One Piece of Paper is the eighth page of Act 3 of Hanako's route
The hammering of a fist against the door feels like a nail being pounded into my head.
Once, twice, three times, I let out a long, annoyed breath and bear it while pressing my eyelids shut, fervently hoping for whoever it is to just go away.
I feel pretty damn awful. My face feels like it's cast out of lead, my arms feel heavy, and I feel very queasy. It's been like this since I woke up half an hour ago, and I can't summon the energy to pick myself up out of bed.
So… this is what they call a hangover.
I wonder if perhaps this is the best treatment for teenagers who desperately want to try drinking as a way to feel like an adult. Considering how unpleasant this is, it's not something I want to repeat.
A series of thumps rings out again, reverberating around the small room. I wish they'd just give up already; I have no intention of getting out of bed for them.
Seconds pass, turning to minutes. Since no more knocks are coming from the door, whoever it was must have left. Thank goodness.
Looking to my clock, the time when I really should think about getting dressed and ready for class is approaching. I don't think I can manage it, though.
I hate cutting class, but I don't think I'm going to be able to get much done at this rate. I can tell I look like a mess without needing to look in the mirror to confirm it, too.
The morning rush is giving me enough time to stand outside the classroom for a little while without looking too suspicious. I hope that Mutou doesn't ask any awkward questions about my not attending school yesterday.
I was sick, that much is true, it's just the reasons for it that I have to hide.
Confident I can get by with a tactical omission of certain truths, I stride into the classroom doing my best to appear normal.
The instant I open the door and take a single step in, I can feel a dozen eyes looking at me. There is no way I'm imagining this; they're not even making any attempt to hide it.
My eyes take a quick sweep around the classroom, and I spot Hanako. We make eye contact momentarily, before she looks down and stares very hard at her desk.
Did she spill the beans? Mutou may be okay as far as teachers go, but underage drinking on campus is not exactly something that would be taken lightly.
I look to him with some trepidation.
Mutou "Feeling better today?"
Hisao "Yeah. Thank you."
He motions for me to take my seat, my legs feeling like sticks as they carry me there. This is going to be a long day.
As soon as the lunchbell rings, I'm on my way to Hanako's desk to ask her what's going on. Hisao "Hanako… did you tell…?"
She looks up at me and shakes her head. That's a big relief.
Hanako "It's just…"
Misha "Well hello there, Hicchan. It's nice to see you again today~!"
I grimace and turn towards the unmistakable voice coming from behind me. That was way too upbeat a tone of voice to feel comfortable, even from Misha. Misha's happy smile is nothing out of the usual. Shizune's, though, is a very bad sign. The one she wears has become notched into my brain as her “I have got you seven ways from Sunday” smile.
Hisao "Hi Shizune, Misha. You uh… you look happy to see me."
Misha "Not feeling well yesterday, Hicchan~?"
Hisao "No, no I wasn't. But I'm feeling better now, at least."
Misha "That's good to know, Hicchan."
Why do I get the feeling that Shizune is leading me into a trap?
Hisao "You sound like you're not being completely serious."
Misha "Oh no, Hicchan, we're genuinely pleased that you're all better now~."
Shizune is positively overflowing with happiness. There's only one reason why she would be like this. Oh no.
Misha "In fact, we were quite worried about you. After all…"
Misha "You, Hanako and Lilly were all absent from class on the same day."
Yep, she's got us. So thoroughly that all I can do is sigh in defeat.
Hisao "I guess you have your own theories about this. Could you just kinda… not tell anyone?"
Misha "It's a bit late for that, Hicchan~."
I suppose she's right, considering the looks I got as I entered class. Still, things only seem to be at the level of vague suspicion rather than outright accusations, so we'll probably be fine.
Hanako's face sinks a little further. Such attention is troublesome enough for me, let alone for her. Going by Shizune and Misha's reactions, I think they notice this as well.
Misha "The only reason why we're giving you such a hard time is that you ignored us yesterday morning~!"
Yesterday morning? It takes a while to recollect what happened then, given the haze induced by the generally awful state I was in at the time.
Hisao "Oh, right, the knocking. That was you two?"
Misha "It was, and you left us there for ages after we'd taken all the effort of coming to your dormitory early in the morning."
Hisao "Sorry, I was having a… problem with nausea? A problem with nausea."
They're not buying it. I can't blame them.
Shizune's head drops in resignation before she reaches into her pocket.
Something white and yellow can be seen sticking out a little, and as she pulls it out, it turns out to be an envelope with very bright decorations on it.
Since she points it towards me, I duly take it.
Misha "This is what we were trying so hard to give you, Hicchan! You don't check your…"
I tune out the sound of Misha's voice as my eyes register what's written on the envelope.
I stare at the envelope for a moment, before suddenly remembering that there are people around me.
There's a very strange, somewhat invasive feeling about their expressions. I kind of want to be alone right now.
Hisao "It's nothing. Thank you for bringing me this, you two."
Misha "I should think so, after what we went through to get it to you~."
I step back and say my goodbyes. Misha theatrically pouts even as I go out the door, but Shizune and Hanako remain very visibly curious about my reaction. I hope they won't interrogate me on this later.
The smell of the gardens is, as always, a very pleasant sensation. Some of the most visible signs of how well-funded this school is, aside from its sheer size, are the expanse and condition of the grounds.
A good number of students can be seen eating lunch, chatting, and playing on the bright green lawns. Even some of the staff is enjoying the summer here, keeping watch over the students and idly walking along the long concrete paths.
I'd never seen a sight like this in my home city. On excursions, maybe, but certainly never in the school or anywhere near where I lived.
Even the bench I sit on to read is warmer thanks to the summertime sun, reminding me of why I haven't worn the school blazer even once yet.
Considering this, the sunflowers and splashes of vibrant yellow coloring adorning the paper are quite appropriate for the time. If only the words written on it were as well.
Here I was, thinking I'd managed to get over her, when this troublesome thing shows up.
Her handwriting looks vaguely familiar at best, and only now that I see it again I remember that she used to write in pink pen a lot. She was always very girly, for lack of a better term.
But she was also quite fragile. I never knew if I liked this aspect of her or not, though with the arrival of this letter, that question seems to have become largely moot.
The letter begins with not much more than an update on the state of things going on in her life. My old class had a good start to the school year, many are anxious about the exams that will be coming up in the future, etcetera.
But it ends on a very personal, if brief, note. It feels a bit like she wrote most of the letter just to try and soften the blow from the ending.
|I wanted to somehow express my|
|feelings, but the right words didn't|
|come to me. I couldn't say anything|
|to comfort you. I am really sorry|
|for not being able to support you|
|when it mattered the most, even|
|though I like you so much. At least|
|now, finally, I can be more honest.|
|If I could go back to those quiet|
|days in February and March, I'd tell|
|you to not give up on yourself.|
|That's what I would say. Maybe you|
|wouldn't have drifted so far away if|
|I had just said something. I hope|
|you've managed to get back on|
|your feet on your own.|
|Now that the distance between us is|
|also physical, it also feels more|
|final, somehow. I wonder if we will|
|meet again. Perhaps it's for the|
|best if we don't? Still, if you would|
|like to correspond with me, by all|
|means write me back. I'd very much|
|like to hear about your new school|
|and how you are doing. I wish you all|
And so, that's that. Our relationship is over. Nice, neat, and tidy, with no ambiguity.
I hadn't held on to any illusions that it could ever begin anew. The last time she visited me, neither of us said a thing, except for the one word she said as she left for the last time. “Goodbye.”
Be that as it may… this feels more final. The capstone on an experiment that both of us tried, and failed at.
A loud shout draws my eyes away from the letter. It's just some students horsing around, with one of the teachers standing nearby coming over to talk to them.
??? "Are you okay?"
A tentative voice comes from my side. For a moment I assume it to be Hanako, but it's actually Yuuko.
Hisao "Oh, hello Yuuko. I thought you'd be in the library."
She gives a cheerful smile, one quite fitting the atmosphere, and flourishes the empty wrapper of a roll in her hand. She must have someone else covering for her while she grabbed something to eat.
It reminds me that I haven't had anything to eat yet. I don't feel hungry though, and skipping one lunch won't hurt.
Yuuko "Mind if I sit here?"
Hisao "Sure, go ahead."
I quickly slide the letter back into its envelope, slipping it inside my bag propped against the side of the bench as Yuuko takes a seat. She drops the wrapper into a bin beside us.
Without much else to do, I lean back and take what enjoyment I can from the sun, silently reflecting on the letter.
The lush lawns, the clear blue skies… everything looks so different from the way it did back then. Even the school's surroundings, from the hill it's on to the woods around it, are completely opposite to the urban scenery I remember.
Maybe this is what it's like to feel homesick. Then again, it's not an outright bad sensation; the feel of the area around Yamaku, while very different, is also nice. I think I could get used to it.
Yuuko "Hey, Hisao?"
Yuuko "You didn't answer my question from before. I wasn't going to say anything, but you still look troubled."
Yuuko "If you don't want to say anything though, that's okay, I don't mind at all. Um, s-sorry for asking something strange like that…"
Hisao "I don't mind."
Hisao "It's just… I got a letter from someone I knew before I came to Yamaku. It made me think about some things."
Hisao "I thought I'd managed to get over most of the problems that my accident caused, but now I'm not really so sure. I kinda wish I'd never seen it."
Yuuko "I don't think that's good, Hisao."
Yuuko "When my boyfriend left me, he did so very suddenly, and never let me know why. At first I was very depressed about it, but I decided to forgive him."
Hisao "You forgave him? Couldn't he at least have talked properly with you about it?"
Yuuko "He was always one of those people that found it difficult to come close to others."
Yuuko "In the end, I decided that I fell in love with him for a reason. He was a good person, and I think that if I had been in his position, I would probably have found it just as hard to try and talk to him."
Hisao "I don't… really see the connection to the letter I got."
Yuuko "I mean that… um, how should I put this…"
Yuuko "It must have been very hard for that person to send that letter, and if they did, I think they must have thought very hard about exactly what to say."
Iwanako managed to write this letter and bring a final close to our relationship; something that I'd never managed to do.
Whereas here I am, trying to protect and help Hanako as best I can, especially with Lilly leaving for a while, and I'm not even able to deal with my own problems.
Yuuko "Does that make sense?"
She's taken my nonresponse and furrowed brow as doubt. She really reads faces too much, just like a certain other person.
Hisao "Yeah, that makes sense."
Hisao "The letter was just kind of a shock, really. I think I'd tried to fool myself into thinking that my life reset when I came into Yamaku, but now I'm suddenly aware that it didn't. I'm at a bit of a loss about how to deal with these feelings."
Yuuko "I think that's something I can't really help you with. Sorry."
Hisao "It's fine. I think being able to talk with you helped me get things sorted out a bit better in my head, so thank you anyway."
She nods and smiles sweetly. Yuuko is a nice girl, so it's a shame she's so highly strung so often.
The school bell ringing out startles us both.
Yuuko "Ah, I was supposed to be back before the bell!"
She jumps off the bench and almost races off without a second word, but turns on her heel as she remembers she was talking to me just now.
Yuuko "I'll see you later, Hisao. Cheer up, okay?"
Hisao "I'll try to. Thanks, Yuuko."
With a quick bow, Yuuko takes her leave and begins her rush to the library. Her flight catches the curious eyes of a few passing students, who are unenthusiastically trudging back to their classes after their fun.
Reluctantly standing from the bench, I dust myself off and join them.
Even while I walk through the gardens back to the main building, the thought of the letter in my bag doesn't stray far from my mind.