Earl Grey is the first page od Act 2 and opening of Lilly's route
I wake to the annoying din of my alarm clock, its bright red numerals lighting up my face.
It's the same alarm clock I had at home, one of the few remaining artifacts from my days before coming to Yamaku. I'd hoped that using it would help ease my transition into this new life.
No such luck, though.
Groggily dragging myself out of bed, I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, then reach over to my desk. I open a couple of the bottles of medication strewn across it, and swallow a few pills dry.
By now, the process is starting to become automatic - something I should be glad for, given their purpose.
Feeling much more awake than before, I wander into the bathroom.
While the shower warms up, my mind begins to wander as my new daily routine begins once again.
The bright colors of the fireworks fill my mind, as do the two girls with whom I spent my time watching them. It feels strange to be moved so much by people I know so little about.
Then again, I suppose these aren't normal circumstances. At least I have someone to talk to, now, aside from my schoolmate next door.
With the time left before school begins today waning, I begin to get ready for class.
Walking through the door into the classroom, I notice that I'm still somewhat early. I see about five or six students milling around, most of them looking as if they'd rather be still in bed.
It's at times like this that I appreciate being a morning person. That said, two students in particular seem just as perky as always.
Hisao "Hi Shizune, hi Misha."
I suddenly realize that my greeting would be lost on the former, so I quickly follow it up with a wave. She doesn't seem overly bothered.
Or interested, for that matter.
Misha "Hello, Hicchan~! Are you feeling well?"
I can only assume her greeting comes from Shizune. It's hard to tell if she's speaking as herself or Shizune, sometimes.
Hisao "Better than most everyone else, I guess. You two seem bright and chipper."
Misha signs this back to Shizune as I say it, eliciting a somewhat terse answer, if her sharp and rapid arm movements are any indication.
Considering that these two made such a big deal out of the festival preparations, I probably should've chosen my words more carefully.
Misha "Since you're a new student, we've been cutting you some slack. Please don't expect this kind of task-dodging to be allowed in the future."
Misha looks as if she's about to add her own comment, but quickly goes back to interpreting as Shizune continues, unabated.
Misha "While your contribution to class 3-2's stall is appreciated—"
Huh. Word sure got around quickly. That, or these two have their fingers on the pulse of the school.
Misha "—we would prefer your efforts to be focused on the task at hand. Namely, your own class."
As much as I hate to admit it, they do have a point. Before I can respond, though, Shizune adds something more, which draws a smile from Misha.
Misha "Did you enjoy the festival, then~?"
Lecture over, I guess.
Hisao "Yeah, it was good. Did you two enjoy it?"
Shizune gives a short nod as Misha grins and bounces her head up and down. The contrast, side-by-side, is amusing.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice more students starting to trickle into the classroom. A quick glance at my watch confirms that they're a few minutes late.
I look over to Hanako's seat and realize that she's already there, and contentedly reading a book. It makes me wonder just how long she's been there without me noticing.
With heavy footsteps coming up the hallway signaling Mutou's arrival, our idle talking comes to an end and I take my seat next to Misha.
As the door slides open, he strides through with a ponderous gait. His posture is even worse than usual, and his eyes are barely staying open. I guess my quip to Lilly and Hanako about the staff was misplaced.
Everyone opens their books as he reaches his desk, and the first class of the new week begins.
I rub my eyes as the lunch bell rings out, glad for the temporary reprieve from work.
I'm entirely unsurprised when I look over to the door and see Lilly standing there, cane in hand, patiently waiting for Hanako.
Considering her acceptance of my request to join them yesterday, I decide to spend my lunchtime with them rather than eat alone.
Hanako moves surprisingly fast to meet her companion, and the two enter the hallway before I can catch up.
Lilly's head turns slightly, registering the sound of footsteps behind her. As Hanako notices and follows her lead, she almost jumps in surprise.
Hanako "Hi… Hisao?"
Hanako "I mean… um… hello, Hisao…"
Hisao "Hi. Sorry if I startled you."
Lilly turns to greet me, helped in her orientation by Hanako.
Lilly "Good afternoon, Hisao. Are you joining us?"
Hisao "If it's no trouble. There's not much else to do, really."
Lilly gives a small nod, as if to silently brush away any idea that it would be troubling in the least.
We descend one set of stairs and walk down the hallway to the usual room, our pace somewhat quicker than usual thanks to Lilly using Hanako for direction, rather than her cane and the railings.
As expected, it's deserted. The sounds of the other clubs can only barely be heard as sunlight streams into the room from outside.
Looking around the room, I notice a couple of empty easels propped up against a wall that I don't think were there before. The art club must use this room as extra storage.
Hanako "Should I get the chess set out?"
Hanako's voice seems less tense when she's directly addressing Lilly.
Lilly "Yes. I'll make tea while you sort the pieces."
Hisao "Ah, I can do that for you, if you'd like."
She ponders the offer for a moment before smiling, confirming that I've made the right choice. Her face is remarkably easy to read.
Lilly "Very well. Thank you."
She slides her retracted cane into the handle of her bag and sets it against one of the table legs, before taking a seat opposite Hanako.
As I prepare tea for the three of us, I can hear the small wooden pieces being set on the board. I wonder how good Lilly is at chess, given her circumstances.
By the time I place the steaming teacups onto the table, Lilly and Hanako have already moved their first pieces as they nibble on sandwiches and rice balls from their respective bags.
I note that the chessboard they're using has holes in the middle of each square and pegs on the bottom of the pieces, and has each dark square slightly raised.
Watching Lilly's fingers skating over the board, tracing out the positions of the pieces, makes me marvel a little at the simple ingenuity of the design. It must be specifically made for blind players.
Hisao "Here you go."
Hanako gives a small nod as I put down the cup next to her side of the board. Lilly's hand ventures sideways slightly, so I gently place the cup touching the tips of her fingers; a gesture she seems to appreciate.
I finally take a seat and silently sip my tea as the two play. The contrast in their appearances while playing is interesting to watch.
Hanako looks closely at the board, her face one of focused concentration. Lilly, on the other hand, keeps her head level and maintains her calm neutrality.
Lilly's gentle voice addresses both of us as she continues to play.
Lilly "How was class, now that the festival's over?"
I look to Hanako to see whether she'll answer first, but see that she's doing the same.
Hisao "Not… great. Half the class seemed to be dozing off, even including the teacher. Not to mention a test on top of all that."
Hanako quietly adds her own agreement with this.
Lilly "I could imagine that being a bit difficult for you, being a transfer student."
Hisao "Well, I think I did fine. Other than the shock of a test coming so early, science is probably my best subject."
Hisao "How'd you do, Hanako?"
Hanako "Me? Ah… okay… I guess…"
Hanako's too sincere to be able to pull off lying very well. That much is obvious.
Lilly's smile slips very slightly. From her reaction, Hanako mustn't be skilled enough at academics to do very well without preparation.
Hisao "How did your class handle it, Lilly?"
Lilly "It went surprisingly well, actually. Only one student was absent, which was better than what the teacher expected."
With the topic all but run dry, the two concentrate on their chess game once again.
I can't say I've ever liked the idea of chess as a spectator sport, but given its unique nature, for once I'm rapt in watching the game unfold.
As time wears on, both of them demonstrate decent skill at playing the game. Having captured two more pawns than Hanako, Lilly has the upper hand, but only slightly.
…until Hanako makes a strange move with her queen. Seizing upon this lapse in judgment, Lilly takes the piece with her knight.
Without hesitation, Hanako moves a pawn to take Lilly's rook on the opposite side of the board, and promotes it to queen.
Lilly's face falters as her fingers move over the pieces and she realizes that she just fell to Hanako's trap. It's a little distracting to have the board traced out after each move, even if it's out of necessity.
Judging by Hanako's lack of reaction, she must be used to this. She and Lilly must have played at least a few games of chess against each other, after all.
Hisao "That's not bad at all. Nice, Hanako."
The compliment causes her to flower into a surprised blush.
Hanako "Th-thank you. I didn't… think it would work."
I look over to Lilly, her fingers having just finished tracing out the position of her remaining pieces in an attempt to extricate her king from this bind.
Lilly "I think this is checkmate…"
I take another look at the board to confirm.
Sure enough, her king has nowhere to escape without being threatened by another piece. My earlier question as to which of them is better at this has just been answered.
Hisao "So it is."
Lilly gives a small sigh as Hanako smiles. From their reactions, this seems like a fairly usual result.
Hisao "How long have you two been playing?"
Hanako "Since… I was young."
Lilly nods at Hanako's brief answer.
Lilly "Hanako taught me how to play soon after I met her. I can beat her every now and then… but that's a rarity. I don't seem to have the right mindset for it."
If Lilly came to Yamaku at the start of high school, and met Hanako when she moved to the dorms, that'd mean she's only been playing for about one year.
After seeing Hanako's level of play, I'm not too surprised Lilly has trouble beating her.
Hanako "But… she's better at languages than I am, so…"
Lilly gives an appreciative, if slightly amused, smile at Hanako's quick reversal of her compliment.
Lilly "Well, that's how it is."
Much to everyone's surprise, the bell suddenly rings, heralding an end to the lunch break.
Lilly "Hmm, that game lasted longer than I thought it did."
Hisao "Same. I guess we'd better get back to class."
Hanako's already in the middle of packing up, so I take Lilly's bag and offer it to her. To my surprise, she takes it and nods, but then places it back down on the table.
Lilly "Hisao, may I make a request?"
Hisao "Sure, go ahead."
Lilly "Would you mind if I were to quickly feel your face?"
Hisao "Oh, uh… no, go ahead. I don't mind."
The question takes me severely off guard, but once I regain my composure it seems sensible enough. So far Lilly's had no idea what I actually look like, and this would be her only way to find out.
Lilly raises her right hand, which I take in mine and guide to my face before letting go.
The room is entirely silent as Lilly's hand moves over and around my features, from my chin, to my cheeks, to everywhere else.
I expected this to feel a lot more disquieting than it does. I suppose that's because the action is entirely a matter of practicality, being functionally no different to simply looking at someone's face.
Her hand is soft, but what takes me by surprise is the length of her fingers, not to mention how sure even the slightest of her movements are. I have no doubt that her level of tactile feeling would be far beyond mine.
Her hand briefly runs once through my hair before retreating. I'm sure that every inch of my face has been committed to her memory. It's only now, too, that I realize Hanako has been silently watching the entire time.
Lilly "Thank you for letting me do that, Hisao."
Lilly "And if I might add, I think you are quite handsome."
I blush a little at her remark, before raising a questioning eyebrow.
Hisao "But if you can't see, how…"
Lilly "Just because I can't see, that doesn't mean I don't have my own preferences."
Hanako "Um, we'd better go now…"
Hisao "Yeah, that's a good point. I guess we'll see you later then, Lilly."
Walking through the hallways back to our classrooms, I notice that Hanako seems quieter than before, but also more comfortable.
Lilly, her hand on Hanako's shoulder, seems to pick up on her assured pace as well, smiling as they walk.
If I could spend the rest of my time at Yamaku like this, I don't think it'd be so bad. All that's needed for joy are small exchanges of happiness, after all.
As I reach my desk and set my bag beside it, I realize something. Or rather, my stomach does.
I was so busy with those two, I forgot to buy lunch…