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Shanghai Studiousness is the sixth page of Act 4 of Hanako's route
My pen busily scrawls onto a slowly filling page of my notebook. My other hand remains on the page of a reference book I borrowed from the library, marking my spot as my eyes flicker to and fro.
As I work, I occasionally mark red circles or underlines onto the photocopied sheets of paper that lie on the table in front of me.
Wanting a change of scenery from the library and to avoid the distractions of the classroom, I decided to make use of the Shanghai for some quiet study time.
It ended up being nice and quiet as expected, and being able to get coffee while I study is a nice bonus.
Hanako may have returned to her normal self since she came out of her room, but I've done quite the opposite. Daily routine may have returned to us, but I feel as if I'm a different person.
Maybe I'm not. It's only been a few days, after all, since I decided I wanted to try and get out of the rut I'd found myself in after my accident. But I want to change, and I'm now actively working towards that goal.
Or at least, I would like to think that I am.
Hisao "Ugh, this is impossible. Brute-forcing this isn't going to work."
What's more, I have another piece of writing I have to do after this. I fear that's going to be no easier.
I look up in mild surprise to the source of the tentative voice.
Yuuko stands at the head of the table with a damp towel in hand, clearly having taken the opportunity to clean the tables while no other patrons were around. She looks curious, her eyes as much on my work as on me.
Hisao "What's the matter?"
Yuuko "I was just wondering… what sort of work are you having so much trouble with?"
Hisao "Oh. It's just history. I'm fine with science and math, so I'm trying to get my other subjects up to par."
Yuuko looks positively delighted at this development. I feel like I just chose the right answer on some big quiz show.
Yuuko "Oh! I think I can help you with that!"
Yuuko "Um, if you don't mind… of course…"
I briefly consider turning down the offer in order to not cause her too much trouble, but she looks too excited about this for me to do it. It would be mean to shoot her down like that, after such a reaction.
Hisao "If you're willing to help, I'd really appreciate it."
She claps her hands together and quickly deposits her towel on the counter, before returning and taking a seat across from me.
I take my notebook off the top of the textbook and hand it over for her to peruse.
Yuuko "So you're studying the Edo Period?"
Hisao "Yeah. I'm not really much good at this, though."
She takes the textbook and reads a few pages from a random section near the middle for a bit, but the aura of enthusiasm she'd been radiating previously is rapidly sapping away.
Hisao "I'm guessing this isn't the kind of history you were expecting?"
Yuuko "Unfortunately not. My main area is European history, especially in the classical era. Sorry."
She looks a bit downcast, but as she carefully closes the book and lays it back down on the table, her face perks up again.
Yuuko "Would you like another cup of coffee?"
Hisao "Hmm? Oh, yeah, sure."
I reach forward and get my book back as Yuuko gets up, takes my mug, and slowly walks to the counter to make another brew.
As usual, she's absolutely silent as she does this; every ounce of her concentration is focused on not tripping over or dropping the plain white mug.
I take the opportunity to lay back and relax for a bit, the hum of the coffee machine filling the otherwise quiet air.
It's small details like that which make me realize how much I've come to appreciate the little things in life.
The peace and quiet of the local town, the discipline and order of Yamaku, the green of the trees that were so rare in my home city, the relaxed pace at which the aging residents live their lives…
Everything feels so… certain. It's comforting.
I can feel myself beginning to nod off, when the sound of the mug coming to rest on the table grabs my attention. Seems like it arrived not a moment too soon.
Yuuko takes her previous seat once again as I pick myself up and bring a hand around the mug to check its temperature. It's just a little too hot to drink right away, so I blow on it a little.
Yuuko "It's a shame you don't like history all that much. I sort of guessed you might be more into science."
Hisao "How so?"
Yuuko "You've nearly read out the science fiction section of the library already. It wasn't hard to notice."
Hisao "You do have a good point, there. Well, what can I say? You've pegged me just about right."
Hisao "You sound like you really take an interest in history though, especially considering how specific you were about it. Do you study in that area, or something? Go on digs overseas?"
She giggles nervously at the thought.
Yuuko "I'd like to visit the Mediterranean sometime and see the old architecture and art for myself, but I don't think I could trust myself to handle such delicate things."
Yuuko "I'm saving up to formally study it in university, although I also read up on it whenever I have free time outside of work."
So Miki was right about her university aspirations. Considering how she fares as a waitress, a more theoretical path may suit Yuuko better. It's nice to hear that she has some ambitions though, considering how hard she works.
I nod and take a careful sip of my coffee. By now it's cooled to the right temperature, so I begin to drink while keeping an eye on the book below, trying to read at the same time.
A few minutes pass quietly, Yuuko looking out the window and watching the world go by while I have my coffee and study.
A movement catches my eye, and I look up to see Yuuko smiling and waving to someone outside. Following her gaze surprisingly reveals the someone to be Hanako.
She is looking at us from the side of the street across from where we are. Her usually all-too-visible timidity is largely absent, probably thanks to there being so few people around right now.
Evidently she decides to join us, as after a little wave, she gives a quick glance up and down the street and crosses towards the side that the café is on.
The familiar doorbell to the Shanghai rings out as Hanako enters and makes her way to the table we're sitting at.
Yuuko "Good afternoon."
Hisao "Hi, Hanako. What's up?"
Hanako "N-nothing… just… g-going for a walk… since the weather was nice."
Hisao "Yeah, I get what you mean. I'm glad I decided to study here instead of the library."
It's comfortable in here thanks to that, better than the sometimes quite stuffy library. I look to Yuuko, who nods in response.
Yuuko "It's nice. It's just a shame that summer can't last forever."
Yuuko "Oh wait, sorry, um, would you like a drink?"
Hanako shakes her head. Thankfully, it's enough to calm Yuuko back down.
Hanako "H-how are you going with studying?"
Hisao "Okay… ish."
Hisao "Oh yeah, have you talked with Lilly?"
Yuuko "I'm interested too; how is she doing?"
Hanako "Sh-she's enjoying it… I think."
I… think that's all we're going to get out of her. Being around Yuuko is tensing her up.
Yuuko "Ah, it would be so nice to travel to Scotland."
Yuuko "Green fields, castles, lovely small towns, men in kilts, interesting history…"
I can't say I see the appeal of men in kilts, myself. It does seem like a picturesque place, though.
As we talk, the jingle of the doorbell rings again. Hanako is startled, noticing Yuuko's panicked expression at the prospect that she might leave customers to wait a handful of seconds, due to her chatter with us.
Yuuko gives us a quick bow, then hastily skitters over and greets the new customers, an elderly man and his wife. I watch her for a bit, craning my head around to get a good view.
Hanako is staring at me with her one visible eye.
She averts her head in embarrassment as I turn to make eye contact.
Hisao "I was just thinking that it's nice to have ambitions for the future. Yuuko was telling me a little about her university aspirations before."
Hisao "It's a shame. If she wasn't so neurotic and overworked, I think she could be a really happy person."
As much as I'd like to play host to Hanako and entertain her a bit, I do need to study as well. To be honest, I don't think the distraction from Yuuko helped either.
Hisao "Sorry if I'm a bit distracted. I need to try and get this done, otherwise I'm going to flunk the history exams pretty hard."
I'm left running my hand through my hair in frustration. That letter needs doing as well, once I get back to my dormitory room.
Hisao "I hope I have more luck with that than this. Damn."
Hanako "W-what with?"
Hisao "Oh, uh… I was going to… write to Iwanako. Right now though, this is more important."
All I've done is rattle myself. I can't focus on the work in front of me when my stomach is slowly turning at the prospect of actually attempting to write her back, after all this time.
I force myself to concentrate on the book, picking up my pen once I have a quick sip of coffee.
After a few seconds, Hanako stops silently watching me and leans back in her seat, relaxing as much as she ever seems to be able to, looking out the window to pass the time.
We stay like this for a long time before leaving for the dormitories together. I'm surprised she had the patience to wait me out.
Iwanako's letter lies on my desk beside a blank sheet of lined paper and an unused envelope. The tapping of my pen is the only thing to be heard this late at night.
As I feared, my second task for the day turns out to be just as difficult as the first, if not harder.
It's been so many months since we even saw each other. Even so, I can still remember what she looked like, what she sounded like, and what she acted like. By now, though, the little details are beginning to slip away.
When I first saw her letter, I barely recognized her handwriting at all. Even the pink pen she always used was forgotten until her writing reminded me of it.
I wonder why she didn't use it for the letter; she used to write everything with it. Maybe she thinks it's too immature now.
I should be thinking about myself, and about what I want to communicate to her. My mind can't stop concentrating on her, though. On the past we shared before it was taken away so suddenly.
The bright and slightly garish decorations suit her sense of aesthetics. Picking up the letter to take a closer look at it, I give a long sigh.
This is the last link binding me to my past. Iwanako didn't suddenly cease to exist when she left my hospital room for the last time, but I needed this letter to remind me of that.
I had all those feelings neatly filed away. I felt as if I didn't need them, that I could just begin life completely anew. It was easier that way.
In the end, I suppose that was a rather naive thing to think. Sooner or later, my past would have caught up with me one way or the other.
But what am I supposed to say to her? “Thank you for bringing me closure?” All the letter did was end the sense of closure I'd previously felt.
Try as I might, I can't write so much as a single word down on the paper in front of me. I can't even think of what exactly I want to say.
Putting the letter down on top of the blank sheet, I gather the materials together and file them away in my drawer.
The clunk the desk makes as it closes makes me momentarily tense in frustration, before I get up to go grab a drink from the vending machine on the first floor.
I tried, but I couldn't do it. After all the time that's passed, I still don't know how to deal with Iwanako.