NARRATOR: "Watching her walk in front of me, I notice that she walks very quickly, taking long, heavy, determined strides. Maybe if we were traveling through a snowstorm it would make sense to walk like that, but it's a perfectly clear day. Anyway, it's making me feel exhausted just watching her.
NARRATOR: "We arrive at the teahouse in what Misha says is “record time,” likely because of Shizune's blazing pace. I feel a little let down seeing that it's not a huge feudal-era building with mats on the floor and women in kimonos pouring the tea. It actually is more like a café, as I thought. Not that it's a bad thing. It looks very nice. As soon as I walk through the doors, someone zooms in front of us, as if they had been lying in wait the entire time."
YUUKO: "Welcome! Thank you for patronizing this establishment!"
NARRATOR: "The top half of her body drops forward in a bow that looks like an axe chopping through wood. I'm surprised to see it's none other than Yuuko, the librarian."
HISAO: "Hey, I didn't know you worked here."
YUUKO: "Oh... Yes, I do. I'm a waitress... I've been working here for one year, six months, and two weeks now... Thank you for choosing to come here, is there anything I can do for you?"
MISHA: "Hi, Yuu-chan~!"
HISAO: "Misha, you both know her too?"
MISHA: "Of course, Hicchan~! Yuu-chan works in the library, after all~! I don't go there often myself, but Shicchan knows her! And~!, we both come here a lot, so it's like we see her all the time!"
YUUKO: "Um... Yes... Should I get you your usuals? And... if there is anything you would want, please feel free to tell me at any time."
HISAO: "You don't have to be so formal, we all know each other."
NARRATOR: "It's also pretty empty today, so she can afford to take it easy. I was hoping she would stop looking so nervous, but my words have the opposite effect.
YUUKO: "No... I'm a waitress, this is my job, I have to... do it properly."
MISHA: "Okay, okay~! That works for Shicchan! Yuu-chan, please get Shicchan what she usually gets, and I'll have some green tea with milk and honey."
HISAO: "No pressure."
YUUKO: "Um, yes... but... this is my job, and... there is always pressure. I'm sorry, I'm arguing with a customer... Sorry! Sorry, sorry!"
NARRATOR: "Yuuko takes another hundred-mile-per-hour bow. I decide to give up and join Shizune and Misha at a table. As soon as I sit down, Yuuko comes by looking even more upset than before."
YUUKO: "I'm sorry! I'm really, really sorry, I forgot to take your order... I'm... not attentive to customers, that's not right... I'm sorry... If there is anything I can do to make up for it, please tell me..."
MISHA: "It's okay, Yuu-chan, Hicchan didn't order anything, so it's not your fault, don't be upset."
NARRATOR: "It's true. I guess I should order now, but I don't really know what this place serves, and there doesn't seem to be a menu."
HISAO: "Yeah, she's right. I'll have some coffee, and... a sandwich, if you have one. Whichever sandwich you think is the best tasting one here, because Shizune is paying for my meal."
NARRATOR: "Shizune frowns and gives me alternating looks of surprise, indignation, and bemusement, unable to decide between the three."
MISHA: "Hicchan, just how much money do you have in your wallet? It can't be that little, right?, right? We should split the cost three ways, to make it fair~! Yeah, I won't accept anything else~!"
NARRATOR: "Misha turns to Yuuko."
MISHA: "Yuu-chan, Shicchan says she wants three of whatever is the most expensive item on the menu~."
MISHA: "Hahaha~! Just kidding, Hicchan..."
YUUKO: "Um... okay, I think that the turkey sandwich is the most delicious sandwich... And it comes with free soup... A good employee would try to recommend the item that there is the most of, though... or the most expensive item... Am I bad at my job?"
HISAO: "No! That sounds good, I'll have that. And some coffee."
NARRATOR: "She comes back a few minutes later with our drinks and my sandwich. Shizune seems to be fine with just her tea, while Misha also ordered a parfait. I don't know why, because I can't imagine many other things that would go worse with tea. Oh well. I take a bite out of my sandwich. It's very good."
MISHA: "Hicchan, have you thought about joining the Student Council?"
MISHA: "Don't talk with your mouth full, Hicchan..."
NARRATOR: "I wash my food down with a sip of coffee, which is also surprisingly good. But now's not the time to remark on how this place has good food."
HISAO: "You said you understood it was too early to expect me to make a decision this quickly! That was like three hours ago!"
MISHA: "A man should be decisive, Hicchan!"
MISHA: "You really should join the Student Council, Hicchan. Come on, it'll be fun!"
HISAO: "People always say “come on, it'll be fun” about things that are never, ever fun."
MISHA: "Don't you believe me, Hicchan?"
NARRATOR: "Is it Shizune saying that or Misha? What a cute expression; but the effect is somewhat jarring, like she has split personalities."
MISHA: "Hicchan, that's depressing. We just want to spend time with you..."
MISHA: "That's right, Shicchan! Yeah, that's a good point too!"
MISHA: "Yup, this is beneficial to everyone, it solves all our problems~."
MISHA: "Yeah, I also thought Hicchan would appreciate it... That makes me sad."
NARRATOR: "Suddenly I feel really left out."
HISAO: "It's rude to talk about someone without letting them in the conversation."
NARRATOR: "Shizune adjusts her glasses, laughing to herself."
MISHA: "Aw, but it's true, Hicchan~! And you would be helping us out, membership has been really low this year."
HISAO: "How low?"
MISHA: "Ah, that's a secret, Hicchan."
HISAO: "No, I want to know how low it was. How low is “low”?"
MISHA: "Wahaha~! Hicchan, that isn't important. What matters is that the number is low, and that is why we would appreciate you giving us a hand, especially with the festival coming up so soon, and it looking to be a busy year ahead in general."
HISAO: "So you're not going to answer my question?"
NARRATOR: "I sigh and straighten up in my chair, trying to look as defiant as possible, because this seems like a big issue and I do not want to let it go that easily. I feel silly, like a blowfish."
HISAO: "Fine, at least tell me this: How many people are in the Student Council? Total?"
MISHA: "Um, well, Hicchan, we're definitely undermanned, but we have enough members to get the job done. Yup, yup~!"
HISAO: "It's not just the two of you, is it?"
MISHA: "Hahaha~! Hicchan, that's funny~!"
MISHA: "But~! It's definitely not just us."
HISAO: "Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure?"
NARRATOR: "I stare at them both, trying to see if they will slip up and confirm my worst fears. Misha frowns, looking uncomfortable, but that is probably because I'm staring at her. Shizune, on the other hand, returns my gaze with one of her own. Maybe she is challenging me, peering at me over the rims of her glasses like that. So teasing; and surprisingly immature, like a little girl beckoning someone to play with her."
MISHA: "Hicchan, your two cute student council representatives have been trying to make you feel welcome and are even treating you to lunch. You should show your gratitude by joining the council so you can at least help them out. Yeah, it would be great if you could just file some papers for us, and... the festival is coming up, and we have to build some stalls for the games and food, just a few, so if you were there, it would be a lot easier for us... Please, Hicchan?"
NARRATOR: "What an interesting good cop-bad cop routine. I'll give it a shot. Why not? Just a shot."
HISAO: "Okay, I'll give it a trial run. It doesn't mean I'm joining, or anything definite, just that I'll help out a little, and then I'll see. And this makes us even for lunch, I'm not doing this because I want to."
NARRATOR: "I finish off the last of my sandwich, and this makes Misha notice for the first time in a while that she has a parfait. She starts digging in, much to Shizune's chagrin, because I can tell from the way she plays with her fingers that she had a lot to say. Every time I look at Shizune, she looks back with such focus and intensity. This time is no exception. Her face is expressionless; maybe she is thinking. Eventually, it gives way to a smile."
NARRATOR: "She signs something, and obviously, I can't understand it at all. She has to know that. Then, she does it again, a childish playfulness showing through in the speed and energy of her gestures."
HISAO: "Misha, what did she say?"
NARRATOR: "Misha looks up from her parfait, torn between wanting to help out and going back to eating."
HISAO: "What does this mean?"
NARRATOR: "I try my best to make the same movements with my hands that Shizune did. I come to realize quickly that this isn't very easy. Imagine doing this all day, as your only means of communication."
MISHA: "Hmm~... Sorry, Hicchan, I can't tell you."
HISAO: "Why not? Is it an insult?"
MISHA: "No, Hicchan, I can't tell you because~!, it means something nice."
NARRATOR: "Something nice, huh? Well, they've gone back to their tea and food, so I guess this conversation is over for now. I don't really understand. But this makes me wish that I could. Maybe I could even try learning sign language. This school might have courses for it. Would I really do that? I think about it as I finish the rest of my coffee. I wonder why I'd even be motivated to think about it. I'm enjoying myself so much that I don't even notice that we were supposed to be back in class ten minutes ago. Even if I were to start heading back to school right now, it would take at least... thirty minutes? Maybe. I can't risk running fast with my condition, so it would take at least that long to get there. Well, ten minutes late already as I am, it wouldn't matter even if I could teleport."
MISHA: "Something wrong, Hicchan?"
HISAO: "I just realized lunch break ended ten minutes ago. It's only my third day, and I'm already going to miss a class."
MISHA: " Yup~! You are already late."
HISAO: "Hey, that's not funny, so are you! And, aren't you two in the Student Council? You're setting a bad example."
MISHA: "Hicchan is so moral..."
MISHA: "But~! Hicchan is right, he is late for class, and~ it looks like you're cutting too, Hicchan, because you're not making an effort to go. As your student council representatives, we're going to have to do something about this and make sure you're punished for it~!"
HISAO: "But you two dragged me out here, this is all your fault. Take responsibility!"
MISHA: "Hicchan, we were just taking a prospective student council member out to try and recruit him. It's business, business~! But~! You're not a member of the council, so there's no excuse!"
HISAO: "Yes, there is. That prospective student council member is clearly me."
MISHA: "Yes~! Are you going to join the Student Council, Hicchan?"
NARRATOR: "Shizune raises her teacup haughtily and wags her outstretched pinky finger up and down."
MISHA: "Hicchan, if only you were a member of the Student Council... But~! You can still join now, Hicchan! If you join now, you won't be in any trouble at all, and we'll be able to take many more nice excursions like this all the time! It'll be fun~!"
NARRATOR: "I start to think that, maybe, this was all an elaborate set-up leading up to this moment. Maybe Shizune lured me out here, banking on the possibility that I'd lose track of time and be forced into this situation. Diabolical. ...Well, considering what I know of her, I should have been more on my guard. But to admit that I got myself into this, even slightly, would be unforgivable. I try to read Shizune's intentions in her eyes, but she just returns my stare blankly. Innocently. She takes a sip of tea, like she is mocking me."
MISHA: "By the way, Hicchan, I didn't plan this at all, things just happened to work out this way~!"
NARRATOR: "I was almost about to drop my theory as paranoia, but this puts a new spin on things. I almost fall over in awe. So it really was an elaborate set up, from the very beginning, all just to burn me and force me to join the Student Council."
MISHA: "Ahahahaha~! You look so nervous, Hicchan~! Did you really think we were tricking you this whole time?"
HISAO: "You're not?"
MISHA: "Hicchan, you really thought...?"
NARRATOR: "Misha frowns, looking heartbroken. Shizune quickly frowns as well, following her lead. How synchronized. Two of a perfect pair. They must be twins."
MISHA: "Shicchan says she's flattered, Hicchan, but doing that kind of thing would be a grossly inappropriate abuse of power, and imposing on your free will~! And~! It would be blackmail, too! Shicchan would never do anything like that, never!"
NARRATOR: "I think about asking Misha, 'Are you sure?' but resist the urge to."
MISHA: "Anyway, Hicchan, what Shicchan said is true. Since you're with us, and we're doing student council work, it's okay if we miss a class or two."
MISHA: "Not that this is a good excuse to do so..."
MISHA: "...Or one that should be used more than three times a month..."
MISHA: "Or something that can or should be abused..."
MISHA: "So~! We must definitely, definitely return to class! Eventually~! Wahaha~!"
NARRATOR: "Shizune waves Yuuko over and points to her empty teacup, indicating that she wants another one, as Misha scrambles to finish her parfait so she can order something else. Maybe I should as well. I am still hungry, and the portions here are a little on the small side. Most importantly, Shizune is paying for everything. With that in mind, I ask Yuuko for another sandwich. By the time we leave the tea shop I've missed not just one class, but two. Shizune and Misha seem content to let the whole day pass by, stalling for even more time by suggesting a tour of the town that turns out to cover a two block radius from where we start."
NARRATOR: "Eventually, we do go back to school, and the rest of the day is business as usual. When classes are over, Shizune and Misha pack their bags and leave the room before me. Come to think of it, this is the first time they've left me alone. It's strange, I almost miss them. The room empties quickly, and I'm the last one out the door. When I try leaving the lobby, however, an arm lowers itself in front of me like a toll bridge gate, stopping me in my tracks."
HISAO: "Oh, hi Shizune."
NARRATOR: "A pair of hands from behind cover my eyes, followed by a sharp burst of laughter."
MISHA: "Hi, Hicchan~! Guess who!"
NARRATOR: "Misha asks the question completely without sarcasm, meaning she doesn't think that I instantly knew it was her for many obvious reasons."
HISAO: "I wonder who it could be? Well, it's definitely not Misha..."
MISHA: "Hahaha~! It is!"
NARRATOR: "Misha swings around to stand in front of me, beside Shizune."
MISHA: "Hicchan, are you busy right now?"
HISAO: "Busy going to my room, yeah. See you two tomorrow!"
NARRATOR: "I try to make a break for it, but Shizune is too agile to get past. As someone who used to play soccer, this is embarrassing. Not to mention that this behavior is drawing some odd looks. I should just quit while I'm ahead."
MISHA: "Hicchan, could you please go upstairs and get a few things for us from the art room?"
HISAO: "Why me?"
MISHA: "Hahaha~! Shicchan thinks that if the art teacher sees us, he will say hi, and she doesn't like him!"
HISAO: "Ignore him."
MISHA: "She tried, but even though Shicchan is deaf, he'll try to say “hi~!” anyway!"
HISAO: "Run away?"
MISHA: "I never run!"
NARRATOR: "A tone of finality so strong that I can pick it up even through Misha. I can see there is no use pursuing this further with Shizune."
HISAO: "Misha, why can't you get them?"
MISHA: "Stairs make me dizzy, Hicchan!"
NARRATOR: "Shizune nods, as if to confirm it."
MISHA: "Please, Hicchan? We need these things to build stalls for the festival, and you said you would help out a little, right?, right?"
NARRATOR: "I really shouldn't, but I guess just this once would be all right."
MISHA: "That's great, Hicchan! Thank you~! This is what we need!"
NARRATOR: "She holds out a piece of paper for me to take. I'm sure this list was made by Shizune. It's handwritten, but each letter is perfectly formed and uniform, as if it were typed. Not just that, but it's exhaustively detailed, complete with numbers, bullet points, and even little checkboxes. What it boils down to is that she wants paint, paintbrushes, posterboard, and an easel. Just different types and specific numbers of each. I wonder how I'm going to carry all of this stuff down the stairs without breaking my neck."
Next Scene: A Private Lunch