EMI: "Hisao! I'm going to make you a one-time-only, super extra special lunch offer! Emi's home made lunch boxes, and the privilege of enjoying them in private with two bombshell beauties!"

NARRATOR: "Her overly flirtatious sales pitch echoes in the hallway, a remarkable feat since it's full of people. Emi strikes a very confident-looking pose as though as an attempt to one-up her own ridiculousness, puffing her very modest chest and making the V for victory sign with her hand."

HISAO: "Sounds delicious. To what do I owe this honor of being invited?"

EMI: "You stood there looking really lost and sad so I thought you could use some company."

NARRATOR: "That is probably the most depressing reason imaginable."

EMI: "So how about it? You're probably really lonely and would eat that awful cafeteria food all alone, otherwise."

HISAO: "Eeeh..."

EMI: "I'm kidding, I'm kidding!"

HISAO: "Sure, I'll have your lunch offer. With pleasure."

EMI: "Let's go to the roof!"

HISAO: "The roof? Why the roof?"

EMI: "Because that's where we eat lunch! And if I don't get up there, then she'll probably wander off and then I just know she'll go hungry because she never packs a lunch for herself!"

HISAO: "Who will?"

EMI: "Come with me!"

NARRATOR: "Without answering my question or waiting for a response, she grabs me by the arm and drags me through the hallways. I attempt to make conversation on the way."

HISAO: "Why do you have an extra lunch?"

NARRATOR: "Emi smiles guiltily."

EMI: "Actually, it's yesterday's lunch. I slipped in a run at lunch and forgot to eat it."

NARRATOR: "Huh. Her expression is so funny that I almost laugh out loud. Emi giggles, to herself or to something or other, or maybe for no reason at all. I like the sound of it. Emi's sunny, energetic disposition alleviates the constricting feeling in the back of my head from the fight with Shizune and Misha. I let that issue slide out of my mind, and smile for the first time today."

NARRATOR: "Normally, I'd join the flow and grab a lunch myself, but today is different. Today, I've been invited to lunch on the roof. An odd location, but that's where I was told to go. Fortunately, I manage to find shelter from the storm in the lee of the classroom door. Eventually the torrent subsides and I step tentatively out into the hallway. Only to be met by Emi, who comes flouncing down the hallway like a cannonball."

EMI: "Hey! Hi Hisao! Great timing! I have super extra lunch today, as promised! Let's go upstairs!"

NARRATOR: "The stairway to the roof is a little dilapidated, but it's clearly been used recently. At the top of the stairs is a door, complete with missing padlock. I wonder who the intrepid individual was that removed the lock? Emi shoves the door open and steps beaming into the sunlight. Suddenly, a tall dark stranger appears out of nowhere, standing imposingly in front of us. Emi flinches back, almost falling back down the stairs."

EMI: "Eeek!"
(at the same time)
RIN: "Hello."

EMI: "Yipes! You scared me, Rin!"

NARRATOR: "Wait, isn't she..."

RIN: "Hello."

NARRATOR: "Noticing that Rin is speaking to me, Emi looks curiously at me."

EMI: "You two know each other?"

NARRATOR: "I look confusedly at Emi."

HISAO: "She's that friend of yours?"

NARRATOR: "Rin has turned her gaze towards the clouds drifting above the school."

RIN: "I didn't know you knew this person, Emi."

NARRATOR: "... The awkward silence lasts only for a few seconds until Emi lets out a tiny giggle, shrugging the coincidence off."

EMI: "I invited Hisao for lunch. If you know him, that's just better."

RIN: "Oh. Does this mean I don't get food? Or did you invite him for lunch without the lunch?"

EMI: "Erm, neither, I have food for three."

RIN: "Nice thinking."

NARRATOR: "They walk to the other end of the roof while I stay at the clock tower for a while, taking in the atmosphere. There is nobody else but us here. I guess the roof is not as popular as it is in other schools. A few rundown benches and tables are scattered around the edges, perhaps in an attempt to make the rooftop look less desolate. The small pebbles covering the roof rattle beneath our feet. I peek through the chain link fence to take a look at the school grounds and beyond. Students are strolling in pairs and groups around the quadrangle and at the cafeteria. A few delivery trucks are driving past the school towards the convenience store nearby. Somewhere a watchdog barks at a passer-by."

NARRATOR: "Somehow, when I look towards the town center the small town feel strikes me very strongly, almost palpably. The hectic lifestyle of big metropolises seems so far away and foreign here; nobody has to run to catch a bus like their life depended on it or get their senses overloaded by the neon lights and traffic jams. I feel surprisingly optimistic about this new life of mine, looking at my new hometown, even if it's going to be mine for only one short year. Finding out about my illness and having to move away from home all came so suddenly I haven't had time to think how I feel about it. When I step out of the shadow of the clock tower to the open I feel warmth touching my back. The sun shines from a perfectly clear cerulean sky. A cool breeze sweeping over the rooftop makes me shiver, but only briefly. The wind carries the scent of trees and flowers, not smog and car exhaust like it used to, just a few weeks ago."

NARRATOR: "Emi settles on a bench with Rin in tow and produces one big and two small lunch boxes from her bag."

EMI: "Come on, Hisao! What are you waiting for?"

NARRATOR: "She is beckoning me to join them, making room on the already small bench. I seat myself on the corner of the bench to take as little space as possible. It's pretty cramped, but somehow all three of us fit on it."

HISAO: "Impressive view."

NARRATOR: "Emi suppresses a giggle and places a lunchbox in front of Rin, and hands another lunchbox to me."

EMI: "Here you go! Lunch, as promised!"

NARRATOR: "Homemade, no less. I'm impressed."

HISAO: "Wow. This looks really good."

EMI: "Thanks! I make 'em myself when I can."

NARRATOR: "Conversation dies off as I set about the business of feeding myself. Taking a few bites, I glance up and notice Rin deftly opening the lunch box and popping a forkful of food into her mouth using only her feet. Even though I've seen it before, I can't help but be impressed at her dexterity. It's also a reminder of the sort of place I am in right now. Will I ever get used to sights such as this? I can't decide if getting used to such a thing would be a good thing or a bad thing either. Does getting used to this place mean that I'm giving up on being a normal person? Or does it just mean that I'm becoming more understanding about those around me? I'm distracted from my thoughts by the sight of Emi tearing into her lunch as if it had insulted her ancestors."

HISAO: "You seem pretty hungry."

NARRATOR: "Emi looks up, mouth half full, and swallows before nodding."

EMI: "My morning run always works up an appetite. Which is great, because then I burn through lunch pretty quickly. Helps me keep my girlish figure."

RIN: "What would happen if you'd lose it? Would you become a man?" NARRATOR: "I very nearly choke on my lunch trying not to laugh."

EMI: "It's a figure of speech."

RIN: "Does your figure have to run in the mornings too?"

HISAO: "Do you always talk like this?"

EMI: "Talk like what?"
(at the same time)
RIN: "Like what?"

NARRATOR: "I think that answers my question."

HISAO: "Er, never mind. So, uh..."

NARRATOR: "I struggle to think of small talk and settle on the obvious question."

HISAO: "How'd you two meet?"

NARRATOR: "Rin seems content to let Emi answer this question."

EMI: "Someone in the housing department thought that we'd complement each other well, so we were assigned rooms next to one another."

HISAO: "Complement each other?"

RIN: "Like shoes and a suit."

HISAO: "Huh?"

NARRATOR: "Emi giggles at my confusion."

EMI: "Put us together and we've got all our limbs, get it?"

HISAO: "Ah."

EMI: "So I started helping Rin get ready in the mornings, and that was that! I mean, you can't help someone get dressed every morning and not get along."

HISAO: "I see."

NARRATOR: "Rin chooses this moment to interject."

RIN: "I have trouble with shirts."

HISAO: "Right, that seems... fairly obvious."

RIN: "Really?"

HISAO: "Kind of...?"

NARRATOR: "This isn't helping, but at least Emi seems to find the whole thing funny. That, combined with the fact that Rin is genuinely curious, makes me feel slightly better and yet, confused."

HISAO: "I mean, you've got no arms. So uh, putting on a shirt seems like one of those things that would be... difficult."

NARRATOR: "You know what? I'm going to just stop talking now. It'll save me a lot of trouble in the long run. Rin nods in what I suspect is meant to be a sage manner."

RIN: "I see."

NARRATOR: "The conversation dies as I turn my attention back to my lunch. It's really quite good. Emi finishes her lunch first and makes a contented noise."

EMI: "Ah, that was good."

NARRATOR: "As she busies herself with cleaning up her lunch, Rin speaks up."

RIN: "I'm thirsty."

EMI: "Oh! I almost forgot about that! Sorry!"

NARRATOR: "With a flourish, she reaches into her bag and removes a trio of juiceboxes. She tosses me one that appears to be cranberry juice, one to Rin that appears to be some kind of strawberry milk (complete with pink color scheme), and keeps a (equally pink) box of some kind of fruit punch for herself. Rin dexterously stabs her straw through the top of her box and begins to drink. I'm once again impressed by how flexible she is, but this time I keep my comment to myself. Somehow I don't think either Emi or Rin are the sorts of people to think twice about the way they work around their particular disabilities. Rin especially so. Indeed, she gives off the impression of being entirely unaware that she's missing any limbs at all. Whether or not that's a conscious decision is another matter. I'm honestly not sure."

EMI: "So Hisao, how do you like it up here?"

HISAO: "Hmm? It's quite nice, actually. I like high places, for the view. Thanks for inviting me up here. And for the lunch, too."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins a thousand-watt grin, pleased by my response I suppose."

EMI: "No problem! Feel free to eat with us next time too, okay? I won't make you a lunch, but you can bring your own up here."

HISAO: "No lunch service? I don't know..."

NARRATOR: "Emi looks mock offended."

EMI: "Trying to take advantage of my good nature? The nerve!"

NARRATOR: "She giggles."

EMI: "Well, if that's your answer, I guess Rin and I will just keep eating lunch all alone..."

NARRATOR: "I am suddenly assaulted by the most heart-rending puppy-dog eyes I've ever seen as Emi pouts."

HISAO: "Kidding! I was kidding! I'd love to eat lunch up here again. Good location, and the company's okay too."

NARRATOR: "Emi frowns a bit at my declaration of “okay” but seems happy enough that I've accepted her invitation. I guess this makes us friends now. Or at least acquaintances. The lunch bell rings, signaling a return downstairs."

EMI: "Rin, you didn't finish your lunch again!"

RIN: "I wasn't that hungry."

EMI: "If you don't eat more, you're going to fade away!"

NARRATOR: "Rin shrugs, as if this is an acceptable risk."

HISAO: "Come on, we'd better get going."

NARRATOR: "The three of us head down the stairs together. The afternoon class passes. Once again, I find myself without a plan for something to do after school, so I head to the library to return a couple of the books I finished reading. Walking inside, I see that there are about as many students here as there were on Tuesday, all the more evident from the almost total silence enveloping the room. As I drop the books I'd borrowed into the returns slot in the counter, Yuuko suddenly pops up from behind it, quite startled from the banging they make as they hit the trolley next to her."

HISAO: "Ah, sorry Yuuko. Didn't mean to startle you."

YUUKO: "No, no. That's fine. It happens... a lot. I'm used to it by now. Um, can I help you?"

HISAO: "It's okay, I think I know where everything is. Thanks anyway."

NARRATOR: "I suppose I'll grab another book or two while I'm here. There's not much else to do, and after reading so much during my stay in the hospital, it's become a hard habit to break. I wander down to the fiction section towards the back of the library, scanning the bookshelves for anything that catches my eye. As I do, I look over to the corner where Hanako had been the last time I was here, not really expecting anything to come of it. ...surprisingly, though, she's there, absorbed completely in a fairly thick book. I decide against intruding on her like last time and get back to finding reading material."

NARRATOR: "After an indiscernible amount of time spent perusing the aisles, I finally decide on a couple of books to get and slide them off the shelf. With a minimum of fuss, I quickly walk over to the counter, check out my books and pop them into my bag as I walk out. By the time I leave the main building, sunset isn't too far away. A small trickle of students remain, but the majority have left; presumably to their homes and dorms."

Next Scene: Mind Your Step

NARRATOR: "Feeling utterly drained, I head to my room to read the books I borrowed. There's been enough action and excitement for one day already. The first is “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”. I know the story, of course, but I've never actually read the original book. It's just as trippy as I remember the story to be, with the wacky characters and nonsense plot. I start thinking of myself as some kind of an Alice too, haplessly tumbling down the rabbit hole into this Cripple Wonderland.

NARRATOR: "...Okay, that's a rather strong expression. Still, the isolated location and the overt way the school accommodates to absolutely everything is unsettling. It is like another world. I wonder why I can't shake the feeling of being an outsider like Alice, despite most everyone being so hospitable and friendly with me. Turning another page, my mind starts drifting further away from the book. It's quiet, I can hear my heartbeat thumping against the fabric of my shirt. For some reason, it makes me feel really bad like it has since that time in the forest with Iwanako. Like I was locked in a cage with something nasty and scary. I put the book down for a while and stare at the ceiling, taking my time to shake off the feeling. 200 pages later, I fall asleep."


Next Scene: Support