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NARRATOR: "Our return trip to the school keeps getting delayed in one way or another. Shizune and Misha come back so late that there's no use even leaving and we end up staying another day. The morning after, we miss the train by a single minute and then the next two don't arrive. We miss the fourth train because I wandered off to get a drink in the meantime. Shizune wasn't very happy about that. By the time I finally get back to my room, I feel so tired, even though I spent most of the ride back sleeping. I can't say it's only because of today; this seems like a familiar symptom of traveling. It's not the first time it's happened. If no one has beaten me to it, I could do a thesis on it, maybe get in a medical journal. “Returning From A Trip Syndrome.” Not very creative. I fall asleep before I can think of a better name."

NARRATOR: "A loud knock on my door wakes me up only a few hours into my nap. I'm annoyed because I had just been in the middle of a dream that I can't remember, having been woken up in the middle of it. But I'm sure it was a good one. I briefly wonder who it could be, but it's not like I get many visitors, so I'm sure it's Kenji. I hope he is just rolling out the welcome wagon and not going to hit me up for money again. If that was the case I'd be almost touched. Not touched enough to fight off the urge to roll over and go back to sleep, though."

NARRATOR: "A few hours after that, I wake up again and immediately spot an envelope on the floor. It must be something that came in the mail while I was away. That's Shizune and Misha's department, so I wonder if they dropped by to give it to me, or maybe someone filled in for them in their absence and told Kenji to pass it along... When I pick it up, any remnants of sleepiness in me instantly vanish. Even if the name of the sender wasn't on it, I would have known whom it was from by looking at the envelope itself, realizing why it looked so familiar. By recognizing the delicate handwriting addressing it."

NARRATOR: "It's from Iwanako. At first, I can't believe it, but it wouldn't be too hard for her to track me down if she wanted to. Of course, I hadn't thought that she would want to. She was maybe my girlfriend for all of five seconds. After that, we barely spoke to each other. It would be too easy to put this letter away somewhere and forget about it. A part of me wants to do that. Or throw it away, unread. Why I want to do these things, I don't know. It would be easy to do them. Easier than to read it."

Hisao letter open

NARRATOR: "Slitting the envelope open with the tip of a pen, I'm surprised by the length of the letter that spills out."

Dear Hisao,

How are you? I hope you are well and happy at your new school. Everyone here misses you. Almost all of our second-year class got put together in class 3-1 for the final year, so we are pretty comfortable right from the beginning of the year. I'm sure you would've been assigned to this class as well.

The mood among the third-years seems to be very anxious about the final exams, even though they are so far away. The teachers are badgering us about it all the time - even old Mr. Tachibana who is, by the way, our homeroom teacher this year. Would you believe it? I was sure that he'd retire after our second year, but here he is, nagging everyone about studying for exams.

I think things like that are the main reason why the mood among the third-years is so nervous. I must admit that I'm somehow losing confidence in myself as well, even though I've always fared reasonably well in exams.

NARRATOR: "The small talk makes me feel nostalgic. It's almost like I'm in the hospital again. Every now and then Iwanako would drop by and give me the gist of what was going on in a class that, even then, I had an inkling that I would never return to."

It's so weird to think we are already seniors, isn't it? Time has really flown past. I wonder where it went. The new first-years seem so young and somehow really innocent. I keep wondering if I was like them in my first year. I've been feeling nostalgic like this for the whole first trimester.

There are other things I want to say. I'm writing to you because I felt that there are things I should've said after the incident back in winter. I really regret that I wasn't able to say them in person, and I have no excuse for it.

The truth is, the times when I visited you at the hospital made me worried about you. I am not talking about your health. You seemed to become more distant and disheartened. It was natural after something like that happened, I'm sure, but somehow I got the feeling that you had given up on something back then. Happiness, maybe?

I wanted to somehow express my feelings, but the right words didn't come to me. I couldn't say anything to comfort you. I am really sorry for not being able to support you when it mattered the most, even though I like you so much. At least now, finally, I can be more honest.

NARRATOR: "What a convenient time for her to rediscover her sincerity. Well, even as I think that, I know she's right. “Distant and disheartened” is a good way to describe it. And maybe I had given up, too. It weighs on my heart when I think back to when I was lying in the hospital, feeling so bitter when she finally stopped showing up. I wasn't surprised, and I had no right to be. How could she not stop coming when it was the only expectation I had of her? She dropped by only for all of six weeks after the incident. If I drifted away from her, it was because I could feel her already moving herself away from me the moment she showed up."

If I could go back to those quiet days in February and March, I'd tell you to not give up on yourself. That's what I would say. Maybe you wouldn't have drifted so far away if I had just said something. I hope you've managed to get back on your feet on your own.

Now that the distance between us is also physical, it also feels more final, somehow. I wonder if we will meet again. Perhaps it's for the best if we don't? Still, if you would like to correspond with me, by all means write me back. I'd very much like to hear about your new school and how you are doing. I wish you all the best.

Sincerely, Iwanako

NARRATOR: "It's a strange feeling. I know that I'm never going to hear from her again. If she really wanted to keep in touch, she wouldn't have picked a medium like snail mail to do it through. If she could get my address, then my e-mail or phone number wouldn't have been much more work, had she wanted them. This is only a goodbye. I exhale, only just now becoming aware that I had been reading with bated breath. Now who's being distant, Iwanako? But maybe it really is for the best. For her to pick up a pen and write this letter to me, it can only be because she felt guilty about how things ended. That she was hurt by how we floated out of each other's lives makes me feel a sort of wistful happiness. I almost want to thank her, and I only don't because I know she wouldn't want me to reply. There's a knock at my door, then it opens anyway about a millisecond later. I forgot to lock it, stupidly."

KENJI: "Sup, man? Why's your door open?"

NARRATOR: "I run to the door faster than is probably medically safe for me to do so I can prevent Kenji from seeing the mountains of pills just a couple feet away from him, blocked from his sight only by the door."

NARRATOR: "Then there's the letter I'm holding. If he asks about it, I don't think I could make up anything convincing. About two feet away from him I realize that his vision is so bad that it was probably never an issue. He didn't even see me about to practically tackle him back through the door frame."

KENJI: "Hey, what the hell, man?"

HISAO: "What are you talking about? Your room has a billion locks on it, yet you just barge right through other people's doors. You didn't even wait a second after knocking before you tried the door, it was like, simultaneous. You were already opening the door while you were knocking on it."

KENJI: "See? That's exactly why I have all those locks. It's a cold and uncaring world out there, a gate crasher's world. Now you also understand. I just taught you a valuable lesson, dude. Knowledge is power. Why are you yelling at me? I'm a hero. Look at you... you didn't even lock your door. The average woman could have killed you a billion times already, then replaced you with a female clone indistinguishable from the original. It almost happened to me."

NARRATOR: "Ignoring the latter part, since it's too confusing, it's funny he should say that. He was unable to stop me from tackling him head-on, yet apparently a woman could have killed me a billion times. If this man is a hero, we are all doomed."

KENJI: "What's that you've got there?"

NARRATOR: "Somehow, he is able to see the letter still in my hand. With how I've been waving it around, that is no surprise. I fold it back up quickly, but take care not to whip it behind my back or anything else. That would be too suspicious. It seems like I'm jumpier than I'd thought about Iwanako writing to me."

HISAO: "I got a letter."

KENJI: "Oh, yeah, I put that there. I was sleeping, then I woke up because I heard explosions. I put on my helmet and then peeked outside to see what was going on, but it was just that Student Council woman banging on your door. It was the one without pink hair. She was knocking so loudly that it was obvious she was filled with murderous rage. Rage at you. Then she somehow sensed me behind her, and I tried to escape, but it was too late. She caught me and started pointing at the door."

NARRATOR: "I open my mouth to tell him that she's deaf, but decide not to. For various reasons."

KENJI: "I didn't really get it, and she got more and more pissed off, like an old man trying to use a touchscreen phone. She was going to kill me. Kill me and replace me with a woman version of me. But then the sunlight reflected off my glasses and blinded her, saving my life. It was like, behold, optic blast. I don't get how someone with glasses can be hurt by glasses. She uses them too, she should be immune to their death rays... but whatever. She gave me this envelope with your name on it and just left. Clearly, she was out for blood, so I lied and said you were away. I think you were away, right? I've been trying to ask you if you wanted to help me with my homework for a week now, but kept getting no answer. ...Welcome back, man!"

HISAO: "Thanks."

KENJI: "Yeah, so she gave me this envelope and it had your name on it. I didn't want to hold on to it, because, what if it was a bomb? So I just shoved it under your door when she was gone. I was going to tell you, but you got back before I could. At least it's not a bomb."

HISAO: "Gee, thanks. I'm not going to help you out with your math homework, because, what if your math textbook is a bomb?"

NARRATOR: "He looks devastated, and also like he's considering the possibility that it really could be a bomb. I guess it is possible, since no one really uses their math book all that much. I throw the letter on the dresser behind me and turn to leave, swinging the door shut behind me as I do. It collides against the tip of Kenji's shoe and bounces back open, while he hops around for a bit, acting like it hurt way more than it should have. Before I know it, he's already inside my room. I'm powerless to stop him before he scoops up the letter, strangely ignoring the towers of pill bottles surrounding it."

HISAO: "Don't just read mail that isn't your own."

KENJI: "C'mon, what is it? A love letter from your girlfriend? Did she include any photos? Sexy photos?"

NARRATOR: "Reclining against the dresser and paying no mind to the bottles he sends all over the floor by doing so, Kenji quietly reads through Iwanako's letter. The process takes seemingly forever, and with how close he holds it up to his face, makes it look like he's trying to eat it."

KENJI: "Who's “Iwanako?”"

HISAO: "My ex-girlfriend."

KENJI: "Ex-girlfriend, huh? This is the breakup letter, then. I thought they were a myth."

HISAO: "No. I guess it is, but really, she's been my ex-girlfriend for a while. Anyway, I think I'm already over it."

NARRATOR: "Kenji gives a thumbs up, clearly relieved that I'm not going to take this into an awkward direction, although I almost want to since I told him not to read it."

KENJI: "Yeah, that's a good attitude. It's all right, I had a bad breakup, too, but you can't let it get you down. I mean, just look at me."

HISAO: "Uhhhh..."

KENJI: "But, hey, she wrote you a letter. Maybe she wants to get back together, huh? It says right there, write her back. You should do it. Is she cute?"

NARRATOR: "For a guy who thinks feminists are working to enslave men everywhere, he really is interested in cute girls."

HISAO: "I have a girlfriend. Besides, look at the context, she doesn't want me to write back. Just because that's what it says, that isn't what she means."

KENJI: "But that's what she wrote. This rock-fish-kid chick totally still wants you. It even says it right there."

HISAO: "I read it, I know what it says. I told you, you have to look at the context. She said I drifted away from her, and everything there shows she accepted that. I think the reason she wrote to me is that she just wants to, I guess, part amicably. But we're done, she doesn't want to get back together or whatever you're thinking."

NARRATOR: "As I think about it more, it sounds to me like I'm just trying to make excuses for myself. That's not a good place to be. I'm positive that she doesn't want me to write her back. I can live with that. If I were to write her back and get a less than desirable response, or no response, then I would just be crushed. Perhaps the fear of that is why I'm trying to justify my decision. It could be, but I don't want to think about it. The thought is oddly repulsive."

HISAO: "Why is this such a big deal to you, anyway?"

KENJI: "Because you should write back to her. She wants you to. I want to see what the response is going to be. Damn, it doesn't even have to be a nice letter. That's cool too, but you could write an angry letter and call her out. That's my new attack strategy, I'm just going to call women out. You should try it."

HISAO: "Even if she wrote me a letter, you have to understand what that means. Writing someone a letter is different now. It's not something you just do. Not in this kind of situation. You can pick up your phone and call someone across the world in an instant, and talk to them almost like they were there with you. Or send them an email; they'll be notified instantly that they got it and can reply back, just like that. A letter can be a personal thing, but she wanted to keep me at an arm's distance. It's not like I can pop over there and visit her. If I had her number, I could call her, or if I had her mail, I could mail her. If she really wanted to hear back from me, she would have dropped one of those in there."

NARRATOR: "I feel silly for continuously reassuring myself that I'm not fazed by Iwanako writing to me, when it's so obvious that I am."

KENJI: "It could be like a gradual thing for her. She might be too shy to call you up. I remember my girlfriend would always send me text messages because she was so shy. It was annoying as hell, man. I didn't really give a shit about phones so I didn't have the thing, and it turns out I had to pay for every single one. But I don't like phones so I couldn't even call her back to tell her to cut that out. I did it anyway, though. I called her out. I even used a phone. It was literally the call out."

HISAO: "I guess it was."

NARRATOR: "Even if he's right, it means that Iwanako still wants to keep her distance from me. She's “not ready” to chat with me comfortably. Why? Am I some kind of freak? I'm not reassured by her actions anyway, in that case. Maybe I am overthinking it, but I just don't know. Kenji can't think of anything to say to that, and the silence that follows is so awkward and thick that I start to count the seconds until he makes up a reason to leave and excuses himself."

KENJI: "I miss her..."

HISAO: "Your ex?"

KENJI: "Yeah. Even if she was insane, it was nice being with her. My back hurts. If she were still around I could tell her to massage it. I don't know how to use an oven, either. I miss baked food. And we would go bowling in the hallway sometimes. I miss that, too. I had to bowl all by myself during that last festival."

HISAO: "You bowl in the hallway? You're going to hit someone."

KENJI: "She used to say that all the time..."

NARRATOR: "Kenji sighs nostalgically, clearly not appreciating just how badly someone can get hurt by slipping on a bowling pin. Apparently, neither did his girlfriend, since she bowled with him. What a strange definition of love, but I guess it's something."

HISAO: "Maybe you should write her a letter. If she writes back, you can get married."

KENJI: "Married?! No. No no no. No."

HISAO: "Okay, fine. But why not? You clearly like her, even though you hate women."

KENJI: "Feminists! Not women, feminists. There's a difference. There are non-feminist women. Damn, your discrimination is incredible. Correlation doesn't equal causation. Even if she is insane and a woman, it doesn't mean she is a feminist insane woman. It's like how the absence of evidence isn't the evidence of absence. If it's true, then by the relative property, the presence of evidence doesn't equal the evidence of presence."

HISAO: "Actually, I think it is. And I don't think it's called the relative property."

KENJI: "No, shut up, it's mathematics! Are you saying math is wrong?"

NARRATOR: "I think he is wrong. So even Kenji has someone that he likes. I'm tempted to ask why he and his ex broke up, or to dig for more information in general, but I shouldn't. Not only would it be prying, but he might reverse the question back to me. This conversation makes me think about Shizune, although the thoughts I'm having are scattered and wispy. Just questions. I wonder if I even had the chance to love Iwanako, and this whole situation with her still stings me, a sour note in the back of my mind. I like Shizune much more. Yet it feels like I am chasing her, even now. I don't mind the chase, but I want to close that distance between us. Iwanako's letter is responsible, but I've also felt this way for a while. I've come closer, but it's not enough. I want to try again, right now."

NARRATOR: "I tell Kenji to get out so I can change, and then head for the student council room. The grounds are mostly deserted today, which is a shame, because it's so nice out. No one answers when I knock. I try to go in anyway, but it's locked. When I pull my hand away from the doorknob, it's covered in dust. It looks like no one's been here since we left. Since I'm already out here and dressed, I might as well get something to eat in town. My wallet is back in my room, though."

Misha sad

NARRATOR: "On the way back there, I stumble across Misha sitting down behind the main building. Her eyes are closed in sleep, and she looks very tranquil. It's always been hard to picture her not constantly bouncing around or hopping on the tips of her toes impatiently. My first instinct is to call out to her and ask her if she has seen Shizune, or if she wants to go to town with me, but now that I've seen her I don't feel like disturbing her. I leave her alone."

Next Scene: Roadmap

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