NARRATOR: "My morning alarm goes off, and I flail about uselessly for a while until I remember that I'd decided to give morning runs another shot. I don't know if this was my greatest idea, but I'm determined to keep going. This is about my health, after all. Sure, things haven't been great lately for me, but that hasn't made existence so intolerable that I'm not going to try everything I can to stay healthy. Besides, it's all about asserting some kind of control over this thing, right? If I can manage that, well, I can manage anything. At least that's what I keep telling myself."
NARRATOR: "Once again, it would appear that I'm not alone in my run. Emi has apparently been here for some time. It looks like she's already worked up a good sweat. Just when the hell does she come down here, anyway?"
EMI: "Oh, it's you! I'm surprised to see you again!"
HISAO: "Why's that?"
EMI: "Well, not many people actually manage to come back for a second try."
NARRATOR: "She frowns, seemingly annoyed by a passing thought."
EMI: "Like the rest of the track team, for instance. Still, it was only supposed to be on a volunteer basis, so it's not that big of a shock. And I guess it's pretty early in the morning..."
NARRATOR: "A shrug, and suddenly it appears that she's forgotten what she was talking about. The frown disappears entirely, and she seems to snap back to her previous train of thought."
EMI: "So! Come on, then!"
EMI: "You're here to run again, right?"
HISAO: "Well, yes."
EMI: "So come on!"
NARRATOR: "I find myself suddenly grabbed and yanked onto the track."
NARRATOR: "Things seem to be set on mirroring yesterday's run. That is, I seem to be struggling, while Emi moves with an effortlessness that I find enviable. It's incredibly bothersome, to be so easily worn out. I know I should be patient, work toward things gradually, but... It's difficult to stay positive about this. We round the track and start on our second lap. Emi seems to have grown impatient keeping pace with me, and begins to pull away. This is where I gave out yesterday. Will I be able to do more?"
NARRATOR: "What am I doing here? Am I really just going to fold and let Emi pull ahead? I speed up. The second lap's done quickly, and without even considering it I keep going. Emi looks back over her shoulder at me and grins."
EMI: "Still going?"
HISAO: "Wouldn't *pant* want you *pant* to think I'm outta shape *pant*"
NARRATOR: "Emi laughs - without breaking her stride, no less - and speeds up even more. Well, if this is the way we're going to play things... I increase my own pace as well. I can feel my lungs burning, and my legs are starting to question just what the hell I think I'm doing. Lactic acid screams in my muscles, but I close my ears. I can't let myself fall behind, because that would be a loss. The rational voice in my head inquires mildly just when we started playing a game. I'd answer it, but I'm having a lot of trouble thinking at present. She's so fast. How the hell does she keep it—"
NARRATOR: "It's like a string pulling at my chest, a choking feeling of narrowness and pain. Before I can think of anything else than “Oh shit,” the track disappears from under my feet. I stumble, one hand shooting down to clutch at my chest, the other hitting the track to keep me from falling on my face. Emi whirls around and her eyes widen."
NARRATOR: "She yells at me, sprinting from the other side of the track."
EMI: "What's wrong?"
HISAO: "Nngh—Nothing, just..."
NARRATOR: "Keep your breathing steady. Calm down. Don't panic. Don't panic."
EMI: "Do you need me to get the nurse?"
NARRATOR: "I close my eyes, shutting out the outside world. My heart struggles to regain its rhythm. Slowly, the pain in my chest begins to subside. Soon it's gone like nothing happened. It was... nothing? No, something happened there. I open my eyes again and glance at a very worried Emi."
HISAO: "I think I'm fine."
NARRATOR: "My voice sounds weird even to myself, oddly even and matter-of-fact. It makes Emi frown."
EMI: "I don't think you are."
NARRATOR: "She seems to come to a decision, and nods to herself."
EMI: "Right. You're coming with me. You've got to see the nurse."
NARRATOR: "Emi grabs my arm and drags me up. I feel a bit wobbly, but I refuse the shoulder Emi offers for support. Honestly, I'm a little ashamed by my own weakness. I'd really rather not have Emi concerned about me, but it seems to be too late. Heck, I'd really rather not have anyone concerned about my condition, though at this point, it seems to be too late for that as well. I'd like to be able to deal with the whole thing on my own, without being a bother to anyone else. While I'm wishing for things, I'd rather not have this condition in the first place."
NARRATOR: "Emi crashes into his office without knocking, but it doesn't alarm the nurse in the least."
NURSE: "Good morning, sunshine. What's up?"
NARRATOR: "Sunshine? Anyway, he calmly sips from his coffee mug but lays it down after following Emi's gaze to me looming in the doorway."
NURSE: "Hisao? What brings you here?"
EMI: "We were running and he stumbled over and started grabbing at his chest and I thought I'd come get you and make him wait there but he said he was okay but then I thought you should see him anyway and—"
NURSE: "Easy there, Emi. Calm down. Hisao, what happened?"
HISAO: "I don't know. We were running, and then my chest started hurting like that time before, but it went away after a few seconds. It was just a flutter or something."
NARRATOR: "The nurse frowns, as if to say that “just a flutter” is some kind of oxymoron."
NURSE: "I didn't mean quite this when I suggested to get some exercise. You've got to be more careful, Hisao."
HISAO: "I was being careful, I just..."
NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, “I just got into a race with a member of the track team” doesn't seem as well reasoned as I thought it would."
NURSE: "You just what?"
HISAO: "Er... that is... I was racing Emi."
NURSE: "Emi, is this true?"
NARRATOR: "Emi fidgets, looking adorably contrite."
EMI: "Um, well..."
NARRATOR: "Finally she can't seem to bring herself to say it aloud, and merely nods. The nurse sighs and rubs at his forehead with one hand tiredly."
NURSE: "Emi, you've got to be more sensitive to the limits of others! I don't know if he told you, but Hisao has a bad heart, and getting him to race you was incredibly irresponsible."
HISAO: "Er, actually I started it."
NARRATOR: "The nurse is stunned by my statement."
NURSE: "You WHAT?"
HISAO: "We were just running, and Emi started to pull away, and so I uh, sped up to catch her."
NARRATOR: "The nurse stares at the ceiling, mutters a prayer for patience to some god or another, and looks back down at the both of us."
NURSE: "So you're both stupid. That's a comfort, I guess. Now come on, Hisao. I've got to make sure your heart's not going to explode or something."
NARRATOR: "I dutifully obey and follow him to the adjacent room where we ascertain that I am, in fact, not going to keel over and die."
NURSE: "So how does it feel?"
HISAO: "I don't know. Nothing much. Tired, but it might be just from the exercise."
NURSE: "You should stay here for a few hours and rest, and we'll see how you feel after that."
NARRATOR: "I am not going to object, so I lie down on the infirmary bed."
NARRATOR: "A thoroughly miserable Emi comes in after getting an earful from the nurse in the other room. I couldn't hear what he said through the closed door, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasantries."
EMI: "Look, I'm really, really sorry. I should've been more careful."
HISAO: "Hey, you didn't know. It's not your fault."
NARRATOR: "She looks awfully down and sorry, and my reassurances don't do anything much to cheer her up."
EMI: "I want to make it up to you."
NARRATOR: "Again with that decisive nod."
EMI: "So you have to come to lunch with me. I'll bring it for you, okay? Something really really good!"
NARRATOR: "I start with a “You don't have to...” but then shut up and just nod at her when I see her face."
EMI: "Good! We meet on the roof."
EMI: "Yep! The weather's nice now, so the roof's a great spot for lunch, you know."
HISAO: "I see."
EMI: "You'll come, right? You wouldn't deny me the chance to make it up to you?"
HISAO: "Of course not."
EMI: "Great! See you there!"
NARRATOR: "I stay afloat somewhere between asleep and awake, feeling completely drained. Not only my body, but all of me is limp and paralyzed, apart from my senses. I swallow with difficulty and then try to lie as still as I can, which in this state is not a very hard thing to do. The nurse is shuffling around on the other side of the curtains he drew to give me privacy. I can see his shadow shifting about in the sunlight. He has opened the window of his office. It's windy outside. The clean white curtains flutter in the breeze in a heavy, lazy motion, like waves. Light sifts through them slowly, half absorbing into the fabric. I close my eyes. The breeze on my face feels like the soft fabric of the curtains. I listen to the sound of my heartbeat for a moment, trying to shut out the sound of the nurse tapping away on his computer, and my own heavy breathing. It's steady."
NARRATOR: "Damn it, not even a week and I end up like this again. I really screwed up this time. Should've known better than to play the half-baked sports star in front of a real one. And why did I try to act brave, like that heart flutter was no big deal, even when it was obvious that it was? It was just a reflex, to push it away, to keep it inside. I didn't want it to happen. I didn't want Emi to see it. Aaah... Stupidstupidstupid. I have to be more careful, or I will end up in the hospital again, or worse. ... That's my final thought before I give in to the tiredness."
NARRATOR: "I fell asleep. For how long? What time is it? I'm feeling a little lightheaded and I keep blinking compulsively. Pushing the curtain aside, I squint my eyes against the unfiltered light pouring in from the window. The texture of the canvas feels nothing like the wind did before. The nurse looks up from his work, sitting exactly where he was before."
NURSE: "How are you feeling?"
NARRATOR: "I can't really tell, so I don't answer anything. I'm feeling kinda groggy from falling asleep at such a weird time, hopefully I don't look too weird."
HISAO: "What time is it?"
NARRATOR: "Me croaking the question to gain some orientation. The nurse looking at his wristwatch before answering. Things seem to happen in slow motion."
NURSE: "Quarter past ten."
NARRATOR: "I try to think for a moment what that means but I'm not really sure."
NURSE: "You didn't answer my question, Hisao."
HISAO: "Oh. Fine."
NURSE: "Climb down from that bed then, and let’s see how you are doing. Don’t..."
NARRATOR: "I try to do exactly that, only to sway dizzily when I move too fast. The nurse moves to support me by an arm and sighs."
NURSE: "...stand up too quickly, is what I was going to say. Just sit there, I’ll check your pressure to make sure."
NARRATOR: "My good intentions sure lasted for a long time. I shut up, embarrassed with myself, while the nurse gets busy with an old-fashioned contraption and my arm. After a couple of minutes, he puts it away, looking neither pleased nor unhappy."
NURSE: "You’re all right. Head stopped spinning?"
NURSE: "Good. And how are the contents doing? You didn’t show very good judgment out there, Hisao."
NARRATOR: "I swallow the retort I was going to make. It’s what I was thinking myself, but hearing it stated by somebody else makes me want to protest. What he’s saying is not pleasant to hear. Doesn’t make him any less right."
HISAO: "No, sir."
NARRATOR: "He nods, still looking as neutral as he was before. It would be easy to be angry at him if he said “Told you so” or something, but he doesn’t."
NURSE: "I can try and help you to keep your health, but ultimately the last call lies with you. Hopefully this little episode will be something that’ll remind you of that."
NURSE: "Here, a note for your teacher. To avoid an interrogation."
NARRATOR: "I take the slip of paper he's offering and then make my leave as I can't think of anything else to say, nor even really want to."
NURSE: "Stay out of trouble, you hear me? I don't think it was anything but a scare, but next time could be different."
NARRATOR: "I hear you. There is some way to get to the school building straight from the auxiliary building, but I'm not keen to find out and possibly get lost, so I go out from the exit that I know works. I stop at the stairs of the auxiliary building, deliberating for a moment between going to the dorms to get my books and stuff and going straight away to the class. The sun stings my eyes, so I head towards the dorms."
Next Scene: Slow Recovery
NARRATOR: "I let Emi go with her own pace, and she doesn't show mercy, pulling half a lap ahead of me in an instant. I don't blame her. I mean, it's not as if I'm really putting up any sort of real fight out here, is it? Instead, I'm just running at a steady pace, which is what I should be doing, right? There's no need to go pushing my limits at this stage of the game. God, is this even worth it?"
NARRATOR: "As we finish the second lap, I break off again. Emi keeps going, and it almost seems to me that she's disappointed. Well, that's stupid. I don't have anything to prove to her - come to think of it, I've got nothing to prove to myself, either. I'm just fine the way I am. And what I'm not is a runner. This was probably a bad idea. Maybe there's something else I can do instead of this. Getting up this early sucks, anyway. There's got to be some other way to keep healthy. Walking, maybe. Nice afternoon walks. Yeah, that sounds good. Running isn't for me."
NARRATOR: I wave to Emi and head back to my room. I'll think of something else later."
Next Scene: Invisible Hat