YUUKO: "Oh, hello Hisao. Back again?"
NARRATOR: "It takes me a moment to respond, my mind still distracted by the familiar melody of Lilly's humming that's hardly left my ears in the several days it's been since I fell asleep to it."
HISAO: "Hmm? Oh, yeah. Just returning some books I borrowed."
NARRATOR: "She casts her eyes downwards, presumably to the bin the books dropped into."
YUUKO: "You're a very heavy reader, aren't you?"
HISAO: "It's become a bit of a routine now. Passes the time, at least."
YUUKO: "I wish I had free time to pass..."
NARRATOR: "From smalltalk to depression in less than five seconds. I think that's a new record for her. She seems a bit down in general today, even compared to normal. Considering she has to work two jobs just to support herself, I could see how that would take a toll on her lifestyle. Come to think of it, the pay for her job here can't be all that bad. The idea of staff in such a prestigious private school going hungry strikes me as counterintuitive."
HISAO: "Working two jobs must take a lot of time. I'd probably never manage it."
YUUKO: "You're lucky, being a student. Do you think you'll be able to go to university?"
NARRATOR: "If she's asking, then I guess that's the expected result of having this kind of education. Private schools like this don't exactly come cheap."
HISAO: "I... guess. I have the money, I think. I've got plans which will require going to one, and my marks are good enough. It's more a matter of how I'll pay to do so."
YUUKO: "University costs so much that I'm having to work two jobs to afford to enter it... paying for daily expenses too makes it a lot harder. If you're reading this much though, that means you're doing well in school, right?"
NARRATOR: "Interesting logical jump. Not an altogether wrong one, though."
HISAO: "I suppose so. I didn't find any of the exams very hard, aside from maybe one or two. Do you mind if I ask what studies you're pursuing in university?"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko appears to genuinely brighten at the question."
YUUKO: "Anthropology. To be specific, I'm specializing in the history of classical era Athenian civilization and democracy."
NARRATOR: "She really seems to know her stuff. Such enthusiasm is to be admired, and it's nice to see her genuinely excited about something. I guess even somebody like Yuuko can be happy if she has a visible road ahead of her."
HISAO: "That's good to hear. If you—"
NARRATOR: "Both of us jump at the sudden interruption coming from my pocket. Apologizing profusely and quickly shuffling into the hallway as I fumble with the cover of my mobile phone, I glance at the screen. ...Weird. It's a mobile number I don't recognize. Considering I can count the number of people with my number on one hand, I briefly wonder whether it's some telemarketer that lucked out."
HISAO: "Hello, Hisao Nakai speaking."
???: "Geez, pick up faster next time. Anyway, guess who?"
NARRATOR: "It only takes me a second to recognize the distinctively deep, brusque voice."
HISAO: "Hey, Misha. Didn't expect you to call me."
AKIRA: "Huh!? Ya actually think I sound like her?"
HISAO: "Not at all, Akira. I don't remember giving you my number though, so I thought I'd mess with you."
AKIRA: "Oh, that? I got Lilly to give it to me. Not hard."
NARRATOR: "She positively brims with pride at the statement. She's trying to get me caught up in her pace, I know it. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the two would share my number though, given how close they are."
HISAO: "So, what's up?"
AKIRA: "You free right now?"
HISAO: "I... guess? Why?"
AKIRA: "Could you meet me at the park in town? I just want to talk to you about some stuff."
HISAO: "Is that an invitation to a date?"
AKIRA: "What? Of course not..."
NARRATOR: "She sounds suddenly crestfallen, her previous teasing nature having instantaneously left. It seems strange for her."
HISAO: "Anyway, I don't see why not. When do you want to meet?"
AKIRA: "Kind of... now. Ish."
HISAO: "Wait, right now? But it's—"
NARRATOR: "The dead silence suddenly coming from the phone announces the fact that she has unceremoniously hung up. For a long time I just stand there, staring at the “CALL ENDED” message on the screen while replaying the conversation in my head."
HISAO: "What the hell, Akira?"
NARRATOR: "Throwing a glance up and down the street, I cross the road and step into the park. I've learned to pace myself on such walks, mostly because Lilly's slower speed during our forays into town means I have to consciously slow myself down. That aside, I hope Akira didn't expect me to be immediately prompt."
NARRATOR: "It takes only a couple of seconds to spot her, waiting on a bench with a can of beer in her hand. The look she gives me as I walk up lacks any hint of acknowledgment or greeting."
HISAO: "What's with that look? I needn't have come, you know."
AKIRA: "I knew you would. You're that kind of person, after all."
NARRATOR: "I lower my brow at her remark as she disposes of the can, emptied by the time I arrived, and a metallic clatter rings out. Akira takes a seat on the old wooden bench, and I follow her lead. She takes another can of beer from beside her and opens it before speaking, taking a large gulp. She seems to really like that stuff."
HISAO: "I suppose I don't need to ask what this is about, or rather, who it's about?"
AKIRA: "I heard from Lilly that you asked about our family."
NARRATOR: "They share more than phone numbers, that's for sure. I'd probably be very worried right now if it weren't for the total lack of malice in her voice. Rather, her tone sounds almost wistful."
HISAO: "Idle curiosity, mostly. ...I have to admit, I'd never have guessed you two were half Scottish."
NARRATOR: "She gives a wry chuckle of amusement."
AKIRA: "I've heard that before, trust me."
NARRATOR: "The small smile falls from her face, her eyes looking ahead distantly. Aside from the occasional elderly couple talking as they slowly walk the meandering paths, and the odd aging car, it's pleasantly quiet."
AKIRA: "She didn't tell you everything though, did she?"
HISAO: "It was pretty brief. Your parents live in Scotland, she hasn't met them since she was twelve, and she wants to meet them again."
AKIRA: "It's always surprised me how devoted she is to our parents, for all the good they did us."
NARRATOR: "The way she says it sounds almost derisive. She gives a small sigh, as if to quickly brush the feelings away."
AKIRA: "Why do you think they left, Hisao?"
HISAO: "Why do I think they left? From what Lilly told me, it was because of work. I guess a pretty decently-paying job was involved as well, given the way your parents seem to live. So Lilly went to a private school, and that's why she carries herself with the airs and graces of the upper class."
AKIRA: "Yeah. Since the business in Inverness boomed, our father decided to move directly to the same city as its headquarters. That's just the conclusion I'd thought you'd come to, though. You're too good-natured."
HISAO: "You don't think they left for their career?"
AKIRA: "I'm sitting here bitching to you about it. What do you think? Yamaku Academy. I've always felt that place was kinda creepy; like it was an isolated hideaway for those “proper society” doesn't want to see nor hear. They probably just rue the fact that Lilly wasn't old enough to be shoved there by the time they left."
NARRATOR: "A long silence follows her abrupt and very harsh criticism of her own parents, and Yamaku. Lilly's blindness is hardly something that could be simply ignored for a high-class family attempting to keep up appearances, much less so when a lucrative offer is on the table. Eventually Akira gives a derisive snort, her feelings coming to a head."
AKIRA: "Moving to secure our financial future with his new job posting. Even at the time I hardly believed it."
NARRATOR: "Not wanting to simply be an avenue for her venting, I gently try to steer the discussion."
HISAO: "So you stayed in Japan with Lilly, then?"
AKIRA: "Either I stayed with her, or she went to live with an ailing grandmother and grandfather."
HISAO: "What about Shizune's family? If you're cousins, then..."
AKIRA: "Our fathers hate each other. I'd have been more than happy to tell them to go screw themselves and live with them anyway, but Lilly wouldn't have wanted that. I'd also had an offer for a job by then, so we did our best to keep our parents' house in proper shape, and tried to continue our lives as if they'd never left."
HISAO: "So you just lived by yourselves?"
AKIRA: "Basically. Lilly had school and I had my job, so we weren't exactly languishing. With her schooling, her study, and having to do chores while I worked, though, I can't help feeling like I failed her. In the end, I tried to be there for her, and screwed it up. ...Expecting a nineteen-year-old to be a mother for a blind child. It's ridiculous."
NARRATOR: "So... Lilly and Akira lived alone after their parents moved, with Lilly largely taking care of herself. I guess that explains her apparent independence, compared to many in Yamaku. I may have lived alone much of the time since my parents both worked, but that's... just something else entirely."
AKIRA: "Sorry for making you listen to my moaning, Hisao."
HISAO: "I don't mind at all, but... do you mind if I ask why you're telling me all this?"
AKIRA: "Hmph. You always were curious. Context, I suppose. Life isn't a fairytale, Hisao. Some people have to learn that the hard way."
NARRATOR: "She takes a long drink from the can in her hand, her face becoming more depressed than distant."
AKIRA: "I broke up with my boyfriend a few days ago. After I leave, we're not going to be able to see each other again. But that's how life is. You can't just set your life up and expect it to stay that way forever; sometimes stuff happens that you have to roll with, even if it means hurting yourself or others."
NARRATOR: "She takes a long breath before looking up at the bright orange sky."
AKIRA: "Damn... if I smoked, I could take a nice, long drag right about now and look kinda cool."
NARRATOR: "I want to respond, to help her in whatever way I can, but I feel utterly useless. This kind of situation is one I've never been in, and I simply don't have the experience to say anything meaningful to comfort her. Akira looks over and evidently picks up on this, much to my embarrassment."
AKIRA: "I must look pretty pathetic right now, whining about this to someone I barely know."
HISAO: "Hardly, and I'm pretty much an expert on looking pathetic."
NARRATOR: "She gives a chuckle, the act feeling like a personal victory for me."
AKIRA: "You're a good kid, Hisao. When I said that I approved of you being with my sister, I wasn't joking or just being nice."
NARRATOR: "She picks herself up off the seat with a grunt, one that seems ill-fitting given her age, and throws the now empty can into the bin after one last swig."
AKIRA: "It's just unfortunate that doesn't really count for much in this world. When I said that I was leaving for Scotland, I was doing it because a good position opened up in our company's headquarters. When our folks told me that when we were at their place, though, they also gave Lilly a summons to rejoin them in Inverness."
NARRATOR: "No way... Her evasiveness when asked about her future... that awkwardness that had steadily grown between us... that uncharacteristic outburst of anger... All of them suddenly fit into place. he same family that she reminisced about after Hanako's birthday party, the same family that left her and Akira to themselves after taking flight to greener pastures... Now I feel stupid for never cornering Lilly on what was bugging her. I'd never even considered if something had happened during her trip to her family's home at Inverness. And now, a sense of unease grows in my chest. If her family has summoned her to join them in Scotland, all the way on the other side of the Earth..."
HISAO: "Has she... accepted?"
AKIRA: "Lilly hasn't told me whether she plans to accept, and it seems she hasn't told you, either. That's why I called you down here to talk, Hisao."
HISAO: "Context, huh..."
NARRATOR: "I sit back, my feelings of worry and frustration no doubt written all over my face."
AKIRA: "Lilly's a strong person, Hisao, but she's not infallible. I guess it's my job to worry about her, being her older sister, but I think that you deserve to know."
HISAO: "I understand."
AKIRA: "You okay? You sound depressed."
HISAO: "No, I'm just... thinking."
AKIRA: "That's good. Thinking is good. Being rash won't get you anywhere."
NARRATOR: "She looks at her watch, barely moving her wrist."
AKIRA: "I've got to go. Will you be okay?"
HISAO: "I'll be fine, don't worry. I'll have to talk to Lilly about it and get everything sorted out."
NARRATOR: "She gives a smile, but it doesn't feel all that genuine or sincere. Really, both of us are dancing around the fact that Lilly's on the precipice of the biggest decision of her life and is trying to take the entire burden on herself. And part of that burden is the matter of our relationship."
NARRATOR: "By the time I look up, Akira's already walking off with her hand held up. For the first time in a long while, I finally have an answer to something. Perhaps not even that. But at least I now have the right question to ask. “Will you leave, or stay?”"
Next Scene: A Faraway Future