NARRATOR: "After that morning class, and throughout the week, I keep bumping into Rin."

RIN: "Hello."

NARRATOR: "This is somewhat natural, as our classrooms are adjacent. But rather than just cross paths in the hallway like people regularly do, we seem to pause at the sight of each other. We invariably end up talking a little bit, or just silently hanging out together. I think I'm getting used to being quiet in Rin's company, as it doesn't feel as awkward, any more. I am, by nature, somewhat introverted like her, so we fit together well. I think it's actually an anomaly for someone in this school to be so quiet. Most people here seem to love socializing. It's something that I've noticed already, even though I haven't been here very long: people here talk a lot, and they talk all the time. It's a rare case when I see someone sitting alone, just spacing out or whatever. Obviously there are people like that here, too; that Hanako girl and myself, just to name two from my own class. But overall, they are a minority. At any rate, I wouldn't exactly call what Rin and I do “socializing,” either, but it's something, at least. These occurrences themselves don't bother me, but the fact that they happen at all does. I'd hesitate to say that we are drawn together by something, but we certainly act as if we were. However, this sense of a budding friendship is completely wrecked every time Rin opens her mouth."

RIN: "Can I listen to your heartbeat?"

NARRATOR: "She says this, or something else about as outrageous, and I have to fend off whatever nonsense her mind has cooked up during the preceding class of a subject that she is not interested in. It seems Rin has taken a shine to my heart condition as some kind of an extension of her interest in the odder disabilities that people here have, and the consequences of said afflictions. As I stand in front of her for a second too long, looking as flummoxed as I am, she concludes it is necessary to further clarify her request."

RIN: "I know I can, but I mean, will you let me?"

HISAO: "Why?"

RIN: "Do I need a reason? I'm usually pretty bad with reasons."

HISAO: "Not per se, but if you want to do it, you probably do have a reason."

RIN: "That's kinda clever. You are smarter than you look."

HISAO: "Also, I'd rather you not. I think these things should be private."

RIN: "Private. I get it."

HISAO: "I can tell you something though, if it amuses you. I'm pretty sure it will. My heartbeat does sound very weird. Because of the... you know, condition. And I hear it. All the time."

RIN: "So you're paranoid."

NARRATOR: "It's not a question, it's a statement."

HISAO: "No, I'm not paranoid. The doctors said that abnormal attention to heartbeat is a common symptom of my... condition."

RIN: "So, for you, it's normal to be paranoid."

NARRATOR: "It's not a question either."

HISAO: "One could also say that me being like this in the first place isn't normal, either, but what the heck. Paranoia fits me fine."

RIN: "I don't think it's something that actually can fit anyone or anywhere. You know, I ate an orange today for breakfast."

HISAO: "How was it?"

NARRATOR: "I'm vaguely proud of myself, managing to keep up with Rin's sudden change of topic."

RIN: "Excellent. I don't remember when I last ate an orange. Because it's annoying to peel one. It's on the list of things I want to learn properly."

HISAO: "How come you ate one, then?"

RIN: "Emi had some, so she peeled one for me."

HISAO: "Good for you."

NARRATOR: "Rin stretches her back and yawns, and says nothing further. She throws me a glance from the corner of her eye while she watches people pass by, but I couldn't say why. I realize, though, that this is the first time I've talked naturally about my condition with anyone. In a way. A group of boys walk past us to Rin's classroom, but she doesn't pay them any mind. They pay none to her, either. My mind wanders off, spurred by the silence."

NARRATOR: "Maybe I should've let her listen to my heart. It's not like it matters. Nothing really matters that much, at the end of the day. I start feeling depressed for no reason, again. It's like a tidal wave out of nowhere rolling over my consciousness, submerging me underwater. I feel a sigh coming out of my mouth, and I turn away from Rin, pretending to read a poster on the wall. It's an advertisement for the school festival, promoting an event almost a week past. The difference between me and Rin is that I'll be more likely than not dead before turning thirty, while she can't eat oranges without help. I can't decide which one of us is worse off. I try to grasp the passing of time, but it seems hard. I'm still used to the rhythm of the hospital, where trivialities such as the day of the week or time of day didn't really matter. Everything was the same, no matter what. Rediscovering the significance of time is an oddly disorienting experience, and I find myself enjoying the fact that I can categorize events in this fashion."

Watch black

NARRATOR: "The relevancy of a ticking clock is surprisingly delightful, and I decide to start wearing an analog wristwatch, something I didn't use to do before. When I finally ask Rin on Thursday about something that's been bothering me for the entire week, it's already lunch time."

Watchhallway blur

NARRATOR: "The time is somewhere between 11:06 and 11:07, as my watch doesn't have a hand to show seconds. It's the old-fashioned kind with a black leather strap and titanium casing. It doesn't look flashy, but a wristwatch doesn't need to."

HISAO: "Hey. Remember that sketch you made of me? How you said I looked grim and gloomy or something? I'd like to know what you meant by that."

NARRATOR: "She gives me a weird look and tilts her head a few degrees to the left, but doesn't say anything for a while."

RIN: "Well, you see... We've known each other for two weeks and I haven't seen you smile even once."

NARRATOR: "Her striking observation gives me pause. Have I stopped smiling? I have to take what she says as truth. She has no reason to lie. Something about the way she puts it annoys me. I frown at Rin, then try to correct my expression to look less depressed. I haven't been in the cheeriest of moods during the past few months or so, this is true. Does it show so much that someone like Rin can tell, after so little contact with me? Should I try to smile more at Rin? Maybe she could appreciate it, having such a neutral face herself almost all the time. Have I really stopped smiling?"

HISAO: "I see. Should I smile more?"

RIN: "I don't mind either way. Be as you are; you can't help being Hisao anyway."

HISAO: "But it bothers you?"

RIN: "I just noticed it, that's all."

NARRATOR: "Emi skips along the hallway, jumps to a sharp stop when she reaches us, and lightly pats Rin's shoulder."

EMI: "Ready for lunch?"

RIN: "Depends on what lunch is today. Remember that stew from March? Never again, that."

EMI: "Let's go anyway. I'm starving!"

NARRATOR: "As they are about to depart, Emi turns from her friend to me, seemingly as an afterthought, and smiles charmingly."

EMI: "By the way, Hisao..."

NARRATOR: "Her tone is way too sweet and soft to be sincere. I can sense the trap about to be sprung upon me by this miniature health-devil. I know what she's about to say even before she continues, because I've been trying to avoid her all week."

EMI: "I still haven't seen you at the track this entire week."

HISAO: "Maybe I've been there when you haven't."

EMI: "That's impossible. I'm there all the time."

HISAO: "But you sleep and go to class."

EMI: "I do those at the same time as you do."

HISAO: "Yeah, I know, I know. I just... haven't been able to pick myself up. Don't rat me out to the nurse, okay? Running just isn't my thing, and I haven't come up with a good alternative."

EMI: "Why don't you come to the track meet this weekend? Maybe you'll get inspired."

HISAO: "Track meet?"

EMI: "Yeah! People from a few other schools come here for some friendly track and field action. It's on Sunday afternoon."

NARRATOR: "I can't think of any reason not to go."

HISAO: "Sure. I'll come and cheer for you. I guess you'll be running?"

EMI: "Of course! You'll get to see me beat them all! But bye now! If I don't get something to eat, I'll die."

HISAO: "See you later. Bye Rin. I promise I'll smile next time."

NARRATOR: "I call after her, as a bit of an afterthought. Afterward, I feel embarrassed about it, and wonder why I said anything at all."

Hisao mirror

NARRATOR: "That night, when I'm doubly certain that Kenji won't be barging in the bathroom, I look in the mirror and smile at my reflection. The me in the mirror smiling at the me in the bathroom looks awfully fake."

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