NARRATOR: "I can't sleep. My body's tired, but my mind is kept awake, staring at the ceiling in the hollow darkness of my room. I grasp desperately for a thread of thought, hoping that I can run my brain into the ground. All I can think of is how I can't think of anything. This is not productive at all. I wonder if this is a side effect of my medication, though it seems odd for it to take so long to show up. Then again, maybe I'm just not as used to my new surroundings as I'd like to think. I don't know, but for whatever reason, I'm awake and I shouldn't be. This is ridiculous."

NARRATOR: "Ignoring my body's stiffness, I get out of bed and look at my clock. Four in the morning. Last time I checked it was only one, so maybe I slept a little. I don't know. I throw on some clothes and head out of my room. A walk might do me some good. I'm surprised at how chill the air is compared to the relative warmth of the day. I can almost see my breath as I wander the campus, waiting for the sun to come up or for me to fall asleep. At this point, either option works for me."

NARRATOR: "I find myself at the track - where for the first time, Emi's not out running. I suppose that makes sense; it's too early, even for her. The bleacher seats are cold, but at this point I welcome the sensation. The sun is starting to show its face over the horizon, and I know with an awful certainty that I'll get no more sleep tonight. The sun's steadily strengthening rays start to warm me up, and I watch the dew on the ground begin to steam slightly. My mind calms down, a little."

NARRATOR: "Someone's shaking me."

EMI: "Hey, wake up!"

HISAO: "Huh? Where? Wha?"

NARRATOR: "I guess I fell asleep after all."

EMI: "What are you doing out here? You're going to catch a cold or something!"

NARRATOR: "I rub my eyes and am confronted by Emi, who bends over me with a worried expression. I'm still a little groggy, so my response comes out in a mumble."

HISAO: "Couldn't sleep. Watched the sun come up."

EMI: "Sounds like something Rin would say."

NARRATOR: "I shrug, feeling the stiffness that comes with sleeping on a bench for a few hours."

HISAO: "Is it? I wouldn't know."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins a little at my (somewhat cranky) response."

EMI: "So, couldn't sleep, eh? Obviously we need to run you harder today!"

NARRATOR: "Even though I've only known her for about a week, this seems a very Emi-ish response to the problem."

HISAO: "Hey, my body was plenty exhausted after yesterday! My mind was just racing, that's all."

EMI: "I don't see the difference. If you run hard enough, your brain will get tired too."

NARRATOR: "I'm seriously questioning the wisdom of doing this first thing in the morning. I don't know if my grades will be able to handle me tiring my brain out like that. Emi pulls me up from the bleachers with surprising strength for someone her size."

EMI: "Now come on, Hisao! We've got work to do!"

NARRATOR: "I don't actually know if I'm up to this today, to be honest. I mean I obviously didn't get much sleep... and what sleep I got was on the bleachers!"

HISAO: "I don't know...should I really be running?"

NARRATOR: "Emi glares at me. Good heavens."

EMI: "What are you talking about? Of course you should be running! How else do you expect to work out the kinks? You've been sleeping on the bleachers, for heaven's sake! The best way to get that soreness out is to run around a little. Now stop hiding in the bleachers and get down here!"

NARRATOR: "There's no arguing that. I'm pretty sure she'd kill me if I didn't do as she said. I get to my feet and hop down to the track. The sun is warming things up rather nicely, I think. Emi and I begin to stretch out, and I find myself once again hard pressed not to stare. If this is how I have to wake up every day, I might be able to get used to this."

EMI: "You know Hisao, it's not polite to stare."

HISAO: "I wasn't staring! I swear!"

NARRATOR: "Emi raises an eyebrow and considers me for a minute, as if evaluating my response. There's a brief moment where I'm afraid for my life. But then she smiles and laughs, shaking her head slowly."

EMI: "Honestly, you didn't have to deny it so strenuously."

NARRATOR: "In response, I clap my hands together and go for a change of subject."

HISAO: "So! That's enough stretching, right?"

NARRATOR: "Emi gives a casual shrug."

EMI: "Do you feel stretched? That's really how you tell."

NARRATOR: "Well, I do feel up to the run, if that's what she means."

HISAO: "Yeah, I feel ready to go."

EMI: "Same as yesterday, okay? We'll just run for a mile at a steady pace. Don't worry about going really fast, just worry about keeping the pace, got it?"

HISAO: "You're the boss."

NARRATOR: "Emi grins again, and we take off around the track. ... ... I think I'm going to die. We're not even done with the first lap, and my legs are on fire. My breath is coming in ragged gasps. I can feel sweat pouring down my brow, and we've only just now rounded the second turn."

EMI: "Come on, Hisao! You've got three more laps to go!"

NARRATOR: "I can't do this... I can't do this. I can't do this! I think I might hurl. Somehow we're on the second lap. Emi's not even sweating. How can she do this so effortlessly? For some reason I'm still moving. She's like a machine. Third lap. What happened to the second?"

EMI: "Almost there, Hisao!"

NARRATOR: "Liar! We've got another two! Nothing to be done."

HISAO: "I... ca... can't... do... this."

NARRATOR: "Emi whirls around and begins running backwards. Her face is a mask of anger that surprises me."

EMI: "Never say that! If you say that, you'll have already lost. Keep moving! If you're alive, you can keep moving, dammit!"

NARRATOR: "Whoa, language. We're on the fourth lap now. She really seems to want me to keep going. Legs move. Move. Move. They feel so sluggish. I'm in mud, or molasses, or tar. I can't go on. I'll go on."

EMI: "Final stretch, Hisao! Give it all you've got!"

NARRATOR: "I pump my legs as fast as they'll go. They keep refusing to obey my commands. Somehow, I keep moving. Somehow, I finish."

EMI: "That's it, Hisao! I knew you had it in you!"

NARRATOR: "The anger Emi showed a lap ago is gone, replaced with pride. She's positively radiant, like she just won the gold medal or something. I stagger to a stop and fall to my hands and knees, gasping for air. My heart is pounding far harder than it has in a long time. I don't think it's done this since..."


NARRATOR: "Please slow down, heart. Just slow down. Stop racing. I cough, and for some reason, feel a grin crossing my face. So this is how I die, huh? Trying to stay healthy? How ironic. I'm all ready to give up right there. But then, I feel my heart slow down. Two hands grab under my arms and tug upwards. I look up and see Emi standing over me, with a mixture of delight and worry."

EMI: "On your feet! Come on, you'll never catch your breath that way."

NARRATOR: "Somehow, I manage to stand. I try to raise my arms above my head, but they feel like lead. I start to walk around the track while Emi keeps close to me, like she's afraid I'll fall over or something. She may not be far off. I feel terrible, and say so. Emi laughs."

EMI: "But you finished, didn't you? You said you couldn't, but you did. Isn't that worth it?"

NARRATOR: "I'm not sure, and I don't really have the breath to say so. But that small grin I felt on my face earlier hasn't left. So what if my heart's weak? I still survived this morning. Maybe I'll survive tomorrow, too. As soon as it becomes apparent that I'm not going to suddenly keel over, Emi takes off on her sprints. I don't know how the hell she can manage to sprint after running a mile, but I guess she's in much better shape than me. Once again, as I walk around the track, I can't help watching Emi sprint."

NARRATOR: "It's weird, but she's like a different person when she's pushing herself. Last time I noticed her eyes, but this time it's her mouth that catches my attention. She's not wearing her normal grin. She's still smiling, but there's a tightness to it. It's almost grim, like she's fighting a losing battle but doesn't care. She seems to be running harder, like she did yesterday. Sweat has started to pour down her face, but she keeps going. Her mouth finally opens as she can no longer get enough air through her nose. As she passes me once more, legs pumping, arms swinging in time, and her lips slightly parted... She looks beautiful. After we've both taken some laps around the track to cool down, Emi changes back to her usual self. The transformation I saw in her is gone."

EMI: "Not bad today, Hisao."

NARRATOR: "There's almost admiration in her voice."

HISAO: "What do you mean? I would have stopped if you hadn't yelled at me."

NARRATOR: "Emi colors a little, seemingly embarrassed about her outburst."

EMI: "Sorry about that, I just... can't stand to see people give up. Especially about something like this. Saying “I can't go on” is silly when you're obviously going on while you're saying it. That's what this is all about."

HISAO: "What, saying silly things?"

NARRATOR: "Emi sticks her tongue out at me."

EMI: "Idiot. I mean showing that you're alive."

NARRATOR: "Showing I'm alive, huh? I didn't know it had to be so painful. But it does feel pretty good, despite that."

EMI: "Besides, this is one of the hardest days."

HISAO: "What do you mean?"

EMI: "Whenever you start a workout, it's difficult the first day, really hard the second day, and then the third day is easier. You'll still get days that are really hard, but they'll pop up less and less."

HISAO: "So this will eventually get really easy, huh?"

EMI: "Yeah, of course. But then you have to increase the difficulty, or you'll never get ahead. You'll just get complacent, and you'll lose the sense of accomplishment."

HISAO: "So I'll have to run more than just four laps, huh?"

EMI: "Yep! But not for a while - you'll have to be careful, you know."

NARRATOR: "A thought strikes Emi, and her face lights up."

EMI: "Got it!"

HISAO: "Got what?"

EMI: "You can come with me to see the nurse! That way you won't fall over dead or anything!"

NARRATOR: "How charming."

HISAO: "Um... when?"

EMI: "Right now, of course! You'll need a shower and everything, right? We don't have much time, then!"

NARRATOR: "Grabbing my hand, she's off, pulling me along with her."

Next Scene: An Apple a Day