HISAO: "So what's the plan for today anyway?"

NARRATOR: "I'm waiting patiently in the hallway of the girls' dormitory just outside of Emi and Rin's rooms. Emi is apparently helping Rin with getting dressed. I suppose that makes perfect sense, as I've no idea how Rin would get dressed otherwise."

EMI: "Picnic!"

HISAO: "Picnic?"

EMI: "That's what I said!"

HISAO: "Sounds pretty exciting."

EMI: "I know, right?"

NARRATOR: "Rin chooses this moment to make an observation."

RIN: "The sky seems threatening today."

NARRATOR: "Actually, I noticed that, too, on my way over. Despite the sunshine of the early morning, the afternoon seems to have taken a turn for the gloomy. There's a heaviness to the air as well that usually heralds a rainstorm. I wonder if I should have brought my umbrella..."

HISAO: "She's got a point. Emi, you sure that you still want to risk getting caught in the rain?"

NARRATOR: "I don't even know why I bothered asking. Emi pops out of Rin's room into the hallway looking shocked that I'd even suggest canceling our plans."

EMI: "Of course! What, the threat of rain's supposed to stop me?"

NARRATOR: "I can't help but grin at her belligerent response. It's almost like she's daring the rain to come. If Mother Nature were walking down the street, I think Emi would probably start a fight with her. Or at the least challenge her to a race. In fact, Emi seems almost aggressively cheerful today. Rin wanders out into the hallway, looking her usual self."

HISAO: "Well then, are we all ready to go?"

EMI: "I'm ready!"

NARRATOR: "Rin nods and says a single word."

RIN: "Basket."

HISAO: "Beg pardon?"

RIN: "The basket. In Emi's room. You should carry it."

NARRATOR: "Emi claps a hand to her mouth, embarrassed."

EMI: "Omigosh! I almost forgot all about it! Nice save, Rin!"

NARRATOR: "Emi darts into her room and emerges with what looks like a very well-stocked picnic basket. As she hands it over to me, I note that it feels heavy enough to be one, too. Good Lord, how much food did she pack? ...More to the point, where'd she get the money for all of this?"

HISAO: "So, are we set to head out?"

EMI: "Yep!"

NARRATOR: "Rin gives another nod, and we head out of the dormitory. I can't help but frown when I notice how gray the sky's gotten in the ten minutes I was inside. Still, Emi does not seem concerned by such petty concerns as the color of the sky. She's positively skipping as we walk. Which reminds me..."

HISAO: "Where are we going?"

NARRATOR: "This brings Emi up short and she shoots me an embarrassed look."

EMI: "You know, I hadn't really thought of that. What do you think, Hisao?"

NARRATOR: "Well, there's the spot where we ate during the festival, but it might be nice to leave the campus for a while. However, I'm not sure if there's any good places to do that in town. Just as I'm about to open my mouth, Rin unexpectedly interjects with a suggestion."

RIN: "There's a park in town near the art shop."

EMI: "Great idea, Rin! I totally forgot all about that place!"

NARRATOR: "Crisis averted."

HISAO: "Do you know how to get there, Rin?"

NARRATOR: "Rin shrugs."

RIN: "It's pretty likely."

EMI: "Good enough for me!"

NARRATOR: "I would prefer knowing for sure... but, what the hell."

HISAO: "Lead on, Rin."

NARRATOR: "The three of us quickly make our way off campus and take the road down into town. This basket's a bit heavy. I hope that the park is close by. We pass the art supply store, Rin slowing her pace slightly as we go by. Emi notices Rin's change of pace and stops."

EMI: "You wanna go in, Rin?"

NARRATOR: "Rin shrugs."

RIN: "Nothing I need."

EMI: "Are you suuure?"

NARRATOR: "There's the slightest flutter of a smile on Rin's face, quickly replaced with her usual expression."

RIN: "Life's uncertain, but on this at least I am pretty sure. Nice of you to offer."

EMI: "Well it's not like I'm the one carrying the basket. But I'll bet Hisao wouldn't have minded anyway, right?"

HISAO: "Oh, of course not. This is hardly a heavy load."

NARRATOR: "I flex for emphasis. Emi stifles a snort of laughter by pointing to the park at which we've suddenly arrived."

EMI: "Oh, I remember this place!"

EMI: "I ran into you here that one time, didn't I, Rin?"

NARRATOR: "Rin's eyebrow raises slightly."

RIN: "Maybe. I'm unwilling to say for certain one way or the other. Memory's a tricky thing, you know."

NARRATOR: "Well I'll be. We made it in one piece after all. The sun's still nowhere to be seen, but neither Emi nor Rin seem to mind."

Picnic normal

NARRATOR: "We find a spot to sit on the grass and I set the basket down gratefully. There's a surprising amount of food prepared. Maybe we were supposed to be joined by some of Emi's teammates or something?"

EMI: "I'm starving! Dig in!"

NARRATOR: "She attacks the food as if she's had nothing to eat for years."

Picnic rain

NARRATOR: "I'm just reaching for the food myself when I feel the first drop of rain land on the back of my hand."

HISAO: "Uh oh."

HISAO: "Looks like the weather's not going to cooperate with us after all."

NARRATOR: "Emi glares at the sky as if that alone will hold back the rain. I very nearly believe she can do it. It's one heck of a glare."

EMI: "It had better cooperate. You hear me sky? You stop that raining right this instant!"

NARRATOR: "The sky doesn't seem inclined to listen to her, despite the commanding tone she's taken with it. Instead, the rain seems to increase. Rin wrinkles her nose in distaste at this turn of events."

RIN: "Regrettable."

EMI: "What do you mean?"

NARRATOR: "Rin shrugs."

RIN: "I could paint this if I weren't out here. Shame to miss it, is all."

NARRATOR: "She doesn't seem angry or annoyed about it, just a little disappointed. Emi laughs in response to Rin's comment."

EMI: "Guess we should have stopped in that art supply store after all, huh?"

NARRATOR: "The rain increases a little more, offended that we haven't fled yet. Despite the warm temperatures we've been enjoying, the rain is rather cold. I wish I'd brought my umbrella."

HISAO: "Hey, we should probably head inside to keep dry."

EMI: "We're already pretty wet, Hisao."

HISAO: "Yeah, but we can dry off this way and maybe wait out the storm. You don't want to catch a cold or anything, do you?"

NARRATOR: "Emi considers this for a moment. I can tell that part of her wants to stay out in the rain just to spite the weather. Unfortunately for her, the weather hardly cares about what we do."

EMI: "I suppose you're right. Where could we go?"

NARRATOR: "I don't have an answer for her. The area's still pretty new to me. Though I guess I'm slowly getting used to the school itself, the surrounding town remains a mystery. All I know is the art supply store, and that's only because we've just passed it. Fortunately, Emi soon snaps her fingers in triumph."

EMI: "That's it! There's a tea shop nearby! We could have some tea and dry out, no problem!"

NARRATOR: "That doesn't sound like a bad idea."

HISAO: "Great! You know where it is?"

NARRATOR: "Emi nods, looking fairly confident."

EMI: "Sure do! I think. But it'll be an adventure either way, right?"

HISAO: "Adventure, huh? Well, I suppose we could use a little adventure."

NARRATOR: "I think as long as we get out of the rain I'll be happy. The picnic basket is a little lighter now, at least."

HISAO: "Lead on!"

NARRATOR: "Rin and I follow Emi as she weaves through the streets with something approaching confidence."

EMI: "Now, a left here... There! The Shanghai!"

NARRATOR: "Emi beams triumphantly as she points to the tea shop."

NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, I have been here before. It seems fairly crowded inside; entirely the fault of the sudden rain, I'm sure."

YUUKO: "Welcome! Can I— Oh, it's you."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko seems to know Emi."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins brightly, pleased to be remembered."

EMI: "Hey Yuuko! Got room to seat us?"

NARRATOR: "It seems fairly crowded inside; a symptom of the sudden rain, I'm sure."

YUUKO: "Welcome! Can I—"

NARRATOR: "I'm surprised to find out that our waitress is none other than Yuuko. She sure looks the part in her uniform. It's hard to believe this is the same librarian from our school. Does she work two jobs? I guess that must be it."

YUUKO: "Oh, it's you."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko seems to know Emi. Emi grins brightly, pleased to be remembered."

EMI: "Hey Yuuko!"

HISAO: "Hi, Yuuko. I didn't know you worked here too."

YUUKO: "Do I know you? You seem awfully familiar, but I don't think I've ever seen you in here."

HISAO: "Er, we met at your other job. At the Yamaku library. Remember?"

NARRATOR: "Her eyes widen in memory."

YUUKO: "Yeah, that's it! Nice to see you again... Oh no, this is bad! I should have remembered a customer's face! I'm sorry... I'm terribly sorry!"

NARRATOR: "Yuuko goes from realization to panic in a split second, performing a series of high-speed bows. I narrowly avoid getting headbutted in the process."

HISAO: "Whoa, hey, calm down! Listen, I wasn't a customer when we first met, in fact I hadn't ever been to the Shanghai, so it's all right."

NARRATOR: "Not the best display of logic, but it seems to relax her a little."

YUUKO: "Do you really think so?"

HISAO: "Uh, yeah, I'm sure. Positive. Isn't that right, girls?"

NARRATOR: "Emi has been watching this little drama unfold with considerable bemusement."

EMI: "Yep, it sure is!"

YUUKO: "Well, okay..."

EMI: "So Yuuko, got room to seat us?"

NARRATOR: "Yuuko nods and leads us to a corner booth, providing us with some small towels before taking our order."

YUUKO: "What will you have?"

EMI: "Cake! And some tea too, I guess."

YUUKO: "What kind of cake?"

EMI: "Surprise me!"

NARRATOR: "Yuuko looks uncomfortable at the thought of surprising anyone, but she gives a nod and turns to Rin."

YUUKO: "And for you?"

RIN: "I'll take a straw. My feet are all wet."

YUUKO: "Sorry?"

RIN: "The drinking kind of straw. One, please."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko is obviously uncertain of what to think about this. She fiddles with her pen and stationery for a moment, looking like she's about to cry, before turning in my direction."

YUUKO: "And you, sir?"

HISAO: "Just tea, I think."

NARRATOR: "Emi would probably yell at me if I ordered cake."

EMI: "Aw, come on Hisao! Don't let me be the only one with food, I'll feel like a pig!"

HISAO: "Just trying to eat healthy. Your orders, after all."

EMI: "Well... today is your day off! You can be healthy tomorrow!"

HISAO: "Well then, I suppose I will have some cake after all."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko seems slightly irritated that I'm changing my mind."

YUUKO: "What kind?"

NARRATOR: "I glance at Emi and grin."

HISAO: "Surprise me."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko sighs and nods."

YUUKO: "Very well. Your order will be out soon."

NARRATOR: "Despite the crowd, our order does indeed arrive quickly."

EMI: "Thanks, Yuuko!"

NARRATOR: "Yuuko nods in appreciation."

YUUKO: "This is a different guy than usual, isn't it?"

NARRATOR: "What? Different guy? Emi must notice my confusion, because she seems a little embarrassed."

EMI: "W-what? Oh, yeah, I guess he is. This is my friend Hisao."

HISAO: "We've met."

YUUKO: "Huh. Small world. Well, let me know if you need anything."

NARRATOR: "With that, Yuuko takes off like a shot to wait on some other tables, leaving me to ponder her comment. Different guy, huh? I guess it makes sense, right? Emi's pretty popular, or so I've been told. It's probably that kid from the track team. This is stupid. I can just ask Emi."

HISAO: "So who's this other guy, huh? You got a secret lover or something?"

NARRATOR: "Emi laughs again, only I get the feeling it's from nervousness as much as anything else."

EMI: "It's just the track team captain. He likes coming down here after practice sometimes. So if we have anything to discuss I tag along."

NARRATOR: "Hmm, sounds mighty suspicious to me..."

HISAO: "Oh, I see."

NARRATOR: "I could let the matter drop, but I can't resist at least getting another dig in."

HISAO: "So it is a secret lover! I knew it!"

NARRATOR: "Rin watches our play, seeming mildly amused before muttering something that I don't quite catch."

RIN: "... y'anyway"

EMI: "What?"
(at the same time)
HISAO: "Huh?"

NARRATOR: "Rin jerks back from wherever her mind wandered off to."

RIN: "Huh?"

HISAO: "What did you just say?"

RIN: "Huh."

HISAO: "No, before that."

RIN: "No idea."

HISAO: "Oh. Well. Okay."

NARRATOR: "I let the matter drop, but I can't help notice that Emi seems relieved that Rin interrupted the conversation. Maybe I went a little too far... Conversation dies down for a moment as Emi and I busy ourselves with cake. Mine is strawberry, and surprisingly good. Emi seems to think so too, as she suddenly reaches over with her fork and steals a bit."

HISAO: "Thief!"

EMI: "Pirate. There's a difference."

HISAO: "We're not on water!"

EMI: "Well, no. But there's a lot of water outside, so it still works, right? Besides, you can have some of mine. I think it's cranberry or something. I should have asked for the strawberry. I like strawberries."

HISAO: "Feel free to help yourself to mine, if you really must."

NARRATOR: "For some reason, I feel compelled to add:"

HISAO: "Seeing as how you've already done it once, and all."

NARRATOR: "Emi sticks her tongue out at me, but that doesn't stop her from appropriating my cake. I try some of hers, as well. It's raspberry, and pretty good."

RIN: "The rain's let up."

NARRATOR: "It would appear that Rin is correct. Good timing, too. I've finished my food, and it looks like Emi has as well."

HISAO: "Well, we'd better pay and get a move on before it starts raining again."

NARRATOR: "It takes a few minutes to get Yuuko's attention, but we pay and get out pretty quickly."

EMI: "So, do you want to return to the park?"

NARRATOR: "My jaw nearly drops."

HISAO: "Are you kidding? It's probably going to rain again!"

NARRATOR: "In fact, I think I just felt some raindrops."

EMI: "Hmm... you may be right. Well okay, I'll let you off the hook this time, but you owe me a picnic now. Got it?"

NARRATOR: "I don't know if she's addressing me, Rin, or the both of us."

HISAO: "Fine, fine."

EMI: "Now hurry up! I wanted to get some laps in at the track, and it would be nice to do it without the rain."

HISAO: "I thought this was your day off!"

EMI: "Well..."

NARRATOR: "Emi suddenly seems reluctant to explain herself."

EMI: "I need the practice. And I need to burn off that cake, anyway."

NARRATOR: "Why do I get the feeling that she's leaving something out?"

HISAO: "Are you sure? It wasn't that much cake..."

EMI: "No, it wasn't that much cake for you. I ate most of it."

NARRATOR: "She's got a point there. Still, I feel like I should at least offer to run with her..."

HISAO: "Hey, I'll run with you. I might as well, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi shakes her head emphatically."

EMI: "No you won't, Hisao. Rest is critical for you, remember? I won't allow you to push yourself too hard."

NARRATOR: "I guess she's better at giving advice than taking it."

HISAO: "Whatever you say, Emi."

NARRATOR: "I think it's probably best not to press the issue."

NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, she looks like she'd rather be alone right now. I decide to keep my offer to myself."

NARRATOR: "As we approach the girls' dormitory, it starts to rain again. Emi's expression sours slightly."

EMI: "Aw, man... Stupid rain."

HISAO: "Hey, it'll let up soon enough. You can go running then, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi snorts, seemingly amused."

EMI: "Like I'm not going to run in the rain."

HISAO: "Well you shouldn't! You could catch a cold!"

NARRATOR: "Emi waves her hand airily."

EMI: "Ridiculous! I don't get colds. My immune system is far too strong for something like that."

NARRATOR: "I can't help but laugh."

HISAO: "Well, I'll see you tomorrow then, okay?"

EMI: "Yeah! Thanks for coming! Oh, and for carrying the picnic basket! I'll bring it for lunch tomorrow. We can have our picnic on the roof!"

HISAO: "Sounds good to me. See you then!"

NARRATOR: "Emi grabs the basket from me and shoots through the door. Rin gives me a sort of half-nod and ambles inside as well. Damn, it's wet out here. I need to get back to my room and into some dry clothes. I'm soon in front of my door, but I am intercepted by the sudden appearance of Kenji, who appears to be carrying a stack of books."

KENJI: "Hey man, give me a hand, would you?"

HISAO: "Huh?"

NARRATOR: "The books are unceremoniously dumped into my arms as Kenji fumbles with his room key."

KENJI: "Thanks, you're a lifesaver. If you weren't around I'd have to keep my door unlocked, and that's just begging for trouble. The perfect opportunity to set up an ambush, or maybe just plant a bomb if they don't want to get their hands too dirty. Probably don't. Afraid they'll break a nail or something if they have to stab me. Women."

NARRATOR: "My mind thinks about digesting the verbal torrent that's just been unleashed, but elects to remain comfortably in the dark."

HISAO: "Uh... huh."

KENJI: "Anyway, where have you been, man? I could have used some help carrying these back from the library! I knocked on your door, but you weren't there."

HISAO: "Oh, sorry."

NARRATOR: "Not really. You appear to think I'm some kind of pack mule."

HISAO: "I was out with Emi and Rin."

NARRATOR: "Kenji staggers back in shock. It looks like I just shot his dog, if he had a dog."

KENJI: "The limbless ladies again? What'd you do this time?"

HISAO: "Well, we wound up at the Shanghai—"

NARRATOR: "I'm prevented from continuing by a sudden exclamation of despair."

KENJI: "The Shanghai? Why the Shanghai? No no no no, man, you can't just go to the damn Shanghai! It's the most dangerous place in the city! A veritable stronghold of their best agents! I know! I've met them! They'll stop at nothing to lull you into a false sense of security, and then BAM!"

NARRATOR: "He hits his door for emphasis."

KENJI: "Wallet's gone. Bus pass? Gone. Identity? Fuckin' gone, man! Promise me you won't go there again!"

NARRATOR: "He seems so vehemently opposed to the idea of the Shanghai that I'm willing to lie a little in order to get to my room."

HISAO: "Sure, I won't go there again."

NARRATOR: "Or at least, I won't ever tell you I've gone there again. This seems to mollify my bespectacled companion."

KENJI: "Good, good. Sorry to come on so strong, but I know the danger there too well to let you just wander into the lion's den again. You got out of there alive once, but twice is pushing it."

HISAO: "Yeah, well I need to get changed and uh, do homework. So... I'll see you later."

KENJI: "Huh? Oh, sure. Whatever."

NARRATOR: "I suddenly remember that I'm still holding his books."

HISAO: "You'd better take these."

NARRATOR: "I catch a glimpse of one of titles, something about cryptography. What a weirdo. Kenji grabs his precious cargo from me and disappears through his doorway. I open my own door and walk in, grateful to get out of my soaking wet clothes. The rain outside picks up, and I find myself hoping that Emi's not out running in this weather. She seemed so adamant about doing the run alone, I can't help but wonder if her leg's still bothering her. I try to remember whether or not I've seen her limping at all today, but I can't. Guess I was too caught up in enjoying the day, even if it did rain on us. And as I think back over the events of today, I keep finding myself focusing on my running partner. Her complete refusal to allow the rain to spoil her plans was incredibly cute. But there was something else there, too. Sort of an unflappable attitude when it comes to enjoying the day as it comes. I really like that quality. Maybe I need to do a little of that myself."

Next Scene: Tracking Absences