NARRATOR: "I throw back my daily fistful of pills with a glass of water. After a solid eight hours of sleep, I don't really know what I was so afraid of last night. As I chew a particularly large tablet in half, I continue to rationalize my worries away. Shizune knew I was taking sign language classes all day yesterday, and didn't make a big deal out of it. She might be mute, but that doesn't mean she can't make her feelings known. No, in fact, it seems like she's all the more direct for it. She doesn't beat around the bush or hold back, she always makes herself clear unapologetically, so there can be no mistakes. So, if she wasn't mad then, it's unlikely she would be at all. And on top of that, I didn't do anything wrong, anyway."

NARRATOR: "But as that fear of mine recedes, the thought of spending a couple days with Shizune without Misha takes its place. I hadn't really thought about it yesterday, but the idea becomes more and more intimidating. It's true I can understand sign language pretty well, but... I would definitely hesitate to say I can understand it above a basic level, and if she were to speed up her signing, which she does quite a bit, I don't think I could keep up. Signing, too, is not my strong suit. Doing both at the same time like Misha can is still a distant dream."

MISHA: "Hicchan~!"

HISAO: "What?"

MISHA: "Don't forget, you said you would help out with building stalls today~! Behind the school after classes are over, okay~?"

HISAO: "I know, I know."

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Last time you helped out, Hicchan, we really appreciated it~! This time, it's even more important, so skipping out is unforgivable, okay?"

NARRATOR: "I want to ask why that is, but there isn't any opportunity to. Besides, Misha is behind in her classes, so it seems like a bad idea to distract her now that I know that. I can always ask her at lunch, which is what I end up doing."

MISHA: "Because, Hicchan, a festival that celebrates a town is exactly what it sounds like. It's to celebrate your home and its history. Tanabata is different, it's for wishes and lovers~! That definitely makes it more important, doesn't it? Yeah~, naturally, it would be~."

HISAO: "Is that really what it's for, though?"

SHIZUNE: "..."

MISHA: "Hicchan, you have no sense of fun..."

NARRATOR: "She puffs out her cheeks in displeasure before blowing the air out like a deflating balloon."

MISHA: "You have to appreciate things like that, even if it's just an excuse to eat interesting things and dress up in the end~! I'll be disappointed in you if you don't, okay?"

NARRATOR: "Before I can say anything, she turns to the side to inhale a croquette. After classes, I meet Shizune behind the school, where it seems she already set everything up sometime yesterday. She greets me with a short wave, and then with a flourish of the hammer already in her hand, extends her arm towards the stalls behind her, some of them already half completed, others still haphazard piles of board bundled together with string."

NARRATOR: "As time passes, I realize the pills can only do so much. I still get way more tired than should be normal. Luckily, Shizune's back is to me, so I can afford to take a lot of breaks without having to worry about her wondering why. When I stop and think about it, though, I start to feel pretty guilty for taking advantage of her inability to hear that my hammer's stopped banging. It's a terrible thing to be happy about. Her work ethic is admirable. It's obvious that it bores her, and even annoys her, but she doesn't slacken her pace. When she gets tired nailing a stall together with one arm, she switches to the other."

HISAO: "Shizune—"

NARRATOR: "I feel like an idiot the second I say her name. I can't tell her what I think. There's a hammer in my hand as well, and in the end, I feel like I have to keep up with her. I can't slack off either, especially when it's just the two of us. There's no time to sign, no opportunity. Not even for a compliment for a job well done. Even something as casual as that would require me to put my hammer down, get her attention, and then sign it to her. A simple gesture turned into something so needlessly complex, like a single footstep taken on a road that's longer than first imagined. I've known her long enough to know this, and still forgot it."

NARRATOR: "The air is filled with the rhythmic knocking of nails being driven into wood. It's actually kind of nice after a while. To pass the monotony of the task at hand, I try to match my hammering to Shizune's, then alternate it to try and form a beat. Of course, she doesn't notice. It makes me wonder, does the lack of sound make this work seem more drawn out and boring to her? Is it strange, being unable to hear the results of her actions even as she feels the vibrations through her fingers? Or, having no concept of sound, does it bother her at all? Distracted, I don't notice Shizune sneaking up on me until her head pops into view."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Taking a break?"

HISAO: (signing) "Yeah, I guess."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Okay, let's do that. You can understand sign language. That makes it more convenient for both of us. Even though you hid it from me."

HISAO: "Hahaha..."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Why?"

HISAO: (signing) "Why what?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Why did you decide to take sign language?"

NARRATOR: "Her eyes don't break off from mine even for a second, if she needs to read my response, her peripheral vision is good enough. Once she has something in her gaze, she doesn't look away."

NARRATOR: "It's strange how piercing her eyes can be, dark as a lake at night."

HISAO: (signing) "Because I wanted to. It seemed like it would come in handy. And it did, didn't it?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Yes."

SHIZUNE: "..."

HISAO: (signing) "Sorry, I didn't catch any of that. See? This kind of thing still comes up now and then. I wish Misha was here."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "She has work to make up for, doesn't she? That might be partly my fault. Misha doesn't need supplemental lessons. Her grades aren't the best, but she understands how the decisions she makes affect others. That puts her ahead of many people. Especially certain blondes."

HISAO: "Ah..."

NARRATOR: "She doesn't forget things easily."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Your sign language is very good. You're learning oddly fast."

HISAO: (signing) "I've been taking classes for a while now. And it's kind of easy to pick up after awhile, through immersion, or osmosis, that kind of thing. It's not too bad. And if I'm really stuck, Misha's there, too."

SHIZUNE: "... ..."

NARRATOR: "I guess I spoke too soon. I didn't understand any of that. Time to backpedal."

HISAO: (signing) "Well, yeah, it's actually not that easy. It's actually hard as hell. Like trying to pick up broken glass. But I guess in some ways it's interesting, as well. Like an adventure. Well, no..."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Picking up broken glass is not an adventure."

HISAO: (signing) "Sure it is. It's just as challenging."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "If you use a dustpan and a broom it's not."

NARRATOR: "I feel frustrated and sad. When I look up, I notice she has a can of soda in her hand."

HISAO: "Where did you get that?"

NARRATOR: "I forget to sign it, but she understands anyway, following my eyes, and produces another one from behind her back. She tosses it in my direction, and I catch it with both hands."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I brought an extra one for you."

NARRATOR: "She pauses to slide her fingernail under the tab of her can and pop it open before setting it aside for a moment."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "If you are going to try and help me so much, then I have to look out for you too. It's only natural. If you're going to learn sign language, that is something entirely different. I'm naturally going to be impressed. What separates the two is obligation. I'm very happy."

NARRATOR: "She downs her drink in one go, stretches her arms behind her back and jumps to her feet."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "OK! Back to work!"

NARRATOR: "And like that, it's over. Shizune returns to her work with the same energy as before, the lingering traces of a smile on her face the only evidence that she had taken a break at all. As I do the same, I think that Misha was right in saying everything would work out for the best. Everything so far seems to be going in that direction. Misha swings by as it starts to get darker, looking just as tired as I feel, and Shizune decides to stop for today. As we cover the day's work and go our separate ways, I look at how fluidly they talk to each other, and how easily they laugh together as they walk to their dorm. It makes me appreciate Misha's skill at sign language more. I wonder if I'll ever reach that level, or if I even will have the time to."

Next Scene: Spring Into Action