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The moment the bell rings out, a collective sigh of relief comes from everyone.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Much of the morning's been taken up by a droning lecture on stoichiometry, a topic entirely unbefitting of the insufferable heat permeating the classroom.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Knowing that attempting to teach anything more would be an exercise in futility, Mutou gives up and begins clearing the teaching materials from his desk for the day.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">As meaningless banter starts filling the classroom, I notice Hanako getting up and coming to my desk. She's been a lot less withdrawn lately, something which gives me a small measure of satisfaction.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “Hello, Hisao.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Hey. Want to go pick up Lilly, then? It's close to the time when she'd need to get going if she's going to make the flight."</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “Um… about that…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “She said she might be held up a bit by her classmates.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I suppose that makes sense. Her class usually gets off a little earlier than ours, so Lilly would normally have just come to our classroom. Her class must be sending her off.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Well, never mind. We can wait outside her classroom for once, right?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">She gives a small giggle before nodding, the two of us taking our things and leaving for 3-2's classroom.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">When we reach our destination, I stop in idle amusement at the scene inside.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">One of the shorter girls from the class has Lilly wrapped in an enthusiastic hug, her head no higher than Lilly's chin. Her other friends, of which there are several, are gathered around her as well. Lilly simply smiles kindly and hugs her back.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I guess Lilly must be pretty popular. Compared to Shizune’s harsh but fair dictatorship of 3-3, Lilly seems more like a mother figure for 3-2, to say nothing of her height and looks.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Kenji's pointedly cool demeanor as he packs up his things at his seat in the back corner of the classroom is expected. He's no doubt far from a fan of the fuss being made about Lilly's leaving.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Looking beside me and seeing Hanako following my gaze, I decide to finally enter the room.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Afternoon, Lilly. It's just me and Hanako.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako withers noticeably when exposed to the din being made around Lilly. Try as she might, I doubt she'll ever completely get over her social anxiety.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “Hello…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly manages to work out our position reasonably well, her classmate detaching herself without a second word. A look of slight exasperation is written on Lilly's face, though I can't say I blame her.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “Hello Hisao, Hanako. Do we have much time before the flight leaves?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I give a quick glance at my watch. Taking the trip to the airport into account, there's a good ten, maybe fifteen minutes left while still allowing for contingencies.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Yeah, we still have a few minutes to kill. I wouldn't worry about missing it yet.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Classmate “Ah, is this Hanako?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Uh oh. I think we've just inadvertently become entangled in Lilly's social web.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">The girl is probably part of the legally-blind faction of the class like Kenji, given her almost windowpane-like spectacles. Her short, roughly-cut hair gives her a look that fits her excitable expression.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “H-hello… um…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">She takes Hanako's hand and pulls it up and down enthusiastically. I really don't get how girls can be so social to someone they only know as the friend of a friend.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">While Hanako exchanges nervous greetings, I look around the room for my short and overdressed next-door neighbor. Try as I might, he seems to have slipped out of the classroom without anyone noticing.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">For a moment I try to think of possible career paths that could reasonably benefit from his single skill, before putting my mind to more pertinent matters.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly seems pleased, if somewhat guarded, about the enthusiasm Hanako's suddenly excited from those around her. She might not see it, but Hanako's much less panicked about the affair than I'd anticipated.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Shuffling my way through the gaggle of classmates, I eventually manage to reach her.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Don't worry, Hanako's fine.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “Thank you. I thought she might be overwhelmed by them.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Classmate “Don't worry, we'll be gentle!”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Both of us grimace in unison. Hanako's nervous grin stays plastered on her face as another couple of girls moves in to meet her.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">It's kind of amazing that even just a month ago she'd never have been able to cope with a situation such as this. Even when I first met her, the two of us completely alone, she sprinted from the library.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “So, got everything you need?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “It's all packed. I just have to go by my room to pick it up on the way, and Hanako and I need to change.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “I guess we'd better get going, then. Hanako?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako's head flicks up towards us in a flash, her face rather unmistakably appreciating the chance to extricate herself from the small group gathered around her.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “C-coming!”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">The long taxi ride to the airport is surprisingly pleasant, despite the three of us being rather squashed together to fit in the small back seat. On the other hand, maybe “despite” isn't the right word.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly pays the fare to the driver as we file out, Hanako's eyes flittering left and right. Thankfully there aren't too many people around, most of them being inside the main building rather than milling around outside.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">It isn't hard to spot Akira and Hideaki leaning against a fence while talking to pass the time. A large black travel bag, complete with wheels and travel handle, leans against the fence alongside them.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hideaki's the first to notice us, pointing us out to Akira who gives an overenthusiastic wave.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Hey! He~y!”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I grab Lilly's travel bag for her as we go to meet the two, earning a nod of appreciation.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “I've got all my stuff here, you got yours? Plane ticket as well?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “Don't worry, I have everything. You?”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Yep. All ready to go.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hideaki “Not without some problems along the way, I might add.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">The snide remark has his head roughly dragged around by a very firmly clamped-on hand.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Haha yeah, I kinda sorta forgot it was in my trousers' pocket. Trousers that I'd put in the wash…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “Oh no…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Don't worry, don't worry. Did you know you can print out tickets if you order online nowadays? It's really cool.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hideaki's pained expression says that this wasn't a solution found quickly. It could have been worse, I guess.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “We'd better start off then. Check-in should be ready by now.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Yeah, you're right.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">There's a certain amount of wistfulness in both their voices. To say nothing of the people left behind, meeting their family again after all these years would be big for them.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako “Lilly…”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hanako wraps Lilly in a gentle hug to say goodbye, one which is warmly reciprocated. Lilly and I share a brief hug afterward, each of us saying our goodbyes.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Beside us, Akira and Hideaki break off from a small hug and a word or two between them. It would probably look quite nice if not for the almost comical height difference between the two.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly takes ahold of her sister's arm once all that needs to be said in farewells is said, the two walking past the huge glass doors.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Lilly “Goodbye Hisao, Hanako!”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Akira “Seeya! Don't do anything stupid, Shortie!”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">We wave at them until they disappear from sight in the throng of people moving about inside.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">And then… we're alone.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Well… that's that.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I turn to see Hideaki already beginning to walk off.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Seeya.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">He throws a hand into the air, in a manner I'd expect of Akira. In the end, it's just Hanako and me left standing outside.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I rest my hand on her shoulder. She absentmindedly gazes towards the front doors of the building, as if she might catch a glimpse of either of the two before they disappear.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Hisao “Don't worry, the time'll pass fast.”</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">She hesitates for a moment, but eventually nods.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">With the scorching heat of the summer sun beaming down on us, we make our way to the nearby bus stop.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">It's strange, really. Just when I'd begun to see Lilly differently, she leaves on what almost feels like a pilgrimage to the past.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">In a way, though, that's just what I've been doing since coming to Yamaku.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">As much as I may reflect on everything that's happened to me, I really am hardly unique. Everyone has their own circumstances and separate paths to get where they are now.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Yet I still can't really work out how I should proceed. My life may have practically been reset, and I still can't find anything that satisfactorily fills the hole I still feel in myself.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">Maybe Lilly's leaving will be a good thing for me. Without her to lean on, I'll need to do more for myself. I'll have to be there for Hanako as well.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">It feels strange to have so much changing so quickly after my months in that hospital that seemed to exist so separately from reality, but that's all the more reason for me to keep focused.</p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"> </p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none"></p> <p class="MsoNormal" style="margin-bottom:0in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;line-height: normal;mso-pagination:none;mso-layout-grid-align:none;text-autospace:none">I can't let any opportunity slip out of my fingers in my attempt to rebuild my life.</p>

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