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Tea Leaves is the second page of Act 2 of Hanako's route
The days are really starting to heat up.
This morning, I awoke covered in sweat.
By the time the student body starts leaving their dorms for breakfast and morning duties, the sun has taken full effect; oddly, that puts me in high spirits.
It's not even eight, yet I feel that this day is going to be one of those pleasant, tranquil, warm ones.
If I weren't at a school that considered every absence from class as a sign of a life-threatening situation, I'd consider skipping the whole day and just relaxing in the school gardens.
Yes, today will be a genuinely lazy day.
For a second, I stop in mid-stretch, and consider the nurse's warning about exercise. Maybe I should have kept up those morning jogs.
Running with someone like Emi might have been a little testing, but if I worked at my own pace...
Ah, who am I kidding? I couldn't stick to something like that without some kind of motivation.
It's not like I sit around all day. The walk to and from the convenience store counts as exercise, right? Especially the walk back up the hill...
Yeah, It's no big deal. Compared to months lying in a hospital bed I'm getting plenty exercise.
It seems that I'm not alone in my appreciation of the day.
Nearly every member of the class is glancing through the window and into the tantalizing sky.
Even the steadfast Shizune seems to lack her usual vigor for schoolwork.
Misha, as brazen as ever, has even unbuttoned the top buttons of her shirt and is fanning herself with a note book.
I must have been staring, as she's now sticking her tongue out at me.
However, she shows no signs of halting her efforts, nor is she trying to hide the fact.
The lunch bells seem to catch everyone by surprise, and the class empties at a much slower pace than usual.
The heat seems to be draining the need to rush from everyone.
Well, almost everyone
Hanako "H... Hisao?"
Hisao "Hey there Hanako, what can I do for you today?"
Hanako already has a lunch bag in hand.
I don't have to be a detective to work out where this is going.
Hanako "Um... would you like to have lunch with us again?"
Hanako "I... I brought enough for everyone..."
Hisao "Awesome. You don't have to be stiff about it though."
Hanako "Ah... right."
Hisao "I take it we're going to the tea room?"
Hanako "P... please."
Hanako "Lilly said she'll meet us in there, so we should... should..."
Hanako "...should go ahead together..."
Hisao "Sounds like a plan. This heat has made me pretty hungry."
Hanako breathes a sigh of relief, and I gather my things together.
As usual, the aura of the tea room is refreshing, feeling isolated from the rest of the world.
Then again, the usual din of the school seems to be a bit subdued; most likely from laziness promoted by heat exhaustion.
Hanako slowly spreads her food on the table, intently focusing on every little movement, as if she's trying to keep her mind off other thoughts.
It's not much, but I can tell from her demeanor that she has prepared everything with utmost care.
Hisao "I guess Lilly isn't here yet. Should we start without her?"
Hanako "S-she'll be here soon..."
Hanako struggles with the lid of the container of rice.
Hisao "Here, let me help with that..."
I take the container from Hanako's hands, and try to force open the lid.
Try as I might, it seems wedged shut.
Hisao "Let me guess, did you put this in while the rice was still hot?"
Hanako "Y-yes. I was in a rush..."
I put the container on the table between us.
Hisao "I thought so. It looks like this is wedged shut. We'll need some hot water to get it open."
Hisao "But that could be a pain in here. We'd get water everywhere."
Lilly "Well, in that case, how about I contribute to today's meal?"
At the door, Lilly smiles while holding up a bag stocked with various buns and bread rolls. I can't help but do the same.
Lilly "Since you two had a change of plans because of me, I thought I would bring a little something."
Hisao "Thanks, Lilly. Here, let me get that for you..."
With a little guidance, Lilly's bread assortment joins Hanako's rice-less platter. I hastily make some tea to complete the picture.
Hisao "Well, I'm looking forward to this."
As I take a bite, I notice Hanako trying her hardest to not look like she is looking at me.
It's nothing special, but then again I can't really complain. I'm pretty lazy when it comes to cooking for myself.
Hisao "Not bad, Iguess this is made with the stuff you bought yesterday?"
Hanako's eyes shout at me, begging for some kind of feedback.
Hisao "Well it was clearly worth it. Thanks, Hanako."
Hanako "I... I wanted to show you this... after yesterday..."
Hisao "It's okay. I was just a little surprised at the stuff you were buying."
Lilly "Hanako's always liked to experiment when it comes to food. I think it's good... most... of the time."
Wile Lilly's smile doesn't waver, the slight change in her tone tells me that things have not gone so well in the past.
And it's not like Hanako has many people to sample her cooking...
Hang on... was Lilly waiting for me to go first? She didn't start eating until after I said it was all right...
Her cheeky grin tells me that this was deliberate action on her part. I'll have to try and work out how to get one over her in the future, to make up for this.
Hisao "Well, it's good, and that's all that counts, right?"
Lilly, satisfied at not being the first to sample Hanako's creation, begins to consume the food in front of her.
I find myself staring as I watch her chopsticks gently touch the plate, their tips delicately poking and tracing to quickly ascertain the positions of the food as she dexterously picks it up.
One might think she were a child playing with her food if not for the situation, though she does it with such care and thoughtlessness that it's obvious this is simply how she eats this kind of meal.
Not wanting to miss out, I start filling up myself.
Hanako takes a different approach, waiting until Lilly and I have our hands clear before quickly snatching up her share.
Before long the containers are empty, save for the still-shut rice container.
Lilly "Thank you Hanako, that was filling."
Hanako "N-no... thank you for the bread..."
Hisao "Yes, it would have been a disaster if not for that."
Lilly "You're both welcome."
Lilly "But now, I must be getting back. It's far too easy to be late after eating here."
Hisao "Yeah, I see what you mean. I think we'll just clean up here and then head off."
Lilly "Well then, good day."
Lilly leaves, her cane tapping away down the quiet hallway.
Hanako and I quickly pack our things and stay seated, waiting for the bell.
Together, we stare out the window and into the endless azure sky.
If it weren't for the pealing of the bells, I would have sworn that time had stopped.
The urge to skip class rises in my gut.
I shoot a glance at Hanako, who shows no signs of moving either.
Hanako "Not... just yet..."
The interval between the warning bells and the end of lunch bells passes in the blink of an eye.
Hisao "We really should go... people will freak out and start a search party if we skip..."
Hanako "You're right."
Slowly, she rises to her feet, and I follow suit.
Silently, we make our way up the old stairs to the third floor and then to our classroom.
At the door, I take point and open the door ahead of Hanako, bowing my head down in apology in advance.
Hisao "I'm sorry we're late, teacher."
I am greeted not by stern words, nor by and angered instructions to take my seat, but simply by the silence created by fifteen so students trying not to laugh.
Mutou, ever tardy, has yet to arrive. However, the fact that Hanako and I arrived together is blatantly obvious.
Misha "Pff... pffwa..."
Make that about fourteen students trying, and one student failing.
Misha "Pft-bwahahaha! The lovers return~!"
Hisao "Yeah, thanks. You can calm down now."
I step through the door, and realize that Hanako is firmly pressed against my back, hiding herself from the class.
With my steps coming closer to my desk, she eventually breaks from me and stiffy walks to her own. Her effortsto mentally block everyone's presence from her mind are written fairly clearly on her face.
Quickly checking the door for any signs of the teacher's arrival, I make a trip to Hanako's desk and whisper in her ear.
Hisao "Don't worry about Misha, she's always like this. I enjoyed myself today. Don't sweat it, okay?"
Hanako nods her head behind her folded arms, but still doesn't show her face.
I yearn to stay and console her more, but Motou picks this exact moment to enter the class, halfway through his lecture, as if he started it in the hallway.
Mutou "...which, of course, is directly proportional to the charge but inversely proportionally to the squre of the distance..."
He's so engrossed in his speech that doesn't even notice me sneaking back into my seat from Hanako's desk.
While Mutou's spiel rambles on, Misha leans over to me.
Misha "The teacher may not have noticed your tardiness, but I did."
That much is obvious from the show you just put on.
Misha "I have been instructed to let you off the hook for today, but only on one condition."
Hisao "Oh? And what would that be?"
Misha "You have to help us this afternoon~!"
I crane my neck to look over Misha's shoulder.
Shizune is conveniently not making eye contact with me.
Hisao "Fine. Just for today."
Hisao "I've already told you I'm not joining the council, remember?"
Misha "Of course! Doing so could be considered... um, considered..."
She looks down at her notebook, obvious looking for her place in her script.
Misha "...under duress and hence would be against regulations."
Hisao "How very strange of you to be considerate of the regulations now."
Misha "Things should be done by the book!"
Misha "It's just that the book hasn't been written for every situation, so there are times when it can be ignored."
Hisao "And yet, you two wonder why no one else wants to be in the Student Council..."
After poking her tongue out at me, Misha returns to her workbook, and we battle our way through the latter half of the school day.
Before I can even stand up, Misha and Shizune have placed their hands on both my shoulders.
Hisao "Hey, I said I'd help out, damn..."
Misha "This is just insurance, Hisao, insurence~!"
Hanako timidly tries to leave the room by circling around us and I suddenly realize that this may be my one chance to escape.
Hisao "Oh hey Hanako. What's up?"
Misha "Hey, what makes you think you've got time to chat?"
Hisao "Oh relax, this won't take long... sorry Hanako, you were saying?"
Hanako "I... I was going to go to the library and... and I thought..."
Hanako's thumbs dance around each other and her eyes flit around the room, looking everywhere but at us.
Misha "Sorry Hanako, but Hisao has to come with us. He's got work to do."
Misha "Oh! But you can help too if you'd like."
Misha "So ,how about it, Hisao?"