|Paint by Numbers|
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HISAO: "You need to find her? She was looking for you in the morning but I guess you have missed each other."
NARRATOR: "She waits a little without answering the simple question, looking awfully like she's not sure if it's proper to answer such a question."
HANAKO: "Y...yeah." HISAO: "I can come with you. If it's okay. Hanako nods fractionally, still on guard, her shoulders stiff like wood. I get the feeling that she might be more comfortable by herself after all, but it's too late to back off now. She has this really troubled expression she seems to wear almost constantly, one that makes me constantly be on guard myself. I wonder why. I kind of understand why she always seems to be so wary... or maybe more like, why there could be a person like her. But I still have no idea how I should act around such a person."
HISAO: "It's dinnertime soon. Were you planning to eat with Lilly?"
NARRATOR: "She nods slightly. So she must have been trying to get in the cafeteria. Well, there's something of a dinner crowd, just like the cafeteria is crowded during lunch. It's not as bad because dinnertime is longer than lunch hour, but I can understand why Hanako could be discouraged from going in. I pick up my bag and we take our leave. Hanako skips a little to meet my initial pace, so I slow down to match her speed."
NARRATOR: "It doesn't take long for us to be walking at a comfortable pace down the hallway. It almost feels like we're going for a stroll together; something that I can't say I've really done before with a girl. Hanako doesn't seem to be thinking the same thing though. Even though we are walking at the same pace, she never comes within arm's reach of me. I guess she's still a little uncomfortable around me. Given how shy she is, there doesn't seem to be much helping it, at least for now. By the time we arrive at the cafeteria, there is not much of a crowd there, but Lilly is nowhere to be seen. Hanako's head sinks even lower than usual."
HISAO: "Have you looked somewhere else already?"
HANAKO: "J-just at the library... I was reading..."
NARRATOR: "So she does spend the classes she skips at the library."
HISAO: "Ah, so not exactly a thorough search then. Well, if I had to guess, she'd be in her own class like Shizune said, right?"
NARRATOR: "With the slightest of nods, Hanako agrees with my reasoning. God, she's being so awkward. It's like I need double layered silk gloves with padding to even begin interacting with her. Some small talk might help her become a bit more used to me. It isn't hard to tell that the silence between us is hovering on the edge of both our minds."
HISAO: "So you and Lilly usually hang out together after class, right?"
NARRATOR: "I'm not quite sure what I expected from her answer, nor why I even asked the question. That much was rather obvious, after all. She doesn't seem like the type to cultivate a social circle, either, so I suspect that Lilly may well be her only friend."
HISAO: "Must be a pain being in different classes, I'm guessing."
NARRATOR: "She gives a sharp, almost reflexive nod. Compared to Lilly's careful thought about her actions and speech, Hanako hastens to make her answers as prompt and short as possible."
HANAKO: "Lilly... comes by the classroom, though. Even when she's busy..."
NARRATOR: "She gives a small smile as she says it, evidently appreciating the fact that Lilly goes out of her way to help her. It's pretty cute, really. There isn't any need to say more, both of us content that the discussion's reached an end. As we ascend the stairs back to the lobby we are met by a group of students heading downstairs like a school of fish moving from one feeding area to another. They seem to be keeping mostly to themselves, but before I can notice her doing so, Hanako has moved around behind me."
HISAO: "Hey, are you all right?"
HANAKO: "J-just keep going..."
NARRATOR: "The students pass us without as much as a second glance, and Hanako takes up position to my side again as we enter the building, her momentary reprieve from her anxiety all but snatched away. Even as we climb towards the third floor, she doesn't seem to relax. It isn't as if I've never known a shy person before, or even shy girls, but Hanako seems to be pretty far beyond what I'd call normal in her fear of other people. If it weren't for Lilly acting as a mediator, I doubt Hanako would have even been able to walk beside me like this. She seems to completely shut down in the presence of others. The rest of the walk up to Lilly's classroom continues in strained silence, while I rue her inability to socialize at all. After we make our way up the stairs, the noise coming from Lilly's classroom is audible from halfway down the hallway. I wasn't expecting such a din at all."
HISAO: "Well, I guess we found her..."
NARRATOR: "This wasn't hard. Did Hanako come here first then come to me for backup, I wonder? Well, if that's true, then at least she's starting to trust me a little. That can only be a good thing. Eventually, the two of us reach the door to class 3-2. With Hanako less than subtly positioning herself behind me, I open the door."
NARRATOR: "Inside is a hive of activity, seemingly every student in the class talking at once as they work hurriedly on their separate tasks. Going by the paint cans, decorations and banners being made, it must be for the upcoming school festival. I guess my first priority should be finding Lilly..."
NARRATOR: "... There. Finding her among the din is surprisingly easy, not the least because of her looks. With a couple of students gathered around her as she stands at the front of the class, she seems to be in charge of the preparations, or at least busy organizing them. Carefully negotiating a path through the various students hunched over the floor for lack of desk space, I raise a hand entirely out of habit as we finally reach Lilly."
HISAO: "Hi, Lilly."
NARRATOR: "She perks her head up as she breaks off talking to a noticeably smaller girl who must be her classmate, trying to listen as best she can."
LILLY: "Sorry, who..."
HISAO: "Ah, sorry. Hisao. I have Hanako too."
NARRATOR: "She's pretty skittish. Considering the number of people around, it isn't too hard to work out why. Lilly takes a moment's pause to assess the situation before turning to the other student once again."
LILLY: "For the moment, just ask Moriya for his advice. Kenji's busy with painting one of the banners already."
NARRATOR: "A quick nod and she bounces off, fingers carefully sliding along the wall's face for orientation. Wait... Kenji? That Kenji? I quickly turn about, leaning to the side to see past Hanako. Sure enough, in a corner of the room, Kenji's hunched over a sheet of cloth as he paints it. His eyes remain only inches from the brush, reminding me of how close he had to be to make out my face when I met him."
LILLY: "Sorry about that. Our class doesn't have many students with even partial eyesight, so they're in high demand."
NARRATOR: "That's right, class 3-2 was specially for students with poor vision. Preparing for the festival must be pretty arduous for them."
HISAO: "Need a hand? I could give you help if you need some. Maybe Hanako could too."
NARRATOR: "A chance to set her mind on something would do her good, but I doubt she has the courage to ask outright. She quickly nods in affirmation afterwards, so I'm confident I made the right move. Lilly gives a noticeable sigh of relief."
LILLY: "Ah, that's good. This might actually get finished before everyone goes off to dinner, now. Would you be able to help the person painting the main banner? It's a big task for him to do, but nobody else can help."
HISAO: "Kenji? Sure."
NARRATOR: "She seems surprised that I know him. I can't really blame her."
LILLY: "I take it you've met?"
HISAO: "Our rooms in the dorm are right next to each other. Hard to miss each other, really."
LILLY: "Well, it's good to see you're getting friends so fast."
NARRATOR: "Friend... I wonder if that's the right word to use for him. Hanako's silence during the proceedings reminds me of the reason I put her up to helping in the first place."
HISAO: "We'll go help him then. He knows what needs doing, right?"
LILLY: "That's right. Just ask if you have any problems."
NARRATOR: "Chorusing in assent, Hanako and I begin another trek across the classroom. Kenji sits crouched on the floor, his gaze fixed on the white calico in front of him."
HISAO: "Hey Kenji."
NARRATOR: "...No answer. He continues dragging his paint-soaked brush along the large half-painted kanji that's sketched on the sheet in pencil."
KENJI: "Huh? What? Who is it?"
NARRATOR: "If this is the way he treats class members, it's no small wonder he's working on this alone."
HISAO: "It's me. Hisao. From the—"
KENJI: "Right, right, I know that, man. What're you doing here, though?"
NARRATOR: "His dismissive attitude annoys me. He must be the type to really get focused on his work, hating to be disturbed by anyone until he's done, I suppose. While we talk, the sound of Hanako's footsteps as she walks out from behind me reminds me that she's here."
HISAO: "I was just going to help with the banner. Hanako and I, that is."
HANAKO: "H... Hello..."
KENJI: "Oh. Er, hey. I guess that's okay."
NARRATOR: "As soon as Hanako enters the equation, his demeanor takes a complete about-face. His sudden faux-hospitality is slightly unsettling. Oh, right. Women. On second thoughts, this may not have been a great idea after all. Hanako and I grudgingly set ourselves down on the opposite side of the cloth banner to Kenji, noting the several small paint tins on the ground around it. Class 3-2... noodle stall?"
HISAO: "You guys selling noodles at the festival on Sunday?"
KENJI: "Yeah, some stalls outside. Or something."
NARRATOR: "“Or something?” His noncommittal nature sparks a fair amount of suspicion on my behalf. The task at hand comes first, though."
HISAO: "So how do you want to split this? We do borders while you do the text? Or do you want to switch and do the borders?"
KENJI: "Text is mine. You do borders."
NARRATOR: "He has surprisingly strong feelings on the topic. As I reach over to grab a brush, I notice Hanako's already debating between colors to use. By the time I've put brush to cloth, she's already started on a delicate pattern. Looks like my idea of taking her mind off everyone around her worked. With a dark blue stroke, the three of us silently get to work. Not before Kenji takes advantage of Hanako's working to lean towards me and whisper conspiratorially, though."
KENJI: "Okay man, why're you here?"
HISAO: "Hanako just wanted some help to find Lilly, that's all."
NARRATOR: "He apparently disapproves of my motivations."
KENJI: "I get it. It looks like I misjudged you. You're infiltrating them, aren't you? Going deep undercover?"
NARRATOR: "I should have guessed. Letting the truth slip by him would probably be better than outright lying or annoying him, in any case."
HISAO: "Is that why you're here?"
KENJI: "Obviously. It sucks, but there's no better way to get intel than going in yourself. We gotta stick together, man. This is a harsh school, a harsh world."
HISAO: "Yes, very harsh."
NARRATOR: "He misses my true meaning as he leans back, satisfied I'm sympathetic to his cause. I'd better get down to work."
HISAO: "Looks like I am too. Good job."
NARRATOR: "The two of us connect up the lines of our patterns, mine being as close a copy as I could manage of hers. With a grunt, I lever myself up from the floor and look around. Aside from Hanako and myself, there's only Kenji left finishing off a sign as well as Lilly and a couple of students talking among themselves in the classroom. Looking at my watch, it's no surprise. It's getting pretty late."
HISAO: "Need a hand?"
NARRATOR: "I offer a hand to Hanako, which she uses to get herself up. As she does, I can't help but glance at her wrist; if her scars extend even to there, just how much of her body was burned? I feel a pang of guilt about it however as she quickly covers her wrist with her other hand."
HISAO: "Looks good, doesn't it?"
NARRATOR: "She looks surprised for a moment before noticing that I mean the banner."
HANAKO: "It does... I guess."
NARRATOR: "Her smile shows that she feels a slight sense of pride in the result, just as I do. With the floor significantly neater for the decorations being placed on desks and shelves, it's much easier to get to Lilly as we cross the room."
HISAO: "We've finished the banner. I guess that's all that needs to be done?"
NARRATOR: "Lilly gives an appreciative nod."
LILLY: "Thank you Hisao, Hanako. If there's any way I can thank you...?"
HISAO: "It's fine. Beats sitting in my room studying, at any rate."
HANAKO: "I don't mind either."
NARRATOR: "She nods, before suddenly remembering one last person."
LILLY: "Oh, is Kenji still here?"
NARRATOR: "Just as I open my mouth, Kenji gives the answer from the other side of the room."
KENJI: "Yeah, just finished."
NARRATOR: "He carefully slides his sign onto an empty section of shelf to dry, before quickly walking past us and out the door."
KENJI: "Seeya man."
NARRATOR: "The remaining two students say their goodbyes to Lilly before taking their cue to leave as well, leaving only the three of us."
HISAO: "Well, I guess that's everyone."
LILLY: "I hope we don't have to do anything like that again."
HISAO: "Working past schooltime?"
LILLY: "Indeed. The class's plans this year were ambitious. Maybe too ambitious."
HANAKO: "The stalls look nice, though."
HISAO: "She's right, it shows that a lot of work's gone into them."
LILLY: "My my, I'm sure a lot of us would be glad to hear that. At least now there's not much work to do until the festival itself."
HANAKO: "Umm... It's getting pretty late. Should we go?"
LILLY: "That's probably a good idea. Are you going back to the dorms as well, Hisao?"
HISAO: "Yeah, I guess I'll tag along."
NARRATOR: "The nighttime lighting really makes the gardens look quite different. Compared to the usual look of lush greenery, things are much more calm. Being that it's so late, the lack of students around probably helps. The odd one or two can be seen scurrying to and from the dorms trying to eke the most out of their approaching curfews, but no more. All that can be heard is our footsteps, in addition to Lilly's cane regularly gently tapping the ground in front of her. It's nice to finally be able to relax a bit after the mad rush during school. Without even noticing it, I let out a small yawn."
HISAO: "Yeah. Still getting used to the flow of things, I guess. The... uh... thing... with Shizune took me kind of off guard, though."
NARRATOR: "I grit my teeth a little at the candid mention of their rather public spat. That said, I do want to sort out what in the world was behind it."
LILLY: "Ah... about that... I'm sorry about it being so public. Shizune and I... go back some ways."
NARRATOR: "Her voice seems slightly irritated as she remembers Shizune, and on second thought, possibly my part in the proceedings."
LILLY: "I would appreciate it if you didn't help her. The last thing she needs is urging on."NARRATOR: "Well, that confirms my suspicions at the time. I pissed her off. That said, while I may have inadvertently fed her to the dogs, I couldn't know and therefore am in no position where I'd need to apologize. A couple of minutes of strained silence pass by between us, Hanako's eyes darting left and right. Giving up on the prospect of any kind of apology, Lilly surrenders the fight and changes the topic."
NARRATOR: "Her voice seems slightly irritated as she remembers Shizune, obviously unwilling to discuss it any further. I glance to Hanako for her views on this, but her expression is, unsurprisingly, evasive and difficult to read. Either way I guess her apologizing for it is something, even if my curiosity goes unanswered."
LILLY: "I'll be glad once the festival is over, in any case."
NARRATOR: "The change of topic's welcome, clearing the thickening air quickly."
HISAO: "I can imagine. My old school's festivals were a lot more low-key than this."
LILLY: "Yamaku stresses the idea of a school community, so the staff likes to make our festivals and such special occasions."
HISAO: "And yet the students are the ones who do the work. What an unfair world."
NARRATOR: "Hanako and Lilly both chuckle in agreement, savoring the fact that none of the staff are around to hear our grumbling."
LILLY: "I suppose coming from a strict all-girls school helped me a bit with Yamaku. Compared to there, Yamaku is much more relaxed."
NARRATOR: "That'd go a way towards explaining her well-bred speech and behavior, in any case. As we come up to the dormitories, it eventually comes time to leave for our respective rooms."
HISAO: "See you Lilly, Hanako."
NARRATOR: "The two both give polite nods before setting off to the women's dorms, just next to the guys'. As is to be expected of such an arrangement, there's a staff member casually patrolling around outside to prevent any nighttime shenanigans. Walking past him, I quickly stretch my arms and rub my neck, both quite sore after having worked on the floor for so long, before walking to my room. It feels good to actually have direction, though. After so long in the hospital, the everyday facts of studying, homework and teachers seem almost a blessing. I guess if things continue like this, my time at Yamaku might turn out okay."
NARRATOR: "Adhering to the nurse's nagging voice in the back of my head, I set my alarm clock to wake me up early enough to go jogging again. I made a promise and I'm going to keep it. Besides, Emi is bound to rat on me if I don't show up. But it's not all that bad."
END OF THURSDAY
Next Scene: Exercise
NARRATOR: "I'm feeling tired so I set my alarm clock to wake me up as late as I can afford, while still making it to the first class. The nurse's voice is almost nagging in the back of my head about morning jogs. I make a resolution to make up for it by going for a walk after school tomorrow. Emi won't care either way, I bet."
END OF THURSDAY
Next Scene: Invisible Hat