NARRATOR: "A hand pounds my back hard a couple of times, severely winding me. I couldn't care less about the culprit as I focus my thoughts on my chest in a near-automatic reaction. My hand instinctively tightens on my breast, and I start going through the steps I rehearse in my mind every other day. Breathe steadily... in... and out... With a measure of relief, I can slowly feel my chest becoming less tense. By the time I look back up, my face is covered in sweat from the experience."
KENJI: "Hey... man, are you okay?"
HISAO: "GODDAMNIT! Don't do that, you idiot!"
NARRATOR: "He retreats back, an expression of unease written on his face. In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have barked at him, considering he had no way to know. I give a sigh and right myself with some difficulty."
HISAO: "Sorry. I just have some... chest problems. Sharp knocks aren't good."
NARRATOR: "It seems strange to see him so upset. The fact that I can't do anything about it irritates me."
HISAO: "Let's get lunch."
KENJI: "Okay. It's good to have some company, for once."
NARRATOR: "We start off to the serving line. One good thing is that Kenji and I can make small talk nowadays, as opposed to my only interaction with him being anti-feminist lectures."
HISAO: "Seems like it'd be hard to find an empty table."
KENJI: "There's a few people I wouldn't mind sitting with. Nobody's like you, though."
NARRATOR: "I feel a shiver run through my spine."
HISAO: "Clarify that now."
KENJI: "They don't listen. Their minds are closed. It's the media, man, the Goddamn brainwashing mainstream feminist Fascist media."
NARRATOR: "He takes a breath, and I savor the second of silence."
KENJI: "Damn, they control everything. Everything but you and me."
NARRATOR: "I relax a little while we grab our food and drink."
KENJI: "So, what've you got for me?"
KENJI: "Come on, you've been hanging around Satou and that other chick for ages now. Rumors are all over my class, and probably some of the others too."
HISAO: "Eavesdropping isn't a good habit."
KENJI: "Let me guess, you never do it? Not even when you're bored? Really?"
HISAO: "Well... I... uh... Fine. Point taken."
NARRATOR: "Both of us stop to have soup ladled into a couple of small bowls and placed onto our trays. The concoction that lands into the bowl looks pretty questionable, but at least it smells reasonably good. As we take our seats at a miraculously free table, I try to think of something that would actually interest him at all. I hope I can come up with an acceptable topic."
HISAO: "I found an answer to that question you asked a couple of weeks back. Where Lilly's non-Japanese half comes from, that is."
KENJI: "Good man. It's Russia, right? Totally Russia."
NARRATOR: "He's visibly stopped in his tracks."
HISAO: "Yeah, that was my reaction too. She can speak English fluently and everything."
KENJI: "...Damn it! Do you realize what this means? How terrifying this news is to me?"
NARRATOR: "I think he's hyperventilating. Passing out for a little while would probably make him more relaxed than he normally is."
HISAO: "I have no idea what it means. Enlighten me."KENJI: "I just lost 1000 yen, man! 1000 yen! Damn, this is the worst day ever."
NARRATOR: "I dig into my food, hoping he'll take the hint from my silence."
KENJI: "I just lost 1000 yen, man! 1000 yen! Damn, this is the worst day ever."NARRATOR: "No such luck."
KENJI: "One of the dudes in my class was bugging me about it. I gave him some of my wisdom, and he had the audacity to say my logic was wrong."
HISAO: "So what did he think?"
KENJI: "Eh, Germany or something. It doesn't matter. What matters is my 1000 yen. Damn, this day is ruined thanks to her. What a bitch."
NARRATOR: "He looks utterly devastated as he wolfs down several clumps of his soggy soy-soaked rice. It only takes a few mouthfuls before he pokes his chopsticks at me, stabbing the air repeatedly in revelation."
KENJI: "Why... mm... mm... would... mm..."
HISAO: "Didn't your mother ever tell you not to speak with your mouth full?"
NARRATOR: "He gives me a dirty look before choking down the rest of the food left in his mouth and taking a gulp of juice. It's rather unsightly. Remembering my own food sitting in front of me, I decide to get the task of eating the cafeteria food over and done with as fast as possible. The sooner I do so, the sooner the experience will be over."
KENJI: "So as I was saying, Why would anyone want to live in that place anyway? I mean, what is there to see? Grassy plains. That's it. Lots and lots of grassy plains. And men in kilts."
NARRATOR: "I'm not sure which is worse, this food or his world view. I can feel my face being dragged down by their combined weight. Not that he'd notice, or care."
HISAO: "It's not that bad. Why do you care about her so much anyway? She's just your class representative, after all."
NARRATOR: "He gives a malevolent chuckle. Were this anyone but Kenji, I'd feel uneasy at how he sounds."
KENJI: "I finally found the chink in the feminist legion's armor. It took a while, but I'm confident that this is going to be how we can bring down the whole system. I'm about to blow your mind. Are you ready?"
NARRATOR: "I tune out his rambling for a moment as I finish my rice and start on the unappetizing soup. One taste is enough to confirm that it's cold."
HISAO: "Ready as I'll ever be."
KENJI: "I confirmed that Lilly is in the Mafia."
KENJI: "All right, stay with me for a second here, and I'll describe the scene."
NARRATOR: "I wish I could do otherwise."
KENJI: "Lilly's there, walking down the street after school."
HISAO: "You're not stalking her, are you?"
KENJI: "No! Damn man, I do have some sense of self-preservation."
NARRATOR: "But not dignity, or morals, or social standards..."
KENJI: "Anyway, as I was saying. This car pulls up next to her, and guess who steps out? A man in a pinstripe suit. Waves her in, then the two leave just like that. I tell you man, she's under protection. Under. Protection."
NARRATOR: "A man in a... oh. I can see where this is going now. It takes effort not to sigh in exasperation."
HISAO: "Let me guess; this man was about average height, had a slightly slender build, had blonde hair, looked foreign, and smiled a lot?"
NARRATOR: "He looks positively stunned. I take advantage of the moment of quiet to quickly gulp a mouthful of cold soup."
KENJI: "It seems you're more observant than I thought. Yes, I have chosen well."
NARRATOR: "He giggles a little, and nods to himself so dramatically that it looks comical. I can't tell whether that's intentional or not, and that fact makes me frown."
KENJI: "This has important ramifications, you know. If she really is connected to people like them, and we're smart about what we do with this information, we could turn this into our greatest weapon against the Student Council."
NARRATOR: "Once he starts rambling into conspiracy territory, my juice suddenly becomes of much more importance. Only half-listening to his pontifications, my mind drifts to the matter of Lilly and her antipathy for Shizune. The past between them is steadily becoming more coherent, but I'm not even sure if I should be learning of her past this way. Indeed, even if I do work out what went on, it really doesn't seem like my business to go and interfere. ...Damn, not having Lilly around is making my thoughts wander. I'm noticeably more bored and sullen without her company, and the same goes for Hanako. All we do during lunch any more is eat and play chess. Come to think of it, I need to go check on Hanako after school, too. Considering her much improved attendance, I'm guessing she's come down with something."
MUTOU: "Oh, Nakai?"
NARRATOR: "I stop as I'm about to leave the classroom, turning on the ball of my heel to meet Mutou. He's holding out to me a couple of the worksheets we'd worked on during the day with his long, lanky arm."
MUTOU: "Would you mind giving these to Ikezawa? I'd normally ask one of the girls to do it, but I assume you'll be checking on her."
NARRATOR: "For a moment I briefly consider the possibility of that being more than an innocent prediction. I quickly discard the idea though, as it's hard to think of him acting in such a Machiavellian way. It's not in his nature."
HISAO: "Sure, no problem."
NARRATOR: "Walking up the hallway of the girl's dormitory, several ideas of why Hanako's been absent float around my head. The most obvious of them is just a simple cold. That said, she may not even be sick at all. It's been almost a week since Lilly left, and despite her at least appearing to be normal, I've suspected she's somewhat more insecure about it than she's letting on. Eventually I come to Hanako's dormitory room, its simple brown door separating us. Her room's position next to Lilly's is extremely convenient, and probably a large contributor to their meeting in the first place. Grimacing slightly at the prospect of her being sick, I rap my knuckles on the door."
NARRATOR: "...Silence. I listen intently for any sound of shuffling coming from inside, but I can't hear a thing. I knock on the door again, slightly harder. till no answer. How strange. A door opens behind me. A freckled and somewhat scrawny underclassman I don't recognize comes out and is briefly taken off guard by my presence."
GIRL: "Uh... hi."
NARRATOR: "Actually, this may be a rather fortuitous meeting."
HISAO: "Hey. Excuse me, do you know if Hanako's come out of her room today or not? She doesn't seem to be answering."
GIRL: "Ikezawa is Ikezawa. Her not answering the door is totally normal. That tall foreign girl's the only person she'll ever talk to, after all."NARRATOR: "She gives a shrug before walking off down the hallway, having much more important matters to attend to than Hanako or I. Her dismissive attitude annoys me. Hanako must have a reputation as a hermit; a reputation that doesn't seem outright undeserved, at least in the time before we'd met."
HISAO: "Hey. Sorry, don't mind me."
NARRATOR: "I think the situation with Hanako should be kept as private as possible, for her sake. I don't really know anything about what's happened to her, and my gut tells me that it's not physical sickness that's befallen her. She doesn't need rumors about her going around. As much as it may pain me to think so, she'd likely prefer to keep her status as a strangely-ignored member of the class over having people talk behind her back."
GIRL: "Whatever."NARRATOR: "With that, she turns and walks down the hallway without a second thought. How rude."
NARRATOR: "Scratching my head, I make one last attempt at getting Hanako to answer as I knock on the door one final time."
HISAO: "Hanako, it's just me. Mutou said to give you some stuff."
NARRATOR: "For a while, the attempt seems just as unsuccessful as the last. Just before I slip the sheets under her door, though, I can hear the handle rattling. As the door opens halfway, I do my best to look Hanako over as quickly as possible. It's a task made somewhat more difficult by her oversized gown hiding so much of her body. She doesn't look sick, or at least not immediately so. To be honest, I'd have preferred that to her expression right now."
HISAO: "Hi, Hanako. Mutou wanted me to give you these since you weren't in class today."
NARRATOR: "I hold out the loose sheets, which she tentatively takes in her hands. The way she moves is weird, devoid of thought, as if she's some kind of mechanical automaton rather than a living being."
HISAO: "Are you... okay? If you're feeling sick or anything, I could get the nurse."
NARRATOR: "It feels almost pitiful to put on such a routine “get well soon” act. I can't think of anything else I could possibly do for her, though. She seems to collect herself a little at the notion... but only a little."
HANAKO: "I'm fine."
NARRATOR: "An awkward silence follows, eventually ended by her nodding solemnly in farewell and closing the door. The entire experience feels surreal. More than a little put off, I wander back to my room and hope that she'll be better by tomorrow, despite not knowing exactly what's wrong with her."
Next Scene: Dissonance