NARRATOR: "After talking to Lilly at the end of the school day, I sat at my desk and looked out the window, idly watching students leaving the school building. Usually they left in groups, but even when they left alone, they'd say goodbye to their friends first. It's completely normal. Something that I would have missed completely, had it been any other day, because it's so mundane. But it's also something Hanako has never had in the time that I've known her. As I stand outside of Hanako's door for the second time in as many days, that fact doesn't leave my mind. I hold two plates in my hands. On each is... not exactly the most hearty of meals, but I want to be sure that Hanako is at least feeding herself. It may also be a way to gain a little leverage in getting her to let me in. Lilly and I have tried our best to be there for her. Ever since she broke down in class, I've dearly wanted to protect Hanako. Such a thing happening to her again, or even something worse, is something I don't want to think about."

NARRATOR: "The door gives a solid series of thuds as I knock on it while carefully propping up one plate on my other arm. I doubt Hanako will open it for me, so all I can really hope to accomplish is to attract her attention."

HISAO: "'Evening, Hanako. It's just me."

NARRATOR: "I pause for a moment to see if she will respond, but the fact that she doesn't isn't very surprising."

HISAO: "I... I have some food for the both of us. Could I come in?"

NARRATOR: "For what feels like a very long time, some muffled voices from the floor below are the only sound to be heard. Then I can hear the sound of bare feet on the floor coming up to the door, and I have to stifle a sigh of relief as I hear the door's lock being worked. When Hanako opens the door, I look at her intently. She looks up momentarily to the plate in my left hand. It's a modest curry dish I quickly made from a packet. Her eyes move to the plate in my right hand, which holds the same thing, before looking down again. As she shuffles back into her room, I realize that I haven't said a word to her. I glumly follow her in, slightly embarrassed by having been so wrapped up in observing her. More than ever, the gray and stark atmosphere of Hanako's room feels like a reflection of her personality. The voices from outside become completely inaudible, and the silence inside oppressive, once I close the door."

NARRATOR: "Walking to the far end of the room, I place the two plates on her desk. I'm thankful that she let me in, but as I turn to face her, I can't help having second thoughts about coming to see her. I don't believe Lilly was right, though. Looking at Hanako like this, I can only think that giving her space is the last thing we should be doing. I don't want to imagine it, but she may do something very foolish."

HISAO: "Um... it's just an instant meal, but it should be filling."

NARRATOR: "I take a plate in my hand, offering it to her. She wordlessly takes it and sits on the side of her bed. I take a seat in her chair, and the familiar sound of eating rings in the room as we dig in with the forks that were stuck into the rice. The curry itself tastes... okay. I wouldn't expect much more from a packet whose brand I didn't recognize, so it not being horrible is at least something. Eating takes the edge off the fact that she isn't talking. Neither of us really likes to talk while we're eating, and this reminds me of the lunchtimes we so often spent together."

HISAO: "It's kind of nice, eating together like this."

NARRATOR: "Hanako looks at me quizzically. It's at least a better expression than what she's been wearing this far."

HISAO: "We became friends mainly over sharing lunch breaks, so it's nice to go back to those times a bit."

NARRATOR: "She hesitates for a couple of seconds, and I find myself grimacing. Did I say something wrong? Eventually she smiles and nods. I would normally be very encouraged by this, but her smile looks strange. I can't quite put my finger on why."

HANAKO: "Everything's... the same as before, isn't it?"

HISAO: "Y-yeah. Of course it is."

HISAO: "You've still got Lilly and me to help you and protect you, and once she gets back, everything will be just like she never left."

NARRATOR: "Hanako nods again, her expression remaining exactly the same as before. She feels like a different Hanako from the one I'd first seen when I entered her room, and it's vaguely off-putting. Both of us go back to finishing off our dinners after the short exchange. Despite Hanako looking happier than before, my eyes keep flicking to her as if to reassure myself of this fact. Before long, the last of Hanako's curry is cleared. I finish the last of mine as she puts the empty plate on the desk, and place my own empty plate and used fork on top of hers. I briefly wonder what I should say, desperately wanting to avoid another awkward silence or the prospect of leaving her room after so short a time, but Hanako is the one to speak up first."

HANAKO: "I... I was wondering... since y-you're here..."

NARRATOR: "She quickly goes to one of her drawers, and after a minimum of fussing around, pulls out her chessboard."

HANAKO: "W-would you... like to play...?"

NARRATOR: "This time, I can't stifle the sigh of relief that escapes my lips. I hastily agree, and Hanako promptly busies herself setting up while I get off the chair and take a seat on her bed. Once again, Hanako is willing to let me into her world, with so simple a gesture as a game shared between us. I guess I was just winding myself up for no reason. After the board is laid down on the bed between us, we finish placing our respective pieces on it. Throughout our friendship, we've never exchanged that many words. When we're like this, though, I see that perhaps we never really needed to. Just a simple book, or board, or meal between us is enough to bridge that distance. I make the first move, just as I've always done. This is the way our friendship was, and this is the way it will probably always be."

NARRATOR: "Something definitely feels different about her, though, and I can't quite grasp what it is. I look at Hanako intently, but I can't work out anything from her expression. As physically close as we may be, it feels like we're further apart than ever. Hanako is a fragile person, though, and I would never want to hurt her. That was also the way things always were, and the way things between us will probably always be."