NARRATOR: "After buying a plastic plate of takoyaki from a stall belonging to the class next to ours, I take a seat in the school gardens and watch people pass as I tentatively nibble away at the rather bland-tasting item. I guess I shouldn't complain. It's better than nothing and didn't cost much. As I look out towards the school, watching the people coming and going proves a surprisingly entertaining way of passing the time as I eat."

NARRATOR: "Little children accompanied by parents or grandparents scamper about in the din from event to event; one hand dragging their company and the other bearing an oversized, colorful snack. I can't help but notice the age range among the people here is skewed towards the elderly, something that I'd also noticed when I was walking around town."

NARRATOR: "This must be one of those towns where the only people left are those that lived here their whole lives and ardently refuse to leave, and those wanting to live out the rest of their days in one of the increasingly few tranquil places. I guess that also goes a way to explaining how conservative Yamaku's school culture seems to be. Not that I mind one bit. I kind of like how calm Yamaku and its surroundings are."

NARRATOR: "The heat, though, is another matter entirely. Sitting in one place for so long has focused my mind on how annoyingly humid it's getting, now that the hottest part of the day is here. I'd better get moving if I—"


NARRATOR: "The sound of the carillon bells takes me completely by surprise as I stand up, a reaction shared by a few of the people strolling around as well. The PA system crackles to life after the tolling bells end. Its age shows as the principal makes a barely intelligible announcement over it, officially opening the festival that's very much in full swing. It's quite amusing to contrast the pleasant smiles of the older folk against the alternatively pained and bored grimaces of their younger charges. The students, on the other hand, seem to pay it little heed. Nevertheless, as the address finally ends, all are united in polite - if not overly enthusiastic - applause, and then get back to business. Slipping a hand in my pocket to look as relaxed as possible, I casually glance around for something to do."

NARRATOR: "...It's somewhat difficult to see very far with all the people around. I decide to fall back on a tried and trusted rule: go where everyone else seems to be gathering. Right now, that's the school courtyard and surroundings. Throwing the used plate into a trash can, I make my way towards the school building. Seeing the number of stalls around the perimeter of the school building surprises me. Quite a few of the classes must have opted to have multiple stalls. In deciding which to visit first, I catch sight of a familiar banner with a blue patterned border and red text. Lilly's stall is as good a place to start as any. I'm curious as to how it's going, after all of the work she and her class have been doing for it."

NARRATOR: "Stepping up to it, I begin to see why the class took so long to organize everything. Easily twice as wide as many of the other stalls and with equipment for cooking strewn everywhere, it's closer to an outdoor restaurant than a festival event. As a student in front of me takes a bowl of noodles and leaves, I walk up to the counter. The girl behind it seems quite exasperated, and asks me to wait a moment before she disappears underneath the counter. Seizing the moment, I take a quick glance around."

NARRATOR: "Steam seems to be rising from everywhere, as pots and pans simmer away. The most blind of the students are unpacking ingredients while being helped by someone who is probably the teacher of 3-2. It doesn't take long to notice Lilly among them, talking with the teacher as she quickly counts out the boxes and packets with her fingers. From her expression and the fact that both she and the teacher seem to be in a state of mild confusion, it appears that there's been some problem in coordination. Before I can stare any longer, the girl behind the counter pops up again, only to look back and ask where the spare change box is. Lilly pauses for a moment, before she and the girl switch places at the counter and the teacher quickly walks off somewhere."

LILLY: "Sorry about that, we're having a few problems. What would you like?"

NARRATOR: "It takes me a second to remember what I'd come here for. My eyes quickly dart to the side to read the menu sitting on the counter."

HISAO: "Oh, uh, I guess some... miso soup?"

LILLY: "Ah, is that Hisao?"

HISAO: "Yep. Looks like you're pretty busy."

NARRATOR: "Her face all but confirms it as she drops her waitress facade."

LILLY: "Somewhere along the line, our order got mixed up. We're trying to fix it now, but it looks like we only have half of what we needed."

HISAO: "Wouldn't serving smaller portions cover over the problem?"

LILLY: "It seems like that's what we'll have to do, though I wish we didn't. The fact that a good half of our class is gone doesn't help, either."

NARRATOR: "I glance behind her to see how many people are actually operating the stall. It couldn't be over about eight."

HISAO: "I take it that's why your teacher left?"

LILLY: "That's right. She's going to try and round up a few more of our classmates to help."

NARRATOR: "Hearing the sound of footsteps behind me, I stealthily glance backwards to see an elderly couple taking a place in the line. I guess I'd better stop loitering around and chatting."

HISAO: "Here's the money for the soup."

LILLY: "Soup... oh, right, coming right up."

NARRATOR: "Lilly turns and calls for a bowl of miso soup as I hand over the money for it. Taking the coins in her palm, I can't help but notice how efficiently she counts them out with her long, pale fingers. Eventually satisfied that I've handed over correct change, she puts it into a small metal tray. It isn't long before the soup is made and carefully handed to her, after which she turns and subsequently passes it to me."

HISAO: "Thanks. I'll come back to drop off the bowl."

LILLY: "Thank you, Hisao. Oh, there is one other thing. Have you seen Hanako?"

HISAO: "Hanako... no, not today. Why?"

NARRATOR: "She gives a small sigh of abject disappointment."

LILLY: "It's okay. I was just wondering what she was doing for the festival. You'll come back when you're done, then?"

HISAO: "Sure. I'll keep an eye out for Hanako, too."

LILLY: "Thank you, Hisao."

NARRATOR: "I walk off from the stall and find a seat, carefully cradling the steaming wooden bowl in both hands. Compared to the dumplings from before, this is quite nice. A little cool compared to what it probably should be, perhaps, but the flavor is enough to cover for that reasonably well. As I drink, I can't help but feel somewhat guilty for not being as involved in the festival as the others. It can't really be helped, considering I was dropped into the school only a week ago, but it still weighs heavily on my mind. That, and the fact that a few students don't really seem to be enjoying the festival as much as the visitors. Eventually I finish my bowl and leave for the stall, to drop it off. Considering that there seems to be no line at all, I take my time walking up. It seems the teacher's mission paid off: there are now over a dozen students helping, and much of the unpacking has been done. Despite most of them seeming quite relaxed as they work, Lilly still appears to be somewhat stressed."

NARRATOR: "...Right. I know what I'll do. Even if it's just one person, I'll make the festival more enjoyable for her. As I place the bowl on the counter, I call out to Lilly."

LILLY: "Ah, Hisao. You brought it back?"

HISAO: "Yeah, here."

NARRATOR: "I slide it into her hands, and she takes it over to someone who is apparently on cleaning duty. Considering that I didn't see them here before, it's probably a penalty for their tardiness."

HISAO: "Hey, Lilly?"

NARRATOR: "She perks up and returns to the counter as she hears my voice again, realizing that I'm still here."

HISAO: "Want to go see some more of the festival?"

NARRATOR: "She puffs her cheeks disapprovingly. It looks kind of cute, and in complete contradiction to her usually reserved nature. It takes a few seconds for me to get what she's taking issue with. Whoops."

HISAO: "Ah... um, I didn't mean to..."

NARRATOR: "Lilly giggles at me, exposing her teasing for what it is."

LILLY: "You're still not used to the school, are you?"

NARRATOR: "She got me."

LILLY: "Still... I kind of need to stay with our stall. It's taken until just now to even get everything unpacked."

NARRATOR: "I guess her reluctance shouldn't overly surprise me, considering how much work she's put into this."

HISAO: "Everything seems to be running fine now, though. Besides, you've got extra help on hand, anyway."

NARRATOR: "A boy in the middle of cooking some soba noodles turns towards us, grinning."

STUDENT: "Go on Lils, you've earned yourself a break. We can hold down the fort, for now."

LILLY: "If you say it's okay, then I suppose so... But, if you need any help—"

STUDENT: "Then we'll call you. Go on, we'll be fine."

NARRATOR: "Lilly finally gives up her resistance as he waves a spatula at her. She feels her way around the back of the stall, and picks up her cane on the way. I guess the first thing we should do is look for Hanako. Lilly seems kind of worried about her, and I doubt she'd be the kind of person to enjoy milling about in crowds like this, all alone."

HISAO: "So, I guess we should search for Hanako. Where to, first?"

LILLY: "Hmm..."

NARRATOR: "The both of us go quiet for a moment to think."

HISAO: "Maybe she's in her dorm room?"

LILLY: "I doubt it. She doesn't keep too many things in there, so she'd have nothing to do. ...Ah! The library?"

NARRATOR: "As good a place as any to search for an avid reader, I suppose."

HISAO: "The library it is. We'll check there first, then."

NARRATOR: "Aside from the muffled sounds of the crowd seeping in from outside, the inside of the school seems almost deserted. In order to make sure everyone had enough room, I guess all the events were organized to be held outside, on school grounds. They're definitely quite large, by any other school's standards."

LILLY: "It's nice and quiet in here, isn't it?"

HISAO: "Yeah. Much nicer than the hustle and bustle outside."

NARRATOR: "We take our time and slowly walk through the first floor of the school, eventually reaching the stairs to the second floor. I can't help but notice how Lilly anticipates every door and obstacle, her cane remaining still and her hand skating along the hallway railings."

HISAO: "You really know the school well, don't you?"

NARRATOR: "She smiles and nods straight ahead."

LILLY: "I've been here for a few years now, so I know where everything is. The dorms still trip me up though, sometimes. I haven't been there as long, and they're not as well laid-out as the main building. If I'm remembering right, they used to be unused buildings before being renovated and used as dormitories."

NARRATOR: "That explains why the male and female dorms looked different from the outside, and why their rooms seem kind of unusual for sleeping quarters. I'd assumed she'd been living in the dormitories since she began attending the school, but now I'm reminded of what she said yesterday."

HISAO: "That's right, you mentioned that before. I'd assumed that most of the students here lived in the dormitories once they enrolled. A lot of them seem to, in any case."

NARRATOR: "Lilly's expression becomes somewhat harder to read, my questioning evidently touching on a delicate point."

LILLY: "Well... How should I say... Everyone... has their reasons."

NARRATOR: "Something tells me that one of those with “reasons” is Hanako, hence her tiptoeing around the answer. My own predicament is yet another such case. I guess it's a choice everyone here would have to make for themselves... or, in my instance, have made for them."

HISAO: "It can't be helped, I suppose. At least Yamaku itself seems like a nice place."

LILLY: "It's good to hear you say that. I'd thought you were coming to dislike it."

HISAO: "What about you, though?"

NARRATOR: "My reversal of Lilly's statement takes her by surprise."

LILLY: "I've been here for a while, so..."

HISAO: "It's not that. You just seemed pretty depressed about Akira."

LILLY: "Hmm~"

HISAO: "What's with that look?"

LILLY: "Akira's taken. Sorry, Hisao."

NARRATOR: "Lilly never sees how fast my palm meets my face at her sly accusation."

HISAO: "Hey, I was worried about you. That's no way to respond to concern."

NARRATOR: "While she gives an amused grin, we round the corner of the hallway and enter the library. As we do so, it isn't hard to spot Hanako, considering that the room is completely devoid of anyone else. Given that there are no staff around, I guess there's no need to heed the usual library rules. I call out to her."

HISAO: "Hey, Hanako."

LILLY: "Hanako is here?"

NARRATOR: "As she hears our voices, Hanako's head flicks up from behind a book, probably the same one she'd been reading on Friday."

HANAKO: "Hisao... Lilly?"

HISAO: "Just thought we'd drop by. Lilly just managed to escape from the noodle stall, with a little help."

LILLY: "That wasn't really an escape..."

NARRATOR: "Hanako gives a small giggle, briefly surprising both of us."

HANAKO: "I just thought that... Lilly might not be enjoying the festival."

HISAO: "Well, now we can enjoy it together, right?"

NARRATOR: "The two nod happily before we set out of the library and towards the festivities. I hand over some change to the girl behind the counter, and take the two styrofoam cups of tea. I try to accentuate my bow a bit to cover for the fact that she's quite obviously deaf. Come to think of it, I probably should have asked for help instead of leaving those two in the gardens while I bought drinks. Trying to juggle the two cups of hot tea (for them) and a can of coffee (for myself, out of a vending machine) isn't exactly easy. With some careful maneuvering, though, I manage to keep everything stable and upright as I walk over to the bench where Lilly and Hanako are sitting and chatting. It's actually quite a nice place. Lit only by moonlight, it's tucked away some distance from the main events. Compared to how hot it had been during the day, this spot is also pleasantly cool by now. Not that it matters all that much. Most of the visitors have moved to areas that are either closer to the fireworks, or higher on the hill in order to view the display apparently planned."

LILLY: "Welcome back, Hisao."

NARRATOR: "Her ears are good. I'm not exactly close and even Hanako hadn't noticed me."

HISAO: "Here you go. Sorry it's instant, but that's all they had left by now."

NARRATOR: "Hanako gingerly takes a cup from my right hand, and I gently place the other into Lilly's outstretched hands."

LILLY: "Did you enjoy the festival then, Hisao?"

HISAO: "Yeah, it was pretty fun."

NARRATOR: "An honest answer. Much of the food may have been somewhat subpar, but it was a lot of fun in the end, especially with Hanako and Lilly. In fact, I think those two may have enjoyed themselves even more than I did. With both Lilly and I around, much of Hanako's withdrawn nature around others died down enough for her to enjoy herself. As we sit drinking, the whistle of the first firework rings out before it explodes into a vibrant shower of blue against the night sky, heralding the beginning of the end for the festival. Enthusiastic shouts can be heard from the crowds scattered around the school grounds celebrating them."

NARRATOR: "For minutes on end, Hanako and I watch the fireworks overhead as Lilly blissfully listens to them with her eyes shut. Red, green, yellow, star-shaped, circular and patterned, and all manner of shapes and colors fill the air, one after the other, and dance across the sky. No place near where I lived put on such lavish displays. Festivals like this were a thing of the past in such a metropolitan area. To be seeing such a sight with these two... it's probably the happiest I've been in a long while."

LILLY: "So... that's it. The festival's finally ending."

HISAO: "Yeah."

NARRATOR: "She gives a delicate, wistful sigh."

LILLY: "As much as I might complain about all the stuff we have to do, it's still sad that we'll have graduated before the next Yamaku festival."

NARRATOR: "I walk forwards and stand beside Lilly, gently resting a hand on her shoulder."

HISAO: "Don't worry. We still have Tanabata later in the year, right?"

LILLY: "You're right. It would be nice to go there when it comes."

NARRATOR: "Minutes of silence pass, with only the blasts of the fireworks to be heard. Seeing these two reminds me of those words of advice Lilly had given me as we walked into town together. “Cherish the opportunity to make new friends”, huh?"

HISAO: "Hey, Lilly?"

NARRATOR: "She turns her head slightly to show that she's listening, Hanako's gaze still firmly fixed on the technicolor fireworks bursting overhead."

HISAO: "You mind if I join you two for tea every now and again?"

NARRATOR: "The smile on her face is more than enough to see her answer."

LILLY: "It would be a pleasure, Hisao."


Next Scene: Act 2: Earl Grey