nationality is she?"
NARRATOR: "I open my mouth to give the answer, but realize that I have none. In fact, I've given the matter very little thought. Given that she has no accent and acts perfectly Japanese, I suppose it never really seemed important. Now that he mentions it though, I am rather curious."
HISAO: "To be honest, I don't know. Maybe English? They like tea."
NARRATOR: "I probably shouldn't resort to stereotypes, but that's the only lead I have."
KENJI: "You're not thinking. Luckily, you have me here to think for you."
HISAO: "Gee, thanks."
NARRATOR: "He brushes off the quip effortlessly."
KENJI: "Now answer me this: who has lots of social power, is filthy stinking rich - you know blondes are all rich, right? - has a long history of disputes and used to belong to a much larger organization?"
HISAO: "The Roman Catholic Church?"
KENJI: "...Well okay, there's that. But there's also the Mafia. Come on. Rich, foreign, there's no way she doesn't have connections to them."
NARRATOR: "I have reason to doubt the logic of his deductions, but he shows no sign of stopping."
KENJI: "So do you know where I think she's from?"
KENJI: "Mainland Italy's small-time, dude. She has to be from Sicily. All those mafioso types come from there. Wait, no, Russia. Damn, this could be bad. The Mafia there is serious business, man; Ex-KGB everywhere, paramilitaries, hardcore smuggling, and—"
HISAO: "Wait, wait, stop, just slow down a sec. What point are you trying to get at here?"
KENJI: "You don't know what she'll do, man. I won't get in your way - agents don't operate like that - but I just want you to be careful. When the time comes, we'll need all the help we can get. I don't want to lose you, comrade."
NARRATOR: "Well, at least he's concerned for me. Kinda. I wave goodbye to him as we separate out to our respective classes, but I'm not sure that he sees the gesture. Piling my books into my bag, I catch a glimpse of the library books I'd borrowed last week. I might as well return them, considering they took all of two days to finish. I briefly consider inviting Hanako along to the library, but she's already gone. It'll probably be better for my studying if I'm alone anyway. With a quick stretch and a wave to a couple of classmates who give the same to me, I make my way out of the classroom."
NARRATOR: "As I open my bag and shove the books through the returns slot in the front counter, I notice a strange person behind the desk. Old and graying, she must be Yuuko's replacement when she's working at the café. I begin looking for a free table, a task made somewhat difficult considering that, despite there not being many students in here, they're all sitting at their own tables. Noticing a familiar head of hair, I walk over to one near the Braille section. It's hard to tell whether Lilly's concentrating hard or not, her placid expression holding perfectly still as her finger slides across the dot-filled pages of her book."
HISAO: "Hi. Mind if I sit here?"
LILLY: "Hmm? Oh, no problem at all..."
NARRATOR: "She trails off, evidently still focused on her business at hand."
LILLY: "Ah, Hisao."
NARRATOR: "She gives a nod of greeting as I sit opposite her at the table, pluck a chemistry textbook out of my bag and quickly thumb to the chapter we're covering in class. For a while, we sit there and read, each in our own way. Seeing her reminds me of what Kenji said this morning, though. That and the fact that I've never seen someone read in Braille before makes me keep throwing glances at her. I kind of feel guilty about it, given that she has no way to realize I'm doing so, so I decide to just ask her about it. Her lineage isn't exactly a state secret, after all, and there is another thing I've only just noticed from her movements."
HISAO: "Hey Lilly, mind if I ask a question?"
LILLY: "Not at all. Is anything wrong?"
HISAO: "I was just wondering... you're at least part foreign, right?"
NARRATOR: "She gives a small giggle before setting down her book."
LILLY: "I've always been amused at how squeamish people are about that. Akira's mentioned how much she and I look different from most others before. The details are a bit complicated, but I'm half Japanese, half Scottish."
NARRATOR: "...Scottish? That was not exactly my first guess. It takes some effort to not blurt it out loud. I try to conjure images of the place in my mind. I think as far as the UK goes, Scotland isn't bad to live in... but I'm not really sure. My first guess of England was surprisingly close, at least geographically. That does leave another question though."
HISAO: "But you have no accent...?"
LILLY: "That's where the details begin. I was born and raised in Japan, despite my mother being foreign."
HISAO: "Ah, I get it."
NARRATOR: "Hold on, if she moved to the dorms simply due to Akira working longer hours..."
HISAO: "So they don't live near the school?"
NARRATOR: "She gives a small sigh, as if she didn't expect me to go any deeper. Was her previous frankness just a front?"
LILLY: "Not... exactly. It's been a long time since we've actually met."
NARRATOR: "I feel like I'm not getting the whole story, but I don't really want to go unduly prying into her situation. Her about-face shows she feels kind of awkward about it."
HISAO: "So... do you speak much English? To be honest I don't know that much about Scotland, but at least I know that's the main language there."
NARRATOR: "It takes her a moment to collect herself, appreciating the change in topic."
LILLY: "That's right. My family mostly used Japanese around the house when I was young, but they made sure Akira and I knew our Scottish side just as well. I'm fluent in the language, but I'm also studying it in school. To keep my skills up and to have the qualifications on paper, mainly."
HISAO: "So you're bilingual? That's pretty impressive."
LILLY: "I wouldn't go that far. Having parents who can speak the language is a large advantage, and English books in Braille aren't too hard to buy or import. With Yuuko's help, at least. There's a relatively high demand for local English teachers here anyway, which also helps give me some motivation to learn it well."
NARRATOR: "Demand for English teachers? For a moment, I wonder why she brought this up."
HISAO: "You're planning to be an English teacher?"
NARRATOR: "She gives an enthusiastic nod. It must be nice, having such a definite future in mind. I've never really given much thought to mine, so I'm kind of envious."
LILLY: "What's wrong?"
HISAO: "It's just... I could see you as a teacher pretty easily. It suits you."
NARRATOR: "For a moment, she's speechless. She lowers her face a little and lets out a nervous giggle, something I've never seen her do before. With Lilly's role as a class representative and her dependable nature, teaching does seem to be a line of work fitting her personality."
HISAO: "Sorry, that was probably a little much. It is true, though."
NARRATOR: "Waving her hand in front of her face dismissively, she quickly recovers."
LILLY: "It's not that, it's just that... only one person's ever said that to me before."
NARRATOR: "A short, somewhat awkward silence follows the discussion. Without knowing it, I ended up steering into a troublesome topic again. I should try to cheer her up a little. It was me who went and got her brooding, after all."
HISAO: "Want to go grab lunch at the cafeteria after this?"
NARRATOR: "It might perk her up a bit, or at least take her mind off her apparently complicated family situation. Going by her smile, it seems to have the intended effect."
LILLY: "I appreciate the thought, but the food there..."
NARRATOR: "Quite a quick redirection of the conversation. She does have a point though - the food there isn't the greatest."
HISAO: "Maybe the Shanghai? We could ask Hanako if she wants to come as well."
HISAO: "What is it?"
LILLY: "I almost forgot, until you reminded me. Hanako's birthday is coming up soon, and I was going to go shopping in the city for a present tomorrow."
HISAO: "If that's an invitation, I'd be happy to accompany you."
NARRATOR: "The ability to get more used to the layout of the city would probably be a good thing. I have barely set foot in there, so I'd be hopelessly lost by myself. She gives a nod, signaling that she happily approves of this plan for Sunday. We eventually get back to our books, though before I begin reading again I steal one last glance at her. Maybe I've been thinking on my situation too much. After all, everybody here would have their own unique circumstances. The chance to get outside and clear my head will probably do me good."
Next Scene: Presents and Presence