NARRATOR: "Although it makes me feel kind of uneasy, since we're talking about a human being, the first step is to corner Misha. Though the situation is a little too much like something out of a cop drama for me, it's come to this because talking to her normally is proving to be near impossible."

NARRATOR: "But we do have classes together. Even the very first class of the day. Although it takes a while for the announcement to come, the second that I hear we're going to be working in groups today, Shizune and I try to make sure Misha is in ours."

HISAO: "You know, I think Mutou assigns a suspiciously large amount of group work and self-study, don't you think so?"

MISHA: "Hm~, but it's easy, so it's ok, right~?"

HISAO: "Yeah? There's other stuff that I've been thinking about lately, that might not be okay, though."

NARRATOR: "Misha nods after each sentence, then brushes it all aside."

MISHA: "I thought about it, and~... I don't do enough work when I work with you and Shicchan! So, I'm going to try harder today. So~!, don't distract me, Hicchan~. I have to stay focused~."

NARRATOR: "That was an annoyingly transparent dodge. Shizune doesn't look too happy either, since Misha didn't bother to sign any of it, opting to twirl a pen in her hands instead. From the shaky way she was doing it, I'm sure it was so she wouldn't sign anything inadvertently. From the way Misha looks, distracted and uneasy, I doubt it's because she wants to keep Shizune out of the loop for any malicious reason. Although, it's still obviously a way of distancing Shizune from herself."

HISAO: "Shizune wants to talk to you."

MISHA: "... Can't it wait until later, Hicchan?"

SHIZUNE: (signing) "No."

HISAO: "Why not now?"

MISHA: "We're in the middle of class~..."

NARRATOR: "Now she's spinning a pen in each hand. I'm beginning to think her signing has turned into a kind of nervous tic for her. This isn't a good replacement, although the sight of her dual wielding is pretty impressive."

HISAO: "After class, then."

NARRATOR: "After class, I don't waste a second bringing it back up. As everyone else files out of the classroom, leaving the three of us alone, Misha takes increasingly longer glances in every direction except forward."

HISAO: "Do you want to get something to eat?"

MISHA: "Why do you and Shicchan keep asking me if I want to eat something~? ~Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Because we're all headed to the cafeteria, and we haven't eaten together in a long time. So, why not?"

MISHA: "Is this about the Student Council?"

SHIZUNE: "..."

NARRATOR: "Taking Shizune's lack of a reply as admission, Misha sighs."

MISHA: "Shicchan, is that all you ever think about?"

NARRATOR: "Before Shizune can reply, she leaves. I have to say, I'm not left feeling very confident after what's just happened. Neither of us were expecting it to go smoothly, but it would have been nice. Reading my mind, Shizune curls a finger around her glasses for awhile before signing."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I know what you're thinking, but no, it's not that I think we should give her some space now. I told you I wouldn't give up so easily."

HISAO: (signing) "Yeah, well, now I'm starting to wonder if it's not too soon."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "Cold feet? Well, I'm not going to. That would be giving up on her. There's a fine line between helping someone and smothering them. But I just want Misha to pull herself together and stop acting so weird. I know she can do it. Even if she wants to try, people don't change overnight. If they could, the world would be a much easier place."

HISAO: (signing) "Okay, you win. Then I guess this is the part where we split up and look for her."

NARRATOR: "Though I'm the only one who is really supposed to find her."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "If I run into her first, I'll call your cell phone."

NARRATOR: "Smiling, Shizune takes out her cell phone, turning it on to prepare. I notice that she has an extremely high number of unread messages, and looking at her expression, so does she. Twirling it around by the strap a couple of times, she grimaces."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "I don't like using this thing. Why can't I just snap my fingers?"

HISAO: (signing) "And then what? I'm not a dog. And it doesn't travel as far as a phone signal. You're having a lot of fun with this, aren't you?"

NARRATOR: "Shaking her head from side to side, she continues."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "It's obvious where she will go. You can't look for her on the school grounds, she would want to go as far away as she can. Check the tea shop? It's usually empty this early; Misha loves to go there if she feels like skipping class, and she loves the parfaits they have there."

NARRATOR: "“You really know a lot about her.” But she would overthink it, and turn it into something that would seem a lot more backhanded than it actually is, so I choose to just nod and leave instead, until I feel her holding on to my sleeve."

HISAO: "What?"

NARRATOR: "I say instinctively, forgetting that she can't hear me."

SHIZUNE: (signing) "It feels nice that I don't have to do it all by myself any more, because I can trust you. I'm really happy."

NARRATOR: "It makes me happy to hear it. I can't think of a way to respond, and end up only nodding again. Heading outside, I catch a glimpse of pink hair behind some other girl's head, and as I head that way, I realize that this isn't the way you go if you want to leave school. It's the way to the student council room. If I wanted to avoid Shizune, I wouldn't head there. It's strange that Misha would be going in that direction, then. Maybe she wants to talk things over with Shizune. In which case, I have to wonder if letting things play out naturally would be such a bad idea after all, especially if it seems to be going in a good direction. Suddenly, Misha stops and spins around, catching me by surprise."

MISHA: "Surprise~, Hicchan~! Were you looking for me? I had a feeling~!"

NARRATOR: "I was going to say “Hey, I was just looking for you”, but I suppose that's no good now. She isn't even finished with her sentence before she blows past me, heading for the exit. I have to admit that Misha is infuriatingly sharper than I'd expected. Also, surprisingly fast. Although it's more physical activity than I think I should be getting, I manage to catch up with her halfway to the gate."

HISAO: "You're really being the rudest woman in the world right now. Can you just stop trying to run away for one second? I want to talk to you."

NARRATOR: "Misha turns on her heel, looking mildly amused, and raises her hands as if to tell me to go on. Now that I've got her attention, though, it's hard to think of the right thing to say."

HISAO: "Where are you going now?"

MISHA: "The Shanghai~."

HISAO: "Can I go with you, then?"

NARRATOR: "Waiting for her to answer feels like an eternity. It's almost as if I can hear my wristwatch ticking off the individual seconds."

MISHA: "Okay, then, Hicchan."

NARRATOR: "I get the sense that she only agreed because she doesn't want to argue any more today. When we get there, a couple comes in after us, causing Misha to jump slightly at the noise. Seeing that it isn't Shizune, she relaxes again, smiling almost as usual to order a parfait from Yuuko, and sliding into the nearest booth."

HISAO: "You ran off too fast. You could have at least waited to see what she was going to say."

NARRATOR: "Misha's angry reaction tells me it could be that she was afraid of what Shizune might say."

MISHA: "Why are you both doing this, Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Because Shizune still wants to be your friend. I guess that for her it's kinda like launching a nuclear missile from a submarine, you need two keys to do it."

MISHA: "..."

HISAO: "What else can she do, though?"

NARRATOR: "She isn't automatically signing whatever she hears or says any more, and I'm sure that is the reason Shizune's been having so much trouble with her."

HISAO: "If she tried to just talk it over, you wouldn't listen."

NARRATOR: "Misha's guilty expression tells me I've hit the mark."

HISAO: "Do you really hate Shizune that much?"

MISHA: "No, Hicchan. I told you that."

NARRATOR: "She answers without even flinching, idly playing with a spoon."

HISAO: "Yeah, I know. I'm sure she knows it too, but I wonder if it might be easier if you did. The only thing she's really thought about for the last week is how to make you happy. Since Shizune is still attached to you. Yesterday, though, she thought that maybe it would be easiest for you if you just hated her. Since you didn't tell her you hate her, Shizune thinks that you can both still be friends. She's like that, only thinking in extremes."

NARRATOR: "Her parfait is starting to melt, the ingredients coming together in tiny rivers that remind me of the growing roots of a tree being shown through time-lapse photography."

MISHA: "That's stupid. Shicchan isn't that stupid, Hicchan. Don't be ridiculous~."

HISAO: "It's got nothing to do with intelligence. Smart people can do stupid things. And anyway, isn't it true? I was terrified last week when we talked, but at the end, I was relieved because it sounded like things might go back to normal. I wasn't expecting you two to have a fight right after."

MISHA: "It wasn't a fight, Hicchan. It was just me yelling at her."

NARRATOR: "I've noticed that Misha's voice never really changes in tone, just volume. It's so low with guilt that I can hardly believe it came from her."

HISAO: "Either way, I was happy, because I thought you and her could still be friends. Since she needs you."

MISHA: "Hm~. No she doesn't, Hicchan."

HISAO: "So? How do you know that? There's a lot of things Shizune doesn't..."

NARRATOR: "Vocalize? Say? Talk about? I'm afraid if I say the wrong thing, it'll ruin the mood. I get to finally have a conversation with her and don't want to screw it up. I wonder if this is the first time she's had an honest conversation with me."

HISAO: "Just because she didn't tell you doesn't mean she doesn't like you."

MISHA: "That doesn't make sense..."

HISAO: "Yes, it does. Otherwise, she would argue back."

MISHA: "Wahaha~."

HISAO: "You don't think so? She picks fights with everyone, so why not you? Obviously, because you're her friend, and she values you. And Shizune is hurt, too. She's just awful at showing her feelings. Usually does it the wrong way, too. But she still likes you."

MISHA: "Hicchan, do you remember when I said I didn't want to hate Shicchan, or upset her? The truth is~, I ended up doing both. Now it's like there's, like, an awkwardness between us. It's hard to explain."

HISAO: "Both of you are so stubborn. You were talking about how you didn't want to drift apart from Shizune, but then you're going to let it happen. And Shizune is just as bad. She wants to be your friend, but respects you too much to be as aggressive as she'd be with anyone else."

NARRATOR: "And I'm sure that Misha interprets Shizune giving her space as a lack of caring."

MISHA: "I screwed up already, Hicchan. It'll happen again~, I'm sure. When I think about it that way, I don't know what I'm supposed to do. It feels like either way, I'll end up making things worse. Then, it might be better if I didn't do anything at all, right~?"

HISAO: "Don't be ridiculous. Why would you even think that way in the first place? Be more positive."

NARRATOR: "“It should be easy for you,” I want to say, but that would be presumptuous."

MISHA: "Hicchan~, I never knew you were so optimistic. I never expected it."

HISAO: "..."

MISHA: "You always act so gloomy when I try and surprise you."

HISAO: "No, this is a recent thing. Really. I just hate it when people give up easily now."

MISHA: "Haha~. “Now,” huh~...?"

HISAO: "It makes me mad when people give up. I used to think that giving up was kind of like running away, since that's how people always describe it, but now that I think about it, it's usually more like throwing something away. When you run away from something, you can think of it as still being there. So, I was in the hospital, and I didn't just want to run away from my problems, I wanted to never think about them again."

NARRATOR: "Misha eats a spoonful of her gray ice cream goo. Did she only just remember it was there now, or could it be she likes it that way?"

HISAO: "Anyway, my point is, you can't do that. People are too sentimental to just throw their memories out like that. It's impossible. Shizune can't think of life in terms of anything but winning and losing; don't you think she wishes she didn't have to remember the parts where she loses? You can't pick and choose, though. That's like wanting to live in a bubble. The worst part is, your way of thinking is so wasteful. It's making you so pessimistic you're afraid of everything. Come on."

NARRATOR: "I grab her hand as I wave Yuuko over with the other to pay for our food. "

MISHA: "Where are we going now?"

HISAO: "Back to school before lunch is over, but I want to check out a few places before then."

NARRATOR: "Although I start feeling tired even after doing what could be described as on the level of a brisk jog at best, Misha and I eventually make it to the gate of the school with a little over ten minutes to spare."

HISAO: "I didn't even want to really come to this school, you know. I didn't have a choice. When I got to this gate, I'm sure a part of me was thinking, “What a depressing place.” It doesn't look depressing at all, though. Well, I still thought I had everything figured out. I felt practically like another person. If I could, I'd go back and tell myself to stop thinking he can write everything off at a glance, and acting like his life is already over, and he can never have fun again. The school grounds are still littered with quite a few people. It's lunchtime, so it's typical."

HISAO: "This is where you and Shizune had me helping you put together two festivals. What a lot of hard work. I thought, “I don't have time for this.” When I look back on it, though, I didn't do all that much. I also didn't have anything better to do. I'd have just spent the time alone."

NARRATOR: "I drag her to our homeroom next, which is empty except for Mutou trying to eat a sandwich before classes resume."

HISAO: "Every time I thought of either of you, I wished you would leave me alone. Whether it was here, or..."

NARRATOR: "Leaving Mutou to his lunch, we head for the nearby vending machine, and I grab a soda while I still have five minutes to drink it. I've spent an entire lunch period with Misha; longer than both Shizune and I have managed to find to talk to her in days."

HISAO: "...Following me to the cafeteria, or trying to corner me after half my classes. I never realized we only talked like four times. It really was all in my head. I only barely realized it now."

MISHA: "I remember that, Hicchan. But~, I know where all of these places are, too."

HISAO: "Wait, let me finish my guided tour. Since we're running out of time. By the way, do you want a soda?"

NARRATOR: "Making our way to the stairwell, I'm glad that I don't have to pull her by the hand any more."

HISAO: "You get dizzy on stairs, right?"

MISHA: "Yeah~."

HISAO: "I guess just here is good enough, then."

NARRATOR: "I lean against the wall as Misha sits down on the steps, across from me."

HISAO: "Do you ever miss the people you went to school with in elementary school, or middle school?"

MISHA: "No."

NARRATOR: "That was fast. She didn't even have to think about it. I find myself cringing reflexively."

HISAO: "I had more friends in my old school, but I don't talk to them any more. It almost feels like that was another lifetime ago. Which is sad, really. Sometimes I want to talk to them again, but I know I can't. I'm scared, and embarrassed, things like that. They're too far away for me to go see them. Then I think about calling them, but I don't know most of their numbers. And I left on a sour note. So why would they want to see me again? It feels like I should just forget about it, but I still think about it anyway and regret that I didn't try harder to stay in touch somehow. And I start to think that maybe feeling like I should forget about it is wrong. It would be an insult to all those people I had fun with and a waste of all the good times. Like I said before, even if there are some bad times, too, it's all right if you can look back on them as happy memories. But I didn't even think about it then. So, it was like I woke up one day and realized I had no friends. I just let myself lose all my friends, and it felt awful. I'd really hate it if you and Shizune ended up the same way. That's all."

MISHA: "“That's all~.”"

HISAO: "It makes me sad to think that you'll do the same thing and push away your friend. Especially because you're not far away from Shizune; I mean, you even live in the same dorm."

MISHA: "Friend, hm~... Aren't you my friend, too, Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Yeah. You slept through all of it, but the fireworks were really nice way back, at the festival. My first time seeing fireworks like that. And my first time really seeing the sky in a while. And, I'd never really looked at the stars before then, either."

NARRATOR: "I had thumbed through a book about them while I was in the hospital, though, and learned a lot. Like that stars aren't just burning, they're more like a constant chain of explosions, so far away that some of the stars I'd be seeing would have been burnt out for thousands of years already. It's that their light would only just then be reaching Earth. I saw a mockup comparing the size of the planet to our sun, and then that to other suns. Japan wasn't even visible on the tiny Earth in that book."

HISAO: "You know what I'd never realized?"

NARRATOR: "She looks at me expectantly."

HISAO: "They're amazingly shiny."

MISHA: "Ahahaha~."

HISAO: "It's true."

MISHA: "Why're you doing this, Hicchan?"

HISAO: "Doing what?"

MISHA: "I'm not stupid."

HISAO: "I don't know. A bunch of reasons. Because you're Shizune's friend? And I liked how close you were? And maybe I'm trying to tell you that we all have our low points, but giving up is stupid. Anyway, it seems worth the trouble."

MISHA: "That's the only reason?"

HISAO: "And you're my friend."

MISHA: "That's it?"

HISAO: "Can't I do something for no reason?"

MISHA: "Wahaha~. You can, you can~, but~, I want to know."

HISAO: "Well, what else do you want to hear?"

NARRATOR: "The bell rings before Misha can reply, so she ends up laughing instead."

Next Scene: The Summit

Next Scene: Present Tense