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Shady Encounter is the second page of Act 3 of Hanako's route
The summertime sun is something to be savored, but when combined with the clean country air, it's all the better.
The track and field club members are horsing around on the field ahead; some are playing with a soccer ball, others are talking, and a few laugh as two of them mock-fight with each other.
None of them pay me any heed as I sit alone on the grass, underneath the shade of a particularly large tree. It's a nice and peaceful moment after a dreary day of schoolwork.
I played soccer pretty often before my heart attack, so I had thought it would be really nostalgic to watch them. What I'm feeling now, though, is quite distinct from that emotion.
I hear footsteps approaching from behind me, and I turn to my side to see one of my classmates taking a seat beside me. I'm taken off guard, as the two of us haven't talked much before, and I didn't think anyone would notice me here.
Hisao "Hi. Miura, wasn't it?"
Miki "Just call me Miki. Surnames are too stuffy."
Hisao "Likewise, then."
We both look back out to the field were the guys are playing. It looks like they're getting ready to have a second game, with people spreading out to their positions and the ball being carried to the center of the field. Sure enough, the whistle is blown to begin the match and they get right back into it.
Hisao "Not going to play?"
Miki "Nah, just gonna rest for a bit."
Miki "What about you? You kinda looked like you wanted to play when you were watching us before."
So someone did notice me after all.
Hisao "It's kind of a long story."
Her face says that I've piqued her interest.
Hisao "I'm in Yamaku because I've got a heart condition. I can't really play soccer any more."
Miki "Wanted to be a soccer player, did you?"
Hisao "No, I only really did it for fun. My friends played it, so I played it as well."
Hisao "Any of those guys playing around could have been me before my accident. But I don't feel like I have any real wish to go back to that, either. It's a little hard to explain."
I'm still decently physically built from the days when I played, even if my strength's largely left me by now, and I got on well with the other club members.
When I think about it, I should feel pretty bad watching people play when I can't any more. Yet I don't. Maybe it's a good thing; a sign that I've gotten over it and that I'm ready to become a new person.
Hisao "Sorry, I'm kinda rambling."
Miki "It's cool. I'm actually glad to hear that."
Miki "It sounds like you really have your stuff together. Some of the people that come to Yamaku are pretty messed up at first."
Hisao "So you're a member of the track and field club, then?"
Miki "Yup. Been in it since I first arrived."
Hisao "Don't suppose you're friends with Emi? Short, fast runner, no legs? I don't think there are all that many female track and field members."
Miki "Haha, Emi. Everyone knows about her, don't they."
Miki "But nah, I tend to get on better with guys, so me and Emi don't really talk much. Anyway, what about you?"
Hisao "Ah, well, I'm not really in any clubs. Real clubs, anyway."
Miki "You've been hanging around with Hanako and that blonde Amazon though, right?"
Blonde Amazon… I suppose Lilly has the height to fit that description, if nothing else. I nod in response, without making too fine a point of things.
Miki "Then don't worry about it. As long as you've got some friends, you don't need to join a club."
A loud whistling from the field attracts our attention. One of the players is on the ground, clutching his leg, and the others stop play to jog up to him, leaving Miki grimacing.
Miki "Ouch, that looks painful. That guy really has bad luck."
As she continues to look out onto the field, I can't help being reminded of her own injuries. Her left arm, ending in a stump rather than a hand, has been bandaged up for the entire time I've been in Yamaku, and her injury doesn't seem that new. She turns to talk to me again and catches me looking. Both of us sit in awkward silence as she takes her bandaged arm and holds it in her lap with other remaining hand.
Hisao "S-sorry. I guess I'm still a bit…"
Miki "It's fine. Really."
Her tone is light, but neither of us says anything afterwards. Every disabled student here has their own way of dealing with their problems, and some finding their conditions troublesome is only natural. I'm included among them, after all. The injured guy from the soccer game manages to get onto his feet with some help, and ends up hobbling off the field with one arm over the shoulder of another for support. Probably just pulled a muscle if he can still manage to walk. The whistle blows again, and the game continues once more with one less man on the field.
Miki "Hanging out with Hanako and that blonde girl… you keep some pretty strange company."
Hisao "How so?"
Miki "It's just that Hanako's kind of… I don't know."
Miki "No, it's not really that. It's just… she's got some issues, I think. I can't really put it in a nice way."
Miki "Not that I don't think she's a nice person, though. She's perfectly nice."
Miki "Just… hard to deal with."
It sounds like Miki, or at least some other people in the class, have tried to get closer to Hanako in the past. And that it didn't go well.
I think her judgment is rather harsh, given that everyone, not just those in Yamaku, have their own issues. Then again, I haven't known Hanako for that long, so it wouldn't surprise me if there was some stuff I didn't know about.
Hisao "I'll just take it as it comes. She's a nice person, and I think that should be all that matters."
Miki's eyes narrow a little, and her smile spreads.
Miki "You really like her, don't you?"
Miki certainly doesn't mince words.
Hisao "To be completely honest… yeah, I do. I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone."
Miki "Hey, whoa, you can trust me. No problems there."
Miki "To be honest, I think it's kind of cute. If you want to go for it, don't let me stop you."
She may say that, but she was just talking about Hanako having “issues.” Still, I want to hold myself to the words I said. Hanako's problems don't matter; I'll deal with anything that comes up, because I want to help her.
If there's even the smallest possibility that I can pull Hanako out of her depression and seclusion, then I should work towards that, no matter what. If she needs a prince, then I will be that prince.
As I think about the possibility of a relationship, I can see Miki grinning at me while watching my face. I'm no doubt blushing, and looking away from her only makes her laugh.
Hisao "I don't think so. We're just friends."
Miki "Aw. I thought I'd discovered something nice for a moment there. I understand; girls and guys don't need to be boyfriends and girlfriends, after all."
What she says is true, even if I do have feelings for Hanako. Right now we are good friends, and I don't want to mess that up, but I also want to be more than that for her. It's hard.
Miki gives off a different vibe from the other girls. Talking to her feels more like talking to a guy than a woman. Her saying she prefers male company doesn't help to dispel that notion, either.
Glancing at my watch shows that lunch break is ending in only a few minutes. Time to start heading back to class.
Hisao "Lunch is about to end. Want to head back?"
Miki "Yeah, we'd better."
I pick myself up off the grass and dust myself off, offering a hand to Miki to help her up as well. She takes it and easily pulls herself up, showing the muscles moving in her toned bare arms in the process.
Hisao "Come to think of it, why aren't you wearing the normal girls' blouse?"
Miki "Eh, it's too hot and constricting. The boys' uniform is better, anyway."
She throws her arms around a bit to emphasize her point, which has the side effect of showing off one particular part of her body that would be especially constricted by the blouse.
The two of us start the walk back to the main building through the gardens, talking as we go.
Miki "It sounds like you're settling in well. That's a relief. It was pretty surprising to get a transfer student at this point in the year, considering the exams are coming up."
Hisao "Don't remind me…"
Miki "Haha, don't worry about them. Just cram it and you'll be fine."
Hisao "That doesn't sound like good advice."
She claps my shoulder a couple of times as she grins. I don't think she takes school very seriously.
Miki "You seem like a smart guy, and Mutou's taken to you well already. You're like a hand in a glove."
Hisao "Now to work out whether that's a good thing or a bad thing."
Hisao "I still don't know what to make of this school. I've been here a few weeks already, but I still feel dazed at times."
Miki "You'll get used to it, just give it some time. It's only a high school, just like any other."
She makes it sound so simple, but I've never thought about it that way. To me, Yamaku symbolized a marked shift in my life. I was no longer normal; I was “different,” and was to be educated with other “different” people.
And yet, I'm walking back to class and talking casually with a classmate during lunch, after watching some others play a soccer game - all perfectly normal. Maybe she has a point.
Maybe I should just look at Hanako in the same way. Everyone has their own issues; this is hardly something unique to Yamaku. After all, it's only a high school, just like any other.
As we continue to talk, I find myself smiling. Miki and I are very different people in almost every way, but it feels good to have gotten to know another classmate a bit better.