NARRATOR: "But why would Lilly leave her to her own devices? It seems to be quite out of the ordinary, going by Hanako's reaction. ... ...Ah, that's right. I think Lilly mentioned something about going into town today before Rin bumped into us. The thought of that walk makes me look outside. The bright sun and occasional people wandering around and enjoying the afternoon make me yearn to get out of school, or at least do something other than sit here."

NARRATOR: "Giving in to one of my worst vices, procrastination, I decide that history is a subject best studied on a Sunday. Or a Monday. Or on any day other than this one. I give a grunt as I lever myself out of my seat, briefly debating with myself whether or not to hang out with Kenji. He doesn't strike me as the “enjoying the nice weather outside with others” kind of person, really. I guess I'll catch up with him later. Changing tacks, I briefly entertain the idea of talking with Hanako, but by the time I look at her seat, it's vacant. She must've left for the library. There's got to be something to do that can kill the time..."

NARRATOR: "Following Hanako to the library seems a bit intrusive. There was a reason she left the classroom, after all. And that aside, I do want to catch up with Lilly. At the very least, I'd like to thank her for looking out for me despite her other, obviously taxing, duties. I guess I'll walk around town. With any luck, I should be able to find Lilly. The exercise'll do me some good, as well."

NARRATOR: "Walking through the school courtyard to the gate, I give a small nod to a couple of passing classmates, the gesture being returned in kind. Even from here, the shouts of the sports club members can be heard. From the sheer volume of the din, the track must be packed right now. I remember what Lilly said yesterday about being dropped right into the middle of a busy time for the school. While I'm trying to get my bearings and catch up on study that I've missed, everyone else is doing normal school activities. The feeling of being a foreigner still hasn't dissipated. At least, not yet."

NARRATOR: "Well, I guess not everything's bad. This is a private school, and that much is easily noticed when walking around outside. Not only are the school grounds huge, but the buildings themselves are immaculate and quite divorced from the dime-a-dozen concrete blocks of public schools. There's also the fact that there's a much stronger feeling of community here, or at least a friendlier atmosphere. At my old school, it was generally accepted that people would keep to their little clique and be done with it."

NARRATOR: "Eventually I reach the gate, and begin to walk down the road and into town. Well, that was fairly productive. Having seen a fair portion of town, even including the houses perched on the hills around the outskirts, I decide to take a walk around the park before heading back. Living in the city all my life, the total lack of smartly-dressed businessmen and fashionably-dressed girls strikes me as incredibly unusual. All that's to be seen are the odd elderly person shuffling along the sidewalk and assorted busily chatting pairs of middle-aged women outside of small storefronts. Walking along the road to the park quickly distracts me from them, though, making me realize that I perhaps pushed myself further than I should have done to see as much as I could. As my breath begins to wheeze and my chest tightens more and more, I give up on the prospect of soldiering on."

NARRATOR: "After a quick glance around the park as I enter, I take a seat on a wobbly old bench that I notice near a couple of vending machines. For minutes on end I sit with my head bent over, forcing myself to take deep breaths. I feel more like an old man than a teenager who should be in the prime of his life. The stay in hospital, the surgery and the medications must be taking their toll on me. Dammit. Eventually, my breathing returns to normal and the muscles in my chest loosen, not without a fair measure of relief. I guess this means the end of my little sojourn though, in any case. There's a café on the far corner, so I'll stop by to quench my thirst before heading back."

NARRATOR: "A little bell above the door signals my arrival to an empty counter. For a few moments I stand there waiting, my eyes every now and again drifting from one end of the counter to the other searching for a service bell. Eventually a door some ways behind the counter opens, the person emerging from it taking me by complete surprise."

HISAO: "Yu... Yuuko? Hi, I had no idea you worked here."

NARRATOR: "I really have no idea how to address her either, given that she is technically school staff as well as, apparently, a waitress."

YUUKO: "Ah, yes, um..."

NARRATOR: "She quickly paces up to the counter, before flinging her upper half downwards in an overacted bow."

YUUKO: "Welcome to the Shanghai! May I take your order?"

NARRATOR: "Straight down to business, I see."

HISAO: "I don't know... well, some coffee, please?"

YUUKO: "Yes, certainly. I'll make it right away and bring it to you when it's done."

HISAO: "Uh, thanks."

NARRATOR: "Yuuko's formality takes me aback. She seems to take her job very seriously. Obeying her instructions, I turn around and quickly glance around for a free table. Considering the café seems to be empty, this is a simple task to accomplish. As I walk towards a table adjacent to the window, I notice a flash of yellow around one of the table dividers. Sure enough, no more than a glance is needed to ascertain that it's a certain Satou at the table. That said, I don't recognize the suited figure across the table from her. Blonde, fair-skinned and only a little shorter, he... she? I think she, must be a relative. Since the two are all but silent as the suited figure takes a swig from a cup of coffee, I decide to greet Lilly. Some part of my coming here was in order to meet her, after all."

HISAO: "Hi, Lilly."

LILLY: "...Hisao?"

HISAO: "Yeah. Nice to see you again."

NARRATOR: "The suited girl looks up, noting my uniform with a relaxed smile."

AKIRA: "Know each other?"

HISAO: "I... guess."

NARRATOR: "It's as good an approximation of our relationship as I can think of."

LILLY: "Hmm... care to take a seat?"

NARRATOR: "She says this to the air beside me, but the message is clear enough and I take a seat beside her."

LILLY: "I suppose some introductions might be in order. Hisao, this is Akira Satou, my older sister. Akira, this is Hisao Nakai, another Yamaku student."

NARRATOR: "Looks like my guess was correct. The newly-introduced Akira gives a nod, which I return. What I don't return however, is the almost analytical gaze with which she looks me over. As she does so, Yuuko walks up to the table and carefully places the coffee on the table before bowing and taking her leave. Gently bringing my hand to the side of the cup, I realize that it's already at just the right temperature to drink. After taking a sip, the flavor turns out to be just as good as the temperature. Yuuko seems a lot better at this than being a librarian. I take a good, long drink before relaxing into the seat. It takes mere seconds for Akira's examination to come to an end. Apparently becoming quickly bored with the activity, she turns to her sister."

AKIRA: "So, how's school recently?"

NARRATOR: "It seems Akira is entirely unconcerned with someone she doesn't know at all listening to everything they say. Not that I mind. Leaving them to their chatting, I sit back and continue drinking the pleasantly aromatic coffee."

AKIRA: "Sounds like it's pretty busy for ya, then."

LILLY: "At least I'm not cooking your meals after school any more."

NARRATOR: "As they talk, I slowly realize that I'm entirely unable to gauge Lilly's emotions through her eyes; as I would for any other person. It becomes slightly unsettling as I subconsciously focus on that fact."

AKIRA: "Whoa, so cold. Weren't ya just cooking for yourself anyway? I only ever got leftovers."

LILLY: "That's not the point... are you managing to feed yourself, at least?"

AKIRA: "I can cook without blowing myself up, you know. Mostly."

LILLY: "That's..."

AKIRA: "Hahaha! It's fine, it's fine. I needed to learn sometime anyway."

YUUKO: "Ah, Lilly?"

NARRATOR: "Everyone present is momentarily distracted by Yuuko, who places a cup of tea on the table for Lilly. Taking the moment to glance at her watch, Akira levers herself off her seat and gives me a quick nod."

AKIRA: "Well, I'd better be off. It was nice talking to ya, Lilly."

LILLY: "Akira, do you have to..."

NARRATOR: "Lilly looks genuinely mournful at her sister suddenly leaving. It does seem like she might have the wrong idea."

AKIRA: "Sorry, I need to get back to work. They'll be on my neck again if I don't make it back quickly."

NARRATOR: "So informal... Akira's trim and tidy appearance would give anyone the wrong impression of her."

LILLY: "Bye, Akira..."

AKIRA: "C'mon, don't look so down. I'll be around again soon. Seeyas."

NARRATOR: "With that, she waltzes out of the Shanghai with her hand held high. Lilly still looks pretty depressed, so I try to make some small talk in an effort to take her mind off it."

HISAO: "She seems nice."

LILLY: "We used to live together, but now that I live at school we hardly ever see each other."

NARRATOR: "Despite Lilly having been quite affable, I still don't really know much about her. In hindsight, it's surprising just how much she's extracted from me, really."

HISAO: "You used to live together? Was it somewhere around here?"

LILLY: "It was pretty far south, so the trip into Yamaku was fairly long."

LILLY: "With her working hours getting longer and Yamaku being so far away, there was little choice in the end but to move into the dormitories."

NARRATOR: "Well, that explains the chatter about cooking. Evidently regaining her composure, she livens back up... at least, in part."

LILLY: "I take it you're better rested, now?"

HISAO: "Sorry?"

LILLY: "You sound less exhausted than you did when you first came in."

NARRATOR: "To be able to pick out my breathing like that... she must have pretty good ears."

HISAO: "Yeah. Ended up walking all over town, despite only planning on taking a short walk down here."

NARRATOR: "Reminded of my thirst from the walk, I lean forward to take a sip. Without further ado, Lilly starts on her cup of strong-smelling tea. I guess I'd better get going back to Yamaku. There's only so long I can stall studying for, and I want to get a good night's sleep before the festival. Standing from my seat, I take the coffee-stained cup from the table."

LILLY: "You're leaving?"

HISAO: "Yeah. You going to head back as well? It's getting kind of late."

NARRATOR: "For a moment she pauses, before lifting her face over her teacup as if she was looking at me."

LILLY: "Yuuko, could we have one more coffee please?"

YUUKO: "Okay, I'll bring it right away!"

HISAO: "That's... not subtle."

NARRATOR: "She gives a short giggle at my frank assessment of her maneuver. It's surprisingly childish and carefree, given her otherwise collected appearance. In the end, though, I have little reason to refuse. To be honest I can hardly say no, all things considered. Giving a manufactured sigh, I take a seat opposite her."

HISAO: "Wanting company, then?"

LILLY: "Hmm... I'd say that it's more that I was wondering..."

NARRATOR: "I see she's in questioning mode, again. She does seem to be unusually interested in me, or at least curious."

LILLY: "Do you have any siblings?"

NARRATOR: "Not exactly an unexpected tangent."

HISAO: "No, only child. To be honest, the idea of having someone that close makes me a bit envious."

LILLY: "Interesting..."

NARRATOR: "I raise an eyebrow, which of course goes unseen. The short silence communicates the question well enough."

LILLY: "It's just that others have said the same thing before. It's a difficult subject to try and think about objectively, given that I've always had someone like that."

NARRATOR: "I can mostly understand what Lilly means, given that it would be hard to place oneself outside of a situation they've been in all their life. She and her sister must have a pretty close relationship. Taking pains to interrupt us as little as possible, Yuuko dutifully comes over and places a cup on the table. Lilly thanks her as I sit back, taking in this vexing girl in front of me. Despite always seeming to be on her guard and in control of herself when talking to others, she has an almost childlike curiosity about other people. That said, those rare moments she seems to slightly lower her guard are the most insightful into how she thinks. Reaching forward for my drink, I realize something I probably should've noticed earlier. ...I think I'm starting to become kind of curious about her."

NARRATOR: "Despite making a good pace, it's already nightfall by the time I reach the large iron gates in front of the school. While it's nice to have plenty of time to wander around by virtue of living right next to the school, I can't help but get the feeling that very few students actually take the opportunity. Compared to the number of students I see milling around on-campus during free time, it's startlingly rare to see anyone around town. Given the large number of accommodations and facilities that the school offers, many of them might simply not see any point in venturing outside, let alone people such as Hanako and Kenji. It makes me wonder if students like Shizune, Misha, and Lilly are the exception for this school, rather than the norm. As I wander back to my dorm room, I continue to compare my old school with Yamaku. As I do so, I begin to be surprised that I managed to get even this used to everything that's happened to me."


Next Scene: Don't Panic

Next Scene: Quiet