NARRATOR: "Another lunch comes. I trudge up the stairs to the rooftop like a condemned man. Rin is up there, but Emi is not. Immediately I worry that something's happened to her. Maybe the lack of sleep finally made her collapse, or something worse. She seemed pretty tired after our morning run. Maybe she fell asleep and didn't even make it to class."

HISAO: "Hey, Rin. Where's Emi?"

NARRATOR: "In response I get a rather penetrating look from Rin, and something approaching a frown appears on her face."

RIN: "Is that information really important?"

HISAO: "I think so. She's usually here with you, isn't she?"

RIN: "I don't know. I have no way of being sure."

HISAO: "I can confirm that she is, in fact, usually here with you when I come up."

RIN: "Well she isn't now. Does that worry you?"

HISAO: "Kind of."

RIN: "Hm."

NARRATOR: "That seems to end the conversation, and the point becomes moot anyway because Emi bounds through the door with her usual energy."

RIN: "Hisao is kind of worried about you, Emi. I don't think he can decide, or maybe I just don't believe him, but I think I'm going to go somewhere less awkward now."

NARRATOR: "I'm so surprised by Rin's being so suddenly forward about, well, anything at all that I merely watch her head through the door. Emi is similarly surprised, and colors slightly crimson as she stares openmouthed at me. It occurs to me that I should probably say something, if only to break the awkward silence that has suddenly descended."

HISAO: "It's because you weren't here yet. I was uh, worried about it."

EMI: "Why?"

HISAO: "You're usually here, so I was worried that something had happened to you."

EMI: "This isn't the first time that I've been late, you know. Did you get worried all the other times, too?"

HISAO: "Er, not really."

NARRATOR: "Emi seems slightly amused by this. I don't know why, but that kind of pisses me off."

EMI: "So why was this time an exception?"

NARRATOR: "Maybe it's the light, teasing tone of the question, but something in her response pushes me to be honest, though I can't help snapping at her when I say it."

HISAO: "Because you've been worrying me since dinner at your house, that's why."

NARRATOR: "Well. Now it's out in the open. And Emi's eyes are wide, and she looks like she wants to bolt, but she doesn't."

EMI: "Ah. Still on that, I see."

HISAO: "What, you think I'm supposed to just forget about it? You threw me out of your house! We've been going on for almost a week pretending it never happened!"

EMI: "I didn't see you bringing it up either, you know."

HISAO: "I know, and I'm sorry that was the case. We have to address it, or we'll just keep up this whatever it is we've got right now. It's killing me to look at how you look right now, did you know that? Those circles under your eyes and that distracted look in them, and I can't help worrying that I've caused it somehow."

EMI: "You haven't. Trust me."

HISAO: "Well I haven't helped, either. I keep pushing you to tell me things you aren't ready to tell me; maybe I was wrong to try getting your mother to help me out, but I've been so worried about you that I didn't know what else to do."

EMI: "Well, you don't have to worry about me any more, okay? I think it's pretty clear we're not right for each other, so maybe we should just... stop."

NARRATOR: "Her face is twisted up as she says this, like she doesn't want to say it but forces herself to anyway."

HISAO: "You don't actually want that, do you? Heck, you can barely bring yourself to say it. Anyway it won't keep me from worrying about you. I care too much about you to just stop on command. You don't want to tell me what's wrong? That's fine, but I won't stop trying to help you, even if it's just standing by you."

EMI: "Stop saying that!"

NARRATOR: "She's shaking now, and as she looks at me I can see she's afraid and frustrated and a million different things all at once. I shake my head slowly and take a few steps toward her."

HISAO: "You know what your mom told me? She told me that you'd never ask for help, because you know that you're strong enough to get through anything on your own, but that's not the full story, is it?"

NARRATOR: "Her eyes go wide, and she takes a step back. I keep going, because I think I've finally figured it out. Something tells me I won't get another shot. I've put it off for far too long as it is."

HISAO: "There's no harm in having someone help you, unless you're worried about needing help in the first place. You're scared, aren't you? Because of..."

NARRATOR: "I trail off, because I don't know for certain what happened to Emi's father, and I don't want to jump to a conclusion."

HISAO: "Well, never mind why, but it's okay to be afraid. You've been running from it and from me for so long, even though you know eventually you have to turn around and face your fear, and I'm going to be there to help when you do. I won't stop, because I don't think you'd want me to. You can understand that sort of determination, can't you?"

NARRATOR: "I can see that I've gotten through to her, but she quickly falls back to anger to try and push me away again."

EMI: "Back on your white charger, Hisao? Gotta help the poor cripple face her emotional problems? What do you know about me, and about what I've already had to face? You think two months of learning to walk again was fun? But I did it, and after I did that I had to..."

NARRATOR: "For a moment it seems as if she's going to say something else, but she cuts herself off."

HISAO: "And after all that, you don't think you can get past your fear? Emi, I can't fathom what you've been through, but to come through it and still be the sort of girl that you are, well, it makes me think that you have even more strength than you think. So I'm not going to help you because I think you need rescuing. I don't want to be a knight rescuing the damsel in distress, but even knights helped each other out, you know. I want to help you, even though I know you can do it on your own."

NARRATOR: "For a moment it looks like Emi's going to break down completely, but she doesn't. Tears run down her face, but she stares at me steadily."

EMI: "Why are you trying so hard to help me?"

HISAO: "I'd say that it's because I owe you one for helping me out when we first met, but that wouldn't be the truth. The truth is, I just want you to be happy, because I love you."

NARRATOR: "Had I ever said that before? We've been in a relationship, and it's been pretty obvious that I love her, but did I ever actually speak the words?"

EMI: "What did you say?"

NARRATOR: "I say it again, savoring the feeling of being able to say it at all, being able to say it and mean it. Emi seems stunned."

HISAO: "I said I love you, Emi. I love you. Just you, and that makes me want to stand by you, no matter what you have to face."

NARRATOR: "I'm wrapped in a fierce hug then, as Emi begins to sob against my chest."

EMI: "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry about everything but I'm so scared, Hisao, I'm so scared of losing you and I love you too but I can't lose you I just... I'm so sorry!"

NARRATOR: "I hold her quietly, shushing her until she settles down. She steps back, a little more composed."

EMI: "Will you come with me tomorrow? Back to my house? There are some things I need to show you, if I'm going to do this."

HISAO: "Of course. Maybe this time we can leave together, instead of separately."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins, a sudden flash of brightness that seems more genuine than anything I've seen in the past week."

EMI: "Yeah, maybe."

NARRATOR: "The lunch bell rings, and I curse the universe's poor sense of timing."

HISAO: "Are you free tonight? We can talk more then, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi shakes her head."

EMI: "Sorry Hisao, but I'm still helping the track team. Plus, I don't think it would be good if we talked this over tonight. I'm going to be too tired to think properly, and I want to be able to tell you everything without screwing it up. You can wait, right?"

NARRATOR: "Even now, there's a bit of fear in her voice. I smile and rest a hand on her shoulder."

HISAO: "Okay. I'll be waiting."

NARRATOR: "Emi gives me a quick kiss before she heads for the stairwell."

EMI: "Thanks, Hisao. See you tomorrow morning."

HISAO: "Wouldn't miss it."

NARRATOR: "I head down the stairs with the feel of her lips on mine, suddenly aware of how MUTOU:ch I've missed that sensation. I'll have to remember to thank Rin for getting us to talk to one another. Although it's possible she won't even realize what she's done. Still, if not for her I doubt I'd have ever been able to confront Emi again. I guess I needed more help than I realized. Tomorrow, however, I'll need to stand alone through whatever Emi's trying to work herself up to doing. I'll be up to the task. I hope."

Next Scene: Whispers of the Past