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NARRATOR: "I stand unmoving in front of the door to the nurse's office for what feels like at least a dozen minutes or so. It's not like I never entered the small, beige room before, nor is it because of any feeling of childlike anxiety over the visit. Maybe it's because the nurse's office is akin to a confessional, an admission that my body is flawed. The knowledge that such a fact is kept entirely confidential between the nurse and I hardly lessens the feeling. Remembering that the bell to signal the end of lunch break will sound soon, I give a sigh and open the door. The burden will stay with me just this while longer."

NURSE: "Well now, if it isn't Nakai. Good to see you. Or bad, I guess, considering that I'm a nurse."

NARRATOR: "He gives a small laugh, amused at his little joke. I find his humor lacking and somewhat off, but the fact that he can make light of such a situation is perhaps comforting, or at least distracting. His brief episode of entertainment over, he claps his hands together and gets down to business. I take a seat as he gestures for me to do so. I wish the classrooms had seats this comfortable. I can feel my mind wandering as my eyes quickly scan the room, distracted by all the small changes since I last came."

NURSE: "Alrighty, so what brings you here? I haven't seen you often, so I assume your health's been good so far?"

HISAO: "Well, mostly."

NURSE: "I see."

NARRATOR: "His smile drops as I trail off. I feel slightly guilty about it. It's these moments where I can't rationally call myself “normal” that make me so reluctant to see the nurse. They're an admission that I'm different from everyone else."

HISAO: "While I was on a trip during the long weekend, I had a few problems with my heart."

NARRATOR: "He hums very seriously and nods as he does so, urging me to go on."

HISAO: "I think it was... yeah, it was as I was walking a fairly long distance. I think the right term for it is a heart flutter. I suddenly went weak at the knees and felt almost like I was having a small heart attack, but it passed in about half a minute. Even afterward though, I felt pretty fatigued and nauseous."

NURSE: "Hrm. Not good. Not good at all. That was how many days ago, exactly? Did you do anything unusual, aside from exerting yourself, before the episode? Were you taking your medication properly?"

NARRATOR: "The nurse switches from awkward jokester to serious health professional mode, rattling off questions, making notes, and calling up stuff on his computer. I tell him about my forgetting to take my pills that morning, and the preceding evening. It was a stupid thing to do, but I can't change anything about it now, except answer honestly and bite the bullet. His seriousness evolves into a frown, and the talk evolves into an instant checkup. I finish buttoning up my shirt and again get motioned to take a seat in front of the nurse."

NURSE: "Is this the first heart problem you've had since coming to Yamaku?"

HISAO: "I've had short pains in my chest before, just a couple of times, but they were more discomfort than anything like this."

NARRATOR: "He leans back in his chair, briefly resembling a white-coated Poirot as he mulls over the mysterious case of the heart flutter. Moving his lips from side to side to show he's thinking, his nonexistent mustache wiggling, he eventually comes to a conclusion."

NURSE: "Well, you survived it. That's always on the plus side."

NARRATOR: "I blink at this one, then notice the nurse wearing his “got you” face. It's actually somewhat reassuring. I don't think he would crack jokes if things were really serious, so I keep silent and take my lumps."

NURSE: "I'll have a talk with your doctor, but right now I suspect it's simply due to physical exertion. Have you been keeping up with regular light exercise like I directed you to?"

HISAO: "I make sure to walk a reasonable amount every day. It's usually enough to work up a bit of a sweat, but then again I'm not really as fit as I used to be."

NURSE: "That should be enough, then. The main thing to keep in mind is to do regular low-stress exercise, not short bursts of sprinting and such."

HISAO: "I understand. Since leaving the hospital I've been a lot more focused on my studies, partly to take my mind off not being able to do more physical things."

NURSE: "It's good to hear you're coping well. Sudden lifestyle changes can be hard at the best of times, so I'm pleased to hear that you sound like you have everything in order. Almost everything, that is. Nevertheless, I want to keep a close eye on you for a while, just for observation's sake. Just to make sure things aren't going downhill, you understand."

NARRATOR: "That's something I really didn't want to hear. Since coming to Yamaku, all I've wanted to do is live as normal a life as possible. “Observation” was one of the words I came to hate most during my hospital stay. For so long I felt as if I could have just walked straight out the hospital doors, if not for that “observation” the doctors wanted so dearly."

HISAO: "Sure. Should I come in more often?"

NARRATOR: "He checks the calendar next to his computer, which seems to inflict on him a nasty case of furrowed brow. He spins back towards me after that."

NURSE: "The summer holidays are a bit of a pain, considering the timing... I'll check with your doctor to try and get a better handle on the situation and see how he wants to proceed, but I think you should just take things slowly and carefully for now. What you're describing doesn't immediately sound like a recurring event, but it won't hurt to slow down a bit for a while, just to make sure."

HISAO: "What should I do for today?"

NARRATOR: "He looks over my shoulder at a clock hanging over the door. I'd never have noticed it if I hadn't followed his gaze."

NURSE: "It's nearly time for school to be over, so you may as well just leave early."

NARRATOR: "He gives me a sly wink, making sure that I understand he's doing me a favor."

HISAO: "Well, nurse's orders. Thanks."

NURSE: "That's what I'm here for, after all. I know you might not want to hear this, but you can't ignore your condition. Don't hesitate to see me if you have any further problems, or if you just have anything you want to ask. Bye."

NARRATOR: "He spins around and gets back to typing on the computer in front of him. I suppose I'll just read before waiting for Lilly by the gate, considering I don't have much else to do. Even as I leave, his words echo in my mind. My condition isn't something as limiting as many of the others here in Yamaku, and I don't want to burden Lilly with thinking about it. If I just live life normally and avoid any short, sharp shocks, I should be okay. I won't let my condition rule me. Lilly comes into view soon after the bells heralding the end of the school day ring out. She says farewell to a number of her classmates headed in the other direction, before beginning her weekly trip to the convenience store."

HISAO: "Afternoon, Lilly."

NARRATOR: "The immediate warm smile and relaxed demeanor she assumes upon noticing my presence are unexpectedly welcome."

LILLY: "Hello, Hisao. Good afternoon to you too."

NARRATOR: "She hesitates for a second, but eventually deigns to tilt her face forward and close her eyes. My lips meet hers with a measure of slight trepidation before we move off, hand in hand. The fact that we're so close in height is somewhat useful at times, there being no need for either of us to turn our head upwards nor downwards in order to meet the other's. It doesn't take much time to leave the noise of the other students far behind us, the tapping of Lilly's cane in her free hand the only sound to be heard. Silence, blissful silence, is all that greets us while we slowly walk in the setting sun's light."

HISAO: "I think I'm coming to really like this town. The huge, green, hilly expanse, the trees everywhere, the somewhat rustic little buildings..."

LILLY: "So you've come to appreciate the tranquility of it as well?"

HISAO: "I think so. I came from a metropolitan city near Tokyo, so the quiet of this town really alienated me when I first arrived. After a while it became really nice, though. I think I prefer it to the hustle and bustle of my home city now."

LILLY: "While I preferred the quiet of such a rural town even when I first arrived, I suppose I had the advantage of growing up in a quiet area before I came. Hanako said the surroundings are very pretty, too."

NARRATOR: "Lilly may say such a thing quite easily, but each time she mentions how others describe sights around her as beautiful or pretty, I feel a little put off. I notice her expression becoming one of anticipation for some question or another. She always had a good sense for when somebody's not saying something that's on their mind, so I may as well speak up."

HISAO: "I was kind of wondering... uh, how to put this... Do you ever... regret that you can't see what things look like for yourself? It's just something I've been thinking about."

NARRATOR: "She thinks carefully for a time."

LILLY: "Do you ever regret that you can't hear people whispering on the other side of a room? I can only speak for myself, but the fact that I can't see is the only way I've experienced life. Just as I cannot do something you can, you can't do something that I'm capable of. The fact that the world is made for those who are sighted can be a pain sometimes, but there are many, many people who suffer much more than I because of the way the world is."

HISAO: "That does make sense, but still, it just feels kind of bad to describe something that you can't experience to you."

NARRATOR: "She tilts her head quizzically, as if I'd just said something that makes very little sense at all."

LILLY: "But I can experience it. You just said yourself that you like this area because of the way the surroundings are. I like this area for the very same reason. Thanks to the fact that this is a small rustic town surrounded by trees, it gives some peace and quiet away from the din at school and the bustle, not to mention the smells, of the city."

NARRATOR: "I suppose it would also be much like the home she shared with Akira, as well. Her outlook on it seems pretty sensible, and I'm not surprised that she's got a much better handle on her particular condition than I do on mine. Just like how her coming from a location somewhat similar to Yamaku's surroundings let her become more acclimatized in a shorter time, being born blind affected her stance, by her own admission. I should stop being so annoyed with myself over it, but I can't shake the feeling that I've depended on Lilly far too much, given the circumstances most have had to deal with in Yamaku."

HISAO: "That makes a lot of sense. You're pretty good at explaining, as always. Come to think of it, where is Hanako anyway? She was with us for lunch."

LILLY: "It seems she's busy studying. The exams are far from over, and she said she wants to do better this year than the last."

HISAO: "While I admire her work ethic, she's really been trying to give us a lot of room alone recently."

LILLY: "She's that type of person, I think; the kind that puts others' needs above her own at every chance. She's a sweet girl, even though so much has hurt her in the past. I don't know... I feel like it's only now, when she's less close to me than ever, that she's truly finding herself. It was thanks to you that she began to become more confident, after all, not me."

NARRATOR: "I take my hand from hers and gently place it on her head."

HISAO: "The important thing is that you were there for her. I can't even imagine what she'd be like without having found someone like you. That much became obvious while you were in Scotland. We're all still friends, so we've just got to have faith in her. I think she'll become a good person, and that much is thanks to you being there for her when she most needed it, just as you were there for me."

LILLY: "It makes me feel a bit childish when you sound so wise."

HISAO: "Well, I try. Are you doing anything on the weekend, by any chance?"

LILLY: "Nothing that comes to mind. Why?"

HISAO: "Then how about a date on Sunday? It'd be something to do besides exam preparation."

NARRATOR: "Countering my rapidly beating heart, she simply smiles and nods."

LILLY: "That would be lovely."

HISAO: "Where would you like to go?"

NARRATOR: "Her face suddenly changes to one of disapproval."

LILLY: "You can't do that, Hisao. That's cheating."

HISAO: "Do what?"

LILLY: "A gentleman should never ask a lady where to have a date."

HISAO: "Ah... oh."

NARRATOR: "Her smile quickly comes back, assuring me that she's far from serious."

LILLY: "Don't worry about it. I'll think about where we could go."

HISAO: "I'll leave it to you, then. I promise to decide on the next date, though."

NARRATOR: "With our plans for the weekend made, the rest of the walk down the hill continues in silence. The prospect of that lasting for any length of time, however, is shattered as I catch sight of a familiar figure waiting for us, her hand held high."

AKIRA: "Yo."

STOREWOMAN: "Thank you, please come again!"

NARRATOR: "The change in temperature as I step outside from the convenience store sends a chill up my spine. It feels like summer's starting to wind down. Looking to my side, the same feeling seems to affect Lilly as well, though unlike me she doesn't manage to hide the fact. Something I didn't realize at first was how physically delicate she is, even compared to the likes of Hanako. If I had to describe her, I'd have to say that she reminds me of a china doll."

NARRATOR: "Akira walks up behind her and gives a couple of hard pats on her shoulder, much to Lilly's consternation. For a moment she looks as envious of my status as an only child as I am of their close relationship. They talk between themselves for a few moments as I sort out my bags, their voices too low for me to catch, but eventually they break off and we begin the walk back to school."

AKIRA: "Ah, it feels good to be out of that damned office. You kids don't know how good you have it here."

LILLY: "Kids..."

AKIRA: "Tsch. “You two,” then. Kids grow up so fast, nowadays."

LILLY: "You're not old enough to say that."

AKIRA: "I don't know. Being around Hideaki makes me feel damned old; he's so precocious he reminds me of you when you were younger."

LILLY: "He's a nice boy. It would be a shame if Shizune comes to have too much of an influence on him."

NARRATOR: "Akira gives an amused snort at her sister's antipathy. She really doesn't seem to regard it as anything to make a serious fuss about, treating it more like a childhood spat. She looks over to me, apparently only just remembering that I'm here, and gives a small grin as she reaches towards her back pocket."

HISAO: "What is it?"

AKIRA: "Just a sec, let me dig it out..."

NARRATOR: "After quite some difficulty, she manages to retrieve her black leather wallet from her back pocket, quickly fishing out what looks to be a folded square of paper. With Lilly all but unaware of what's happening, Akira unfolds the scrap and hands it to me."

Stallphoto insert

NARRATOR: "An old photo of... what looks to be a younger Lilly and Shizune operating a noodle stall, with some other girl in the background. She looks vaguely familiar, but I can't quite pinpoint why."

LILLY: "What is it, Akira?"

AKIRA: "I think you know."

NARRATOR: "Lilly mulls this over for a few moments before realization dawns on her."

LILLY: "Akira... you really needn't..."

AKIRA: "It's fine, isn't it? Besides, it's like the only photo I have of you two since you entered Yamaku where you're not at each other's throats."

NARRATOR: "I look back down to the photo in my hand. It does seem strange to see Lilly and Shizune working together so dilligently without any sign of animosity. If the photo's of them during Yamaku's festival, that means it must have been taken one or two years ago. In other words, the time when they were both in the Student Council together."

HISAO: "Who's the girl in the back? She looks kind of familiar."

AKIRA: "Hah, I knew you wouldn't recognize her. It's Misha before she went and dyed her hair pink."

HISAO: "That's Misha? No way..."

NARRATOR: "It feels extremely strange to see Misha without her so very distinctive hairstyle. Judging from Akira's tone, she doesn't take favorably to Misha's idea of fashion. I suppose that fact just accentuates how odd the situation looks. To think they were so friendly in the past... I wish I could do something to mend their relationship."

LILLY: "You're being very quiet, Hisao."

HISAO: "It just feels kinda strange to see you all so friendly like this."

NARRATOR: "Lilly moves to say something, but stops herself. In the end, this isn't a matter for me; it's between Shizune and Lilly, and nobody else."

LILLY: "Things change. Unfortunately."

NARRATOR: "I hand the photo back to Akira, who sighs as she folds it up and slides it back into her wallet. A little memory, quietly hidden away, to be pulled out again some time later."

AKIRA: "Yeah, that they do."

NARRATOR: "Initially I think Akira's reaction to be simply in response to the situation between Lilly and Shizune, but she looks oddly glum compared to what I'd expect. Lilly's expression has clouded as well."

HISAO: "What's wrong?"

AKIRA: "Ah, it's just that I'll be going to Scotland fairly soon."

HISAO: "You're leaving for Scotland again?"

NARRATOR: "For a long moment, Akira looks surprised. It's an ill-fitting expression for her. After a glance at Lilly, she turns back to me as if she'd never done so."

AKIRA: "Yeah. In a couple of weeks I'll be leaving for Inverness to work at the company's headquarters. It's a pretty big jump in corporate position, and it's not a chance that's going to come again."

NARRATOR: "So Akira's going to leave Japan, on what seems to be a permanent basis... I can't help feeling that my assumption that we could all happily while away our days, having fun in this isolated little world, is coming to an end. It's unsettling. I look at Lilly, mildly surprised that she hasn't told me such a thing despite usually being so forthcoming. She continues to walk with her face fixedly pointed ahead. I can't read her expression, nor can I even guess what's on her mind, which is discomforting given how it's usually easy for me to do both. It reminds me of the time when we met at the Shanghai, just before what could be called our first date. At the time, all I could do was comfort her without knowing the cause, and now feels no different. As we finally reach the school dormitories once again, there's a somewhat awkward silence. I don't think I'm the only one who feels it."

HISAO: "See you tomorrow then, Lilly. Bye, Akira."

LILLY: "Good night, Hisao."

AKIRA: "Seeya."

NARRATOR: "And with that, they walk to the female dormitories. Opening the door to the male dormitories, I stop and look back at them just moments before their figures disappear behind the heavy wooden door. That was... a strange moment when Akira said she was leaving. While that wasn't the first time when my thoughts regarding my new life have been called into question, it's perhaps the first time to do it quite so profoundly."

NARRATOR: "I still don't know what to make of Akira's reaction, much less of Lilly's. The night's chill reminds me to get back to my room before I catch something, my bags pulling down on my arms with seemingly redoubled weight. If nothing else, I have a date with her set up for the weekend. I just need to stop overthinking stuff and get on with things as they are. The exams are still ongoing, after all, and with the trimester's end and the summer holidays beginning soon, there'll be plenty to keep me busy for a while. As I give a yawn and retreat inside, my thoughts turn to what Lilly will decide to set as the location of our weekend rendezvous."

Next Scene: Out and About

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