|Presents and Presence|
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Presents and Presence is the third page of Act 2 of Lilly's route.
Bored of standing in place and watching the television in a shop window, I pull myself away from the tacky display with little effort.
After living at Yamaku, the city seems like an entirely different world.
No running in the halls. Calm and orderly conduct is to be used at all times in the classrooms. Students are to exit rooms after checking both directions for oncomers. Elevators are reserved for movement-impaired students. Single file on stairs.
Compared to such strict, almost regimental, standards, the city's shopping arcade might as well be a strange country.
While the school may have its fair share of hustle and bustle during the festival, the outside world is much different.
It's strange. Having lived in a metropolitan city before my accident, this should feel more natural than Yamaku and the surrounding town ever could.
Yet it feels foreign, somehow. The elevated walkways and tall buildings, each adorned with billboards taller than any three people, don't do anything to distract me from the passing crowd's reactions.
Lilly keeps one hand on my shoulder, the other holding her cane which taps the ground with a metronome-like steadiness. Looking over to her, that neutral smile of hers still holds.
Having only seen her in school uniform, I'd not have recognized her as she sat on a bench waiting for me to come, if not for her cane propped up against it and her distinctive hair.
I can't tell whether they're glancing at her due to her height, her foreign looks, her obvious blindness, or all three. Not that any of those would make the situation any less uncomfortable than it is.
Lilly "Do you have any ideas of where to look first, Hisao?"
Her soft voice breaks me out of my line of thought.
I can't imagine that she's failing to notice the attention she garners, but she seems unfazed by it. I get the feeling she's the type to enjoy walking outside, so she might be used to it by now.
Hisao "Not really. This is my first time in this city, so I've got no idea of where to go."
She furrows her brow in thought, planning a route for us to take. And, come to think of it, a way to communicate it.
Something I'd noticed in the time I've been with her is how, when deep in thought, she lacks close to any form of body language to show it.
Her expression may change, but not a hint of movement shows. She seems to have little in the way of sweeping physical gestures in general though, so I've assumed it's part of her reserved nature.
Lilly "Is there a large electronics store near here?"
I take a quick look around, mostly finding clothing stores. After a few seconds I notice a store with a bright blue sign some distance away that fits her description.
Hisao "Yep, it's just a bit ahead of us. Should we go in that direction?"
Thankfully, it's just the information she needed. With a nod we start off and head towards Lilly's unknown destination, landmarks being our guide.
Storeowner "Here you go. One vanilla, one chocolate."
I hand the money over the counter and take the cones to the railing that Lilly's sitting on.
I can't believe I let her trick me like this. She not only led me to an ice cream stall, but also got me to buy her some. At least she gave me the money for hers.
Sure enough, she's patiently waiting where I'd left her. I guess she was planning on making the day an event, rather than a simple shopping trip.
I call out to her and slowly place the vanilla cone in her outstretched hands, being careful to make sure she has a good hold of it before letting go.
At least her tastes are fairly normal. I was worried she'd ask for some weird flavor when she first asked.
Hisao "Here's the change."
Lilly "It's okay, keep it."
I move to protest, but realize the futility of doing so over such a small amount. I slip the coin into my pocket, supplementing my meager allowance ever so slightly.
Lilly shows no signs of wanting to get up, so I take a seat beside her and start eating my own ice cream.
Hisao "The summer weather's nice. Hopefully it will hold out for a while."
Lilly "You too? I'm beginning to think I'm the only person who prefers winter."
I contemplate her statement for a long moment.
Hisao "Yeah, I think you might be."
It draws the intended reaction. She's cute when she's pouting.
Hisao "Still, I can't really imagine what's so good about winter. You can't go out without bundling up, and you still freeze anyway."
Lilly "I used to live further north, where there'd be plenty of snow to play in, so it's a little nostalgic. I don't like the heat very much, either."
Hisao "At least you can wear a skirt, so don't complain about that."
She gives an amused giggle as we both get back to finishing off our already melting cones.
I idly sit and watch the crowds going by as we eat, catching bits and pieces of conversation.
Looking to Lilly, I see her dutifully licking her ice cream from the top downwards, blissfully unaware of the fact that it's beginning to melt.
Hisao "It's melting."
Hisao "Um… down a bit?"
She lowers her mouth from the top of the cone, but has no idea of exactly where the ice cream's dripping. What follows is a game of guiding her left and right until she finally finds it.
To any onlooker, it must seem absolutely bizarre - a girl with her eyes closed turning her cone over and over as the guy next to her gives instructions. A strange variant of childhood blindfold games, maybe.
In good time we finally finish our treats, and while away the time conversing casually.
Caught mid-sentence, Lilly perks her head in her trademark manner. It's an unmistakable sign that something's caught her attention.
Hisao "What is it?"
Lilly "Is Akira somewhere over there? I think I heard her."
I raise an eyebrow as I look in the direction she's facing, somewhat doubtful of her ability to pick out Akira's lone voice in the din.
Sure enough though, a blonde girl in a suit can be seen through the tiny gaps between people walking every which way.
I raise a hand and wave, trying to catch her attention.
Hisao "Satou! Hey, Satou!"
She stops in her tracks and looks towards me, evidently noticing my calls. As she does, I notice someone walking beside her.
I can't get a good look at whoever it is though, before the two begin walking towards where we are.
As they reach us, Lilly and I stand and dust ourselves off.
Akira "Hey, you two."
She nods towards me, a gesture which I quickly return. My gaze shifts towards the young girl next to her, and our eyes meet. As they do, Akira plops a hand onto her head, a move which doesn't seem to faze her.
Hideaki "I don't believe we've met. I'm Hideaki. Pleased to meet you, Hisao."
A guy's name, huh? Guess I just dodged a bullet there. He bows, somewhat restrained by Akira's hand being on his head.
Lilly "Oh, Hideaki's here too? Are you well?"
Hideaki "Akira's been taking very good care of me, thank you."
Akira grins as if to affirm the point and rubs his head hard, dragging it around in a circular motion. His dreary face during this is somewhat amusing.
Akira "Uncle's out on business again, so I'm just taking him around town for today."
Akira "I'd have preferred to be spending the day on a date with my boyfriend, but…"
Hideaki gives a cough to try and redirect Akira's thoughts.
As he does so, though, I find mine wandering. They're related? And further, as first cousins? I suppose that explains why she's taking care of him in any case.
Hisao "Come to think of it, Hideaki, how did you know my name?"
Hideaki "Akira told me. Being a Yamaku student, I suppose you're disabled in some way?"
Hisao "Not everyone in Yamaku's disabled…"
Which I only learned a handful of days ago. I give silent thanks to Shizune and Misha for their stream of information about how the school works.
Because of them, I found out that since the school will accept practically anybody suffering from non-mental disabilities, it doesn't discriminate against healthy people either.
It seems unlikely that many in good health would enroll there though. While the standard of education is pretty high, it's extremely isolated and very much focused on helping disabled students.
Hideaki "You're dodging the question."
Damn, he's sharp.
Before I can say another word though, he decides to take a stab at it himself.
Hideaki "If I were to call it myself… your heart?"
Akira looks mildly curiously at me, her interest piqued as well. That sure was a lucky guess.
Hisao "How did you…?"
Hideaki "You show no missing limbs or deformities, so external disabilities are out."
Hideaki "Considering the lack of any strange mannerisms, it's also unlikely that you'd have any mental disability.
Lilly "But Yamaku doesn't take mentally disabled students."
Hideaki "I know."
Hideaki "Leaving that aside, the only possibility left is that of internal disabilities."
Hideaki "I didn't know which one you might bear, so I guessed. Correctly, as it turns out. And your reaction confirmed my guess."
More than a little bemused, I look to Akira. She grins and shrugs, obviously taking some enjoyment out of her partner's deductions.
He's sharp, yes, but more than a little unsympathetic. Logical, but lacking in tact. His attitude reminds me of Shizune, in a way, as do his looks.
Hideaki "May I ask why you're staring at me? Surely I'm not that unusual a specimen."
Does he not know how unusual he looks? I could overlook the spats and clothing as just being coincidental, but the ribbon in his hair really is too much.
This is entirely beside the point, though.
Hisao "Sorry. You just remind me of someone."
Akira gives him a sharp jab with her elbow.
Akira "Told ya you're not that much different from her."
He coughs into his hand to try and maintain an upright and serious demeanor.
Hideaki "I see you've met my sister, then. Perhaps my full name might help you."
Hideaki "I am Hideaki Hakamichi. You are probably thinking of my sister, Shizune Hakamichi."
Oh, so he's Shizune's brother.
Wait a minute, if Hideaki is the son of Akira's uncle, and Shizune is his sister, then that means Lilly and Shizune's fathers are brothers. Therefore…
Lilly "Lilly and Shizune are first cousins?"
Lilly groans in an uncharacteristically unrestrained manner. The reaction earns an amused smirk from her sister.
The enmity between the two just took on another meaning. I had thought it simply a matter of difficulty of communication between the two, but a family feud makes things much more complicated.
Akira "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family."
She gives a halfhearted shrug. She mustn't give as much weight to the two's conflict as I do.
Akira "Well, that's how it is. What're you two up to anyway on this fine day?"
Lilly "We're shopping for Hanako's birthday present. The day will be coming up soon, so this is the last chance we'll have before school starts again for the week."
Akira makes a strange face, as if Lilly had just said that the sky wasn't blue and the clouds not white.
Akira "Isn't her birthday on the tenth next month?"
Lilly "Yes… Why? Is something wrong?"
Akira's face seems to collapse. It's an utterly unbefitting expression for someone so rowdy and headstrong.
As Lilly shakes her head cluelessly, I look at Hideaki to see if he knows anything about this. A simple shrug is his only answer.
For a moment, Akira ponders what to do before smiling once again. The fact that she can hide her emotions so quickly and effectively is unsettling.
Akira "Hey Shortie, sorry, but could you hang with Hisao for a while?"
He nods and waves her off, Akira placing an arm on Lilly's shoulder as she guides her away and out of earshot.
And so, I'm alone with “Shortie.”
Hisao "So… nice weather, isn't it?"
Hideaki "It seems so."
What a farcical attempt at smalltalk. I've got no idea of how to talk to this guy, and his robotic responses aren't helping. Blood and a stone come to mind.
Without another word, he begins to rock on his feet in an obvious gesture of boredom with this discussion. He really is like a little kid, despite his serious demeanor.
Suspecting the conversation over, I decide to accomplish what I came here to do in the first place.
Hisao "I'm going to go search for a present. Coming?"
Hideaki "Not much else to do."
In a little while, we come to a small shop beside a convenience store.
For once the store windows aren't filled with electronics and computer games, but dolls, stuffed bears and all manners of wood-crafted oddities.
Hisao "Othello's… Antiques?"
An antique store? Well, if there's anything in this town that'd suit Hanako, I guess it'd be here.
I reach for the old-looking door handle, but pull back at the last minute as I realize my companion's gone adrift.
Hisao "Not coming in?"
Hideaki "I'll just be in the newsstand for a while. Don't mind me."
His voice makes it painfully clear he has zero interest in what's in the store, and that he doesn't feel obligated to follow me.
As he wanders off without another word, I push the thick wooden door and enter the store, a bell above me ringing out.
The musty smell of old books and wooden shelves is distinctly anachronistic.
I look to the counter beside the door. The graying man behind it sits there silently, reading a tattered book. He certainly fits the look of the place.
Slowly wandering through the aisles, the person I'm reminded of as I inspect each handcrafted or imported oddity in turn isn't Hanako.
Crouching down, I examine the ancient oak desk inside the shop window.
At least thirty dolls, all varying wildly in size and make. The only similarity between them is the long Victorian dresses they wear.
I turn the price tag of one that looks to be about waist-height.
…It's not in my price bracket. At all.
I do the same to each of them, getting more and more depressed as they get smaller and smaller in size.
That is, until I reach the very smallest one. It's affordable, just, yet of quality make and with long, auburn hair and a little blue dress.
I decide that it's the kind of present Hanako would appreciate. Pretty-looking, and far from gaudy.
After I carefully pick it up, I decide to keep looking around the store. I'm not sure whether it's because I like the atmosphere or out of simple curiosity.
Peeking around the corner before I go to the next aisle, I see that the shelves in this one are stocked with wooden toys; from toy cars to intricate automatons.
Tucked behind a line of nutcrackers, I notice a little plain wooden box. It feels surprisingly light as I pick it up with my free hand.
The lid only needs the smallest movement to pop open, the little metal drum inside beginning to rotate immediately.
For seconds on end, I simply stand there listening to the palm-sized melody.
As it plays, I take the tiny price tag in my fingers and bring it up to my face, the minuscule cursive writing taking some effort to read.
It's affordable… sort of.
Grimacing slightly, I close the lid and make my way to the counter with doll and music box in hand.
When I lay the two on the counter, the man behind it sits up and takes stock of them. He doesn't hide very well his surprise at someone of my age buying them.
It's painful, but I hand over the money for the two and leave the store with a small opaque bag in hand.
Hideaki being there takes me by surprise.
Hisao "Oh… hi. I thought you'd be at the newsstand."
Hideaki "Akira gave me a call. She's waiting for us at the fountain with Lilly."
At least that solves the issue of trying to find them again.
We head off back to the fountain. Hideaki's immaculate posture and presentation despite his appearance makes for a strange contrast even as we walk.
Lilly and Akira stand there waiting for us, their faces hard to read.
Akira "Hey. You ready to go, Shortie?"
Hideaki's mood seems to improve as he rejoins her.
Akira "Seeya Lilly, Hisao. Tell Hanako I said happy birthday."
Hisao "We will. Bye."
Lilly "Goodbye, Akira."
And with that, the two disappear into the fracas of the afternoon city crowd.
Turning to Lilly, I notice she's carrying a small bag. It's now that I realize why her disposition felt different from before; while Lilly's typically the type to wear her emotions on her sleeve, her expression and tone are clouded and difficult to read.
It's more than a little off-putting, but given the effort she's making to hide her emotions, I doubt she wants to be cornered on why she's feeling this way.
Hisao "Already bought Hanako a present?"
Lilly "Yes. Have you?"
Lilly "Shall we head back to the bus stop then?"
Hisao "Okay. There should be a bus back to Yamaku pretty soon."
And with that, we begin to walk.
It feels strange compared to before. Lilly's hand on my forearm feels unusually tense, and the whole atmosphere is extraordinarily awkward.
The silence continues for a long while. I really don't like seeing her like this.
Lilly "Hanako's birthday party is going to have to be held earlier. Is the fourth going to be all right for you?"
I have no other possible obligations anyway, so I reflexively nod. Only afterwards do I remember that doing so is pointless, and quickly answer so by speech.
She tries to collect herself, a task that looks almost pitiable in how plain it is to see how distant her thoughts are.
Lilly "Sorry, Hisao. You said the bus would be coming soon, right?"
Hisao "That's right."
But now that she says that, I have an idea.
Hisao "Actually, do you have anything to do later today?"
Lilly "I… don't believe so. Why do you ask?"
Hisao "This is the point where I'd normally take your hand and rush you somewhere, but even without that, you'll have to trust me. Okay?"
I take her hand and gently lead her on, her distant face replaced by one of mild surprise and curiosity.
As the waitress sets the cup of tea and cup of coffee that I'd ordered onto the table, I thank her before she takes her leave.
Truth be told, I really lucked out in finding this café. I didn't really know where I was going, rather I was just looking for any café that looked relatively nice.
Having managed to recover a little, Lilly tentatively sips at her cup as I take a long gulp of the coffee in front of me.
As I hoped, her face lights up as she realizes what flavor it is.
Lilly "Ah… this is wonderful!"
Lilly "Hisao, how did you know that this was…?"
I'd asked for French vanilla black tea, hedging my bets that it would be her favorite flavor, or at least one she liked. While I don't really know much about tea, it sounded like one she might appreciate.
…on the basis of her liking vanilla ice cream. A tea connoisseur I am definitely not.
Hisao "It was a lucky guess. You really like tea, don't you?"
She puts her teacup down and gives a tiny nod, that familiar small smile thankfully perched on her face once again.
Lilly "Drinking tea is… calming, I think."
Hisao "With the amount you drink, are you sure you're not addicted to it? Caffeine addiction's pretty common nowadays."
Lilly "Did I ever say I wasn't?"
She lets out a giggle as my head drops. We all have our vices, I suppose, and there are worse things to be addicted to.
Hisao "French vanilla black tea, huh? I'll have to remember that."
For a while, we both silently drink. It's comforting to have someone like her nearby in such new surroundings, even if it's just the two of us sitting in silence.
I begin to wonder if this feeling is the same for her, until she sets down her cup.
Lilly "Hisao, do you mind if I ask you a slightly odd question?"
Hisao "That depends on the question, I guess."
Lilly "I was wondering… what your favorite color is. Everyone has one, after all."
I almost reply before realizing why the seemingly mundane question is actually quite strange.
Hisao "My favorite color? But…"
She gives a pouting look, wanting me to answer anyway. While the answer seems unavoidably wasted on her, there isn't any harm in giving it.
Hisao "I've always had a thing for green. I'd say that's my favorite."
Lilly "Green, is it? What things do you think of when contemplating that color?"
Hisao "I suppose… grass fields and trees in summer. The Army as well, with camouflage."
Lilly "Men always seem to like the military."
Lilly "But… that sounds like a nice color. A very nice color."
She nods her head a little, as if approving of the choice. Considering how foreign the concept of color is to her mind, labeling it by association seems reasonable enough.
Hisao "If everyone has a favorite color, then what's yours?"
Lilly "White. I'm told that's the color of snow, and of ice cream."
Hisao "You're no better than me then, if you only like that color because of a favorite food. I guess white is nice too, though."
Hisao "And speaking of colors, it'll be getting dark soon. Let me help you up."
Lilly offers her hand, which I take in mine to help lever her up from her seat at the table. Its softness compared to mine takes me off guard, as I'm really not used to such casual contact.
It doesn't seem to bother her at all though. While it seems obvious why, it feels like just one more ladylike aspect to her.
As her hand moves to her pocket, I quickly cut her off.
Hisao "Don't worry, I'll pay for this."
Lilly "Oh. Thank you, Hisao."
She gives an earnest smile at the gesture, a reward much greater than that of her words.
By the time we step off the bus, it's well and truly dark.
We make our way up the hill in silence, both of us behaving a little awkwardly, probably because of the day's events.
While I'm still concerned over Lilly's withdrawn nature after meeting with her sister, the fact I managed to cheer her up even slightly feels like a personal victory.
But… it feels like the air between us has changed. Maybe it's only a bit, but it's something I don't think either of us realized before.
Lilly "That was… a date, wasn't it?"
It was. That doesn't elude either of us, the question's answer being so self-evident as to be rhetorical.
Awkward as it may be, I don't think this feeling is bad. In fact, quite the opposite. I don't know what it is, I certainly can't be sure, but it feels like something a little more than friendship.
Understanding? Empathy? Searching for words to adequately describe it is difficult. Nonetheless…
Hisao "Would you like do this again sometime, Lilly? Without shopping for presents?"
The tentative question is met with the same look from Lilly as before. Her pale skin makes the rosy tint of her cheeks just slightly more noticeable and her face, though still pointed to the street ahead of her, lowers. Just a little.