NARRATOR: "The morning alarm sounds and I roll over, switching it off. My eyes open blearily to stare at the ceiling. What am I going to do? Do I get out of bed, go down to the track, and pretend that nothing happened? Will Emi even show up? After last evening's events, I doubt it. Even supposing that she did, what would I do then? Get over this fight just to dance the same routine the next time something's bothering her? I know that I spoke hastily last evening, especially trying to use her father as leverage. But was anything I said really off the mark? She won't let me in, ever, and she'll be forced to suffer alone. Nothing I do, nothing I say is going to change that. She won't change, and she's already decided to keep me at arm's length. Can I really bring myself to go down there and see her, knowing that I'm never going to get past where I am now?"

NARRATOR: "No, I decide. I really can't. Not today. I roll over and go back to sleep. She probably won't be there anyway. A similar mental conversation repeats itself when it comes time to go to lunch, and I eat in the cafeteria, alone. I don't want to see her; the very thought makes me feel ill. That night, I go for a run; I'm solo for the first time since Emi got sick after the track meet. Skipped seeing the nurse, just in case he asked about Emi. I don't want to talk about her, either."

NARRATOR: "The next day, I do the same thing. Alarm, off. Stay in bed. Eat alone, run alone. To fill the time that I would usually be spending with Emi, I start reading more. It works surprisingly well, until I find myself ducking into a restroom because I see her walking down the hall in between classes. If she noticed me, she didn't show it, even though I don't suppose she ever shows anything. Certainly not to the girls from her class I see talking cheerfully to her. Or to her fellow track members. Especially not to me. Alarm off. Stay in bed."

NARRATOR: "Mutou and I have a lengthy talk about the possibility that string theory is plausible. I don't buy it, myself. More than four dimensions, I can buy. But a bunch of vibrating strings at the subatomic level? That's asking a bit much. Looks like I'm not the only one to think this way, too. Apparently it's not really as strong a theory as it once was. Mutou says that's just because nobody has found the right way of looking at the data yet."

NARRATOR: "Eat alone. The rooftop is deserted today. I briefly wonder where Emi and Rin are, but shrug off the question. The important thing is that they aren't here, so I won't have to talk to them. Since I have nobody to talk to, I bring a book with me to read. The weather's nicer, if getting a little hot. Hopefully it will be cooler in the evening; a cool breeze seems to back up my theory."

NARRATOR: "Run alone. It is, in fact, cooler at the track. No sign of Emi, which is exactly the sort of thing I'm going for. I stretch out and start on my usual run, trying hard to ignore the lack of a running partner in front of me. Finding my thoughts drifting damnably to that girlish laugh, incorrigible grin, those wide and friendly eyes, her incredibly toned body—"

NARRATOR: "I increase the pace to clear my head. Chew up the distance between me and the turns, find the speed that makes me think only of my legs and how much they burn. I glance at my watch as I round the final turn, noting that my time's gotten faster. My heart seems a little squirrelly tonight, so I give myself a few extra cool-down laps just to be safe. No reason to bring this to the nurse's attention. I'll be fine. A rather Emi-ish thought to have, I'll admit. I have to hope that eventually I'll stop thinking about her so much. I finish another book before going to bed that night. I'll have to stop by the library tomorrow."

NARRATOR: "I don't know why I keep the early alarm on any more, but it wakes me up the next morning just the same. I still turn it off and go back to sleep. That afternoon, as I get ready to head to the cafeteria for another solo lunch (I've got a new book about a couple of con men in ancient Persia that I'm pretty excited about reading) I am suddenly cornered by Misha and... Huh. I guess just Misha."

MISHA: "Off to eat alone again, Hicchan~? We've noticed, you know~!"

HISAO: "We?"

MISHA: "Uh huh! Shicchan and I noticed that you've been spending more time alone! She wanted me to find out why, so I told her I'd ask you!"

HISAO: "I'm surprised she didn't ask me herself."

MISHA: "She would have, but she wanted to get a head start on some paperwork. There's a lot of it since we're coming up on the end of the term, you know~!"

HISAO: "Why the sudden interest in my well-being, anyway?"

MISHA: "Ah, Shicchan said “It is the duty of the Student Council to keep track of the emotional health of its students! To allow a cons—constituent to spiral into depression unchecked would be an unforgivable failure in the council's duties!"

HISAO: "Well, that's easy, then. I'm not depressed."

MISHA: "But you're eating alone, and nobody's seen you and Emi together at all! Something happened, didn't it, Hicchan~?"

NARRATOR: "Misha's voice takes on a slightly sterner tone, though somehow she keeps the familiar lilt at the end of her sentences. I purse my lips, uncertain about how to respond."

NARRATOR: "I'm not sure I like the idea of airing private matters to the Student Council."

HISAO: "Nothing major."

MISHA: "Hicchan, lying is a terrible thing to do~!"

NARRATOR: "She's not buying it. Okay, give her something, but not too much."

HISAO: "We had a disagreement and haven't resolved it yet."

MISHA: "Oh? Why not?"

HISAO: "Because - look, I don't need to talk about this, okay? It's not a big deal, okay? I'm fine."

MISHA: "And Emi? Is she fine too, Hicchan?"

NARRATOR: "Misha's voice has taken on a decidedly serious edge. This is ridiculous."

HISAO: "I don't know, okay? I haven't asked. Things are complicated right now."

MISHA: "What kind of man are you? Things get a little rough and you're going to hide from them?"

NARRATOR: "Misha's sudden retort catches me completely off guard."

MISHA: "Shicchan would call that a cowardly act, and she'd be right too! You two were close! Happy together! And you're just going to roll over and die without a fight? You should be willing to fight for your girlfriend, Hisao!"

NARRATOR: "It seems that Misha is channeling Shizune at the moment. It wouldn't surprise me to find out that Shizune gave her a script to follow based on my answer. Misha points an imperious arm at the classroom door."

MISHA: "Now you get out of the classroom and patch things up!"

HISAO: "Um, we've still got afternoon classes..."

NARRATOR: "This doesn't seem to dissuade Misha."

MISHA: "Then after class! You'd better do it, Hicchan! It's important that you don't leave things like this!"

HISAO: "Why?"

NARRATOR: "Misha regards me as one would regard an animal's droppings."

MISHA: "Didn't you care about her, Hisao? That's important, isn't it?"

NARRATOR: "Huh. She's right. I did... I do care about her. Don't I?"

HISAO: "Okay. I'll see her after class."

MISHA: "Great~! I'll let Shicchan know you're okay, then~!"

NARRATOR: "The lilt returns. I guess that means that Misha isn't angry at me any more. She waves and disappears down the hallway, and I eat my lunch. While afternoon classes draw to a close, I prepare myself for the task ahead. I have to see Emi; Misha was at least correct about that. Leaving the question of Emi and I an open issue won't work. At the very least, I need to apologize for what I said. I consider going to her room to find her, but she's probably still at the track."

NARRATOR: "The steps out of the main building and down the path to the track make me feel like a doomed man. I have a twisting, horrible feeling in my gut that this is all going to go horribly wrong, that I'm not going to accomplish anything. Except for maybe driving the final nail in the coffin of whatever it was Emi and I had. There she is, just as expected, running laps around the track after everyone else has gone to shower and dinner. I don't wave, or even make my presence known. I just sit down on the bleachers and watch her run her laps. It takes her a few trips around the track before she notices me, after which she skids to a stop, eyes wide in surprise. Surprise is quickly masked by anger, which in turn fades behind a mask that I already know is impenetrable."

EMI: "What are you doing here?"

NARRATOR: "Not quite the response I'd hoped for, but at this point I don't have much of a choice."

HISAO: "I wanted to apologize for what I said the other day."

EMI: "The other day?"

NARRATOR: "She laughs, a curt exclamation of disbelief."

EMI: "It's been almost a week, Hisao."

HISAO: "Yeah, well... better late than never, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi crosses her arms and stares at me coolly, as if sizing me up. Finally, she nods."

EMI: "Hmmph. I suppose you're right. Water under the bridge, then. I forgive you. Is that all?"

NARRATOR: "Her almost impatient question catches me so off-guard that she's halfway down the track before I think to shout after her."

HISAO: "No, wait!"

NARRATOR: "Emi stops, turns, and walks back to me, breathing a little heavily and looking annoyed at my interruption."

EMI: "What?"

NARRATOR: "Okay, I need to make this right, somehow. I have to know where I stand, maybe patch things up."

HISAO: "Can you at least sit down?"

EMI: "I think we're okay talking here."

HISAO: "Fine, sure. Look, about us..."

NARRATOR: "I pause, trying to think of a good way to phrase what I'm about to say. But before I can launch into an impassioned plea for giving me another chance, Emi's already spoken."

EMI: "There's no more us, Hisao."

HISAO: "Why not?"

EMI: "We're just not right for each other."

NARRATOR: "She delivers this outrageous statement without even looking in my eyes."

HISAO: "I don't believe you! We're great with one another!"

EMI: "Says the guy apologizing for getting thrown out of my house last week."

HISAO: "It was a fight! I said something really, incredibly stupid and apologized for it!"

EMI: "And how many times had we already discussed the problem that started the fight? How many times had I told you that there was a set boundary that I wouldn't cross, and how many times did you keep trying to cross it?"

HISAO: "Because your boundary was stupid!"

NARRATOR: "Emi rolls her eyes, folds her arm across her chest, and cocks her head to the side."

EMI: "Do you see this, Hisao? This is why we're not right for one another!"

NARRATOR: "Her voice softens a little, and she reaches out to stroke my cheek."

EMI: "You're a good guy, but we're not going to work."

NARRATOR: "With a horrible lurching feeling, I realize that she's been practicing this. Maybe every day since I left her house. Even the cheek-stroke seems rehearsed, like something out of a movie. She never intended to give me another chance. Hell, she probably would have been fine with never seeing me again."

HISAO: "So that's it, then? Nothing else to say but “Gee, it was fun while it lasted, but so long?”"

NARRATOR: "This actually seems to amuse Emi far more than I wanted it to. She gives a rather morbid sounding chuckle."

EMI: "That's how I've lived my life, Hisao. You should know that by now. And it was fun."

NARRATOR: "A sad smile. She shivers slightly, and the smile vanishes."

EMI: "But it's over now. It's for the best."

NARRATOR: "I want to yell, to scream at her. Make her see reason, that this is stupid, the whole act. That she's just afraid of me, afraid of what being close to someone means. I want to tell her that I love her and that I can't just give up on her at the drop of a hat. Except... there's no point. She's made up her mind. We're done."

HISAO: "Fine."

NARRATOR: "Emi nods, satisfied. I want to hit something."

EMI: "Good."

NARRATOR: "She brightens with a false cheeriness."

EMI: "See you around, Hisao."

HISAO: "No you won't. You won't even try."

NARRATOR: "She shrugs, as if to say “Have it your way,” and turns her back on me once more, quickly accelerating around the curve of the track. I feel numb. This is it. The end of the road for us, whatever that was. Closure, at least. Emi rounds the track again without sparing me a second glance. She's running much faster now, and I can't help but think of that first run together. I ran to catch you, to try to prove I wasn't as weak as I knew I was. But it ended badly for me, didn't it? And now, you're off running too fast for me again, and I have the choice to run after you again. But I won't. Not this time. You'd never let me catch you."

NARRATOR: "I don't even notice walking away from the track, or walking into my room, or pulling a book out of my bag to read. Just before bed, I reset my alarm. Emi and I have had our final encounter. We don't speak again after that."


NARRATOR: "Well, I suppose someone else knowing about my problem can't hurt. Heck, maybe Misha can even offer some advice."

HISAO: "We had a fight at her house. I keep trying to get close to her, and she won't let me get close, and... I said something stupid, and she threw me out."

MISHA: "Have you talked to her since then?"

NARRATOR: "Misha looks genuinely concerned. I'm surprised, as I'd almost expected her to drop the subject after finding out what the trouble was. Even more surprising is how quickly I find myself spilling my guts to her."

HISAO: "No, I haven't. I just can't bring myself to face her after that. I made a complete fool of myself, and she probably hates me now anyway. Especially since I haven't seen her since then."

MISHA: "You're pretty slow, Hicchan."

NARRATOR: "This doesn't sound like advice."

HISAO: "Huh?"

NARRATOR: "Misha places her hands on her hips and launches into a speech that would sound more plausible coming from Shizune."

MISHA: "The solution to your problem is simple! You have to go and apologize to her! Leaving things like this will just make things worse! You can't know that she hates you now unless she tells you! Otherwise, there's no evidence that what you fear is true! And if you really care about her, shouldn't you be worried about how she's taking all this?"

NARRATOR: "With a sudden start, I realize that she's right. I've kept waking up to an early alarm because part of me wants to meet Emi at the track for our runs. I've kept running, because I know that Emi would worry about me if I didn't stay healthy. When I went on the roof yesterday, I was half-hoping that she would be up there, and felt disappointed when she wasn't."

HISAO: "I'm an idiot."

MISHA: "Kinda, Hicchan~! So~! Go and apologize to her as soon as you can, okay~?"

NARRATOR: "I open my mouth to say that I'll do it right away, but the lunch bell rings and I realize that I still have afternoon classes to attend."

HISAO: "First thing after class is over, I'll go see her. I promise. And uh, thanks for the advice, I guess."

NARRATOR: "Misha beams at me, as if I were a child that had just learned his ABCs."

MISHA: "Good! I'll let Shicchan know that you're okay, then~!"

HISAO: "Er, yeah. You do that."

NARRATOR: "With a wave (and completely disregarding the fact that people are starting to trickle back into the classroom, as opposed to out of it), Misha departs the classroom. I suppose she and Shizune have student council business again. While the afternoon wears on, I find myself impatient for lessons to end. I need to see Emi now. I have to try to set things right. Even if Emi hates me now, I have to at least apologize. I owe her that much. Should I meet her in her room? No, I decide, it would delay things too much. If I know Emi, then I can find her at the track. Still have no idea what I'm going to say when I get there, but I take comfort in knowing that Emi probably wouldn't have a plan for something like this either. Play it by ear. Stop being nervous, and just get to the track. Figure the rest out when I get there."

NARRATOR: "The track looms ahead, and another jolt of nerves hits me in the gut. I resist the urge to turn and walk away, and instead note with satisfaction that I was right and Emi is still running. I don't make myself immediately known; I find a seat in the bleachers and watch her run instead, thinking back to earlier meetings. After a few trips around the track, Emi notices me and skids to a halt, an expression of surprise that slides easily into one of anger."

EMI: "What are you doing here?"

NARRATOR: "Not quite the response I'd hoped for, but at this point I don't have much of a choice."

HISAO: "I wanted to apologize for what I said the other day."

EMI: "The other day?"

NARRATOR: "She laughs, a curt exclamation of disbelief."

EMI: "It's been almost a week, Hisao."

HISAO: "Yeah, well... better late than never, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi crosses her arms and stares at me coolly, as if sizing me up. Finally, she nods."

EMI: "Hmmph. I suppose you're right. Water under the bridge, then. I forgive you. Is that all?"

NARRATOR: "Her almost impatient question catches me so off-guard that she's already halfway down the track before I think to shout after her."

HISAO: "No, wait!"

NARRATOR: "She doesn't seem to have heard me - or she doesn't want to hear me - and so I give chase, disregarding completely the fact that I am not dressed for it. My feet hurt, and my shirt collar feels like a noose around my neck, but I still chase after her, because if I don't I'll lose my chance. Emi hasn't started to really accelerate yet, which is probably the only reason why I'm able to catch up to her, to reach out and tap her on the shoulder, just before my legs give up running in dress shoes and stumble to a stop. Surprisingly (fortunately?) all that running seems to have paid off. I'm short of breath, yes, but at least my heart isn't actively trying to force its way out of my ribcage. My touch on her shoulder has stopped Emi, and while there is a flash of concern when she sees me catching my breath, it seems that she has a good idea of what I'm capable of too. The concern is short-lived."

EMI: "What?"

NARRATOR: "She seems so irritated by my being still there that I almost lose my nerve, but I've lost my nerve enough."

HISAO: "I need to explain myself. Why I can't just let the matter rest."

NARRATOR: "Emi folds her arms and bounces one blade on the ground in an approximation of tapping her foot impatiently. Angry as she is, and as nervous as I am, she still looks beautiful."

EMI: "Okay, Hisao. Explain."

HISAO: "The thing is, I know that you're really sensitive about the accident and about your dad."

NARRATOR: "I can see Emi's face twitch at the mention of the two things that have been steadily driving us apart, or at least made me feel like we're being driven apart."

HISAO: "But that's why I want to know about them, I think. Because I see how much they hurt you, and I want to be there to comfort you. It makes me miserable, seeing you sleepless and depressed - and don't pretend you aren't, because I know, okay? I just remember that night when you fell asleep with me and had that nightmare, and that you were happy to have me there when you woke up. I want to be able to be there for you like that whenever you need me to be."

NARRATOR: "The stern face cracks, slightly. Emi interrupts before I can continue further."

EMI: "Just... stop right there. We can't see each other any more, okay?"

NARRATOR: "She's rushing now, looking everywhere but at me. I'm surprised she doesn't bolt, she knows I can't catch her..."

EMI: "We're not... we're not right for one another."

HISAO: "That's not true, and you know it."

EMI: "No, it's true. You're too—"

HISAO: "I know. I know that I've been pushy about knowing your past. If you can't tell me yet, then at least let me be there even if I don't know the reason. It's okay, I promise. I won't ask why you need comfort, I'll just give it freely."

NARRATOR: "Emi's shaking her head, and tears seem to be threatening the corners of her eyes."

EMI: "Stop saying that!"

HISAO: "Why? Because you're afraid you'll take me up on it?"

EMI: "I'm not afraid!"

NARRATOR: "I can't keep the chiding tone from my voice as I respond."

HISAO: "Yes, you are. You told me so yourself, remember? That's okay, really it is. However, it seems to me that someone who'd manage to come out of that wreck and still be as energetic and cheerful as you are would be determined enough to face that fear."

EMI: "Determination? What do you know about determination?"

HISAO: "I know that there's a girl so determined to take care of a total stranger that she'd steal his food at a festival. I know that there's a girl so determined to help me with my own problems that she'd draw up a complete dietary and exercise plan, and that she'd not only draw up the plans, but she'd follow them with me, even when she couldn't run. Determined enough to keep me at arm's length that she'd put herself through emotional pain if she thought it was the right thing to do. Although, there's one thing that this determined girl didn't quite plan for, which was that I might feel that same kind of determination to keep her from being hurt. I fell in love with you, and I refuse to let that be thrown away because you're afraid of losing me."

NARRATOR: "What little control Emi still has at this point cracks, and I find myself suddenly enveloped in her embrace as she cries."

EMI: "Why are you doing this? Why can't you just leave me alone?"

Emi forehead

NARRATOR: "I hold her close and plant a kiss on the top of her head."

HISAO: "I'm sorry, Emi. You helped me when I first arrived, so now I have to help you. It's only fair."

EMI: "You're utterly hopeless, did you know that?"

NARRATOR: "She hiccups and trembles a little."

HISAO: "Funny, I could say the same about you."

EMI: "Can you do something for me, Hisao?"

HISAO: "Anything."

EMI: "Can you go, now?"

NARRATOR: "It feels like she's just shoved a knife through my chest."

HISAO: "Go?"

EMI: "I need to... I need to think, okay? I can't just tell you everything yet. I'm still scared, and when you're around, I can't think clearly. But do me another favor."

HISAO: "What's that?"

EMI: "Show up for our morning run tomorrow?"

NARRATOR: "I smile, feeling better than I have all week."

HISAO: "Of course. I wouldn't miss it for the world."

NARRATOR: "Emi steps back slowly, almost reluctantly. She sniffles a little and then grins at me, a real smile that lights up the track, overpowering the fading evening's light."

EMI: "See you tomorrow, Hisao."

HISAO: "Okay."

NARRATOR: "She darts forward suddenly, planting a soft kiss on my lips, then steps back shyly. Spinning on her back foot, she takes off running again, and I know that our conversation's at an end. My lips tingle with the warmth of that brief kiss and the memories of other, longer kisses. I walk back to my room with a spring in my step. Tomorrow when my alarm goes off, I'll get up."


Next Scene: Whispers of the Past