NARRATOR: "I ponder what I'd like to do with Shizune and Misha. Deciding it's best to be extra prepared, I duck back into my room to stock my wallet with money. I wonder if they have that game where you try to catch goldfish on a paper net. It seems way easier than they make it look. Then again, if I were to catch a goldfish, I'd have no real reason to keep it. What am I going to do with a fish in my tiny room? Cook it? I could give it to Shizune, or Misha, but that might be overstepping my bounds. It's a real problem. Both of them are cute, but I don't think I have any chance with either of them. Regardless, I mull over the thought of doing it. I imagine how they might react if I were to give them a gift tonight, like a fish or a doll. Misha would probably laugh like she always does. Shizune might slap it out of my hand. Maybe it isn't such a good idea after all. Okay, I think I'm set."
NARRATOR: "A good while later, I decide that this could be another psych out test devised by Shizune. Even if it isn't, it's starting to get kind of late. I resolve to just go out and search for them, even though I don't know where I could look. They might be really hard to find today. As soon as I step outside, I almost bump into Shizune."
HISAO: "Hi, Shizune. Where's Misha?"
NARRATOR: "I try to sign it as best as I can, but really I'm just making stuff up. I've got to ask Misha to teach me some of this."
NARRATOR: "Misha pops up from behind Shizune, grinning widely."
MISHA: "We just came to make sure you're coming along with us to the festival."
MISHA: "Don't renege on your promise~!"
HISAO: "Promise? I don't think I promised anything."
MISHA: "Stop trying to get out of it! C'mon, Hicchan, it'll be fun! You need this, anyway, or you'll become a no-good person! You don't want to become one of those people who just stays in their dorm room all day, being paranoid, do you?"
NARRATOR: "I find myself staring over her shoulder at the door to Kenji's room right across from mine. I hope he didn't hear that, but I think Misha wants the opposite."
HISAO: "No, of course not. I was just playing around a little, and was right about to leave anyway. You two didn't have to come here."
MISHA: "Really? Ahahaha! Shicchan was worried you would try to get out of it somehow! We need you, Hicchan~!"
NARRATOR: "I think my heart just skipped a beat."
MISHA: "I don't have the aim to knock the dolls off their pedestals in that one game... and Shicchan refuses to throw things."
NARRATOR: "Shizune stares at me, immediately noticing my disappointment. She uncrosses her arms and adjusts her glasses."
MISHA: "What did you think we meant? I refuse to throw anything. Why, Shicchan? That is weird... Well, anyway, Hicchan, you've thrown a ball before, right~, right~? So! You have to come with us!"
NARRATOR: "I'm amazed by their logic. I don't know if they're joking or if they're not."
HISAO: "Heh, I'd feel offended if I didn't know you guys were joking."
HISAO: "You're joking, right?"
MISHA: "It is what it is, Hicchan~! It is what it is what it is what it is what it is!"
HISAO: "Well that's reassuring."
MISHA: "Come on, let's go! The deaf band is setting up outside your window."
NARRATOR: "Misha grabs me by the hand and tries to pull me out the door, but it's clear that she isn't trying at all. Shizune looks at the both of us, blushing slightly and fiddling with her glasses impatiently. I'm not used to this kind of casual contact, but I have nothing against it. How could I object?"
NARRATOR: "It's still light outside, but the sun is getting ready to set behind the trees. It looks like half the school is out here, and I can even see some faculty members standing off to the side, helping themselves to some punch. They are about to empty the entire bowl, to the dismay of the girl working the stall. There are some fortunetellers chatting idly with their friends, while others have already gotten started slinging horoscopes at anyone who walks in range. I think that kind of tactic is a little too aggressive, but it shows that they're into it. It's refreshing to see, but I don't know if I'll be able to get used to it."
MISHA: "Well, we should get something to eat. Hungry, Hicchan?"
NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, I haven't eaten all day."
HISAO: "I don't really want to eat fried noodles."
MISHA: "That's okay, there are other fried foods!"
HISAO: "Are there any foods that aren't fried?"
MISHA: "Candy. Junk food is the essence of celebrations! Wahahahaha!"
MISHA: "Come on, I - I mean, Shicchan - will treat you to one thing~! One?"
MISHA: "Just one~! Only so you can build up energy for your throwing arm! Ah, but it doesn't look like all the booths are done setting up yet, so you might not be able to get what you want."
NARRATOR: "I take a look around, surprised by the number of stalls. It's unbelievable, this festival seems larger than the ones you might see in actual towns. Despite what Misha said, it seems like half the school is already celebrating. The air is humming with the excited chattering of at least half the student body. I can smell food cooking, and it's only making me hungrier by the second."
MISHA: "Come on, Hicchan, the food is already disappearing fast! If you want takoyaki, we need to move now! I could go for some takoyaki~! Come on, let's eat that!"
HISAO: "All right, I haven't had takoyaki in forever. I'm game."
NARRATOR: "Shizune takes off before Misha can even sign it back to her, briskly walking towards the takoyaki stand as Misha and I try to catch up. Misha laughs as she skips towards Shizune, who asks for three orders of takoyaki by holding up three fingers. I never noticed it before, but for someone who is so obsessed with high class tea, it's a little weird that Shizune is also so into fast food. I take the plate of takoyaki she hands me and wonder if I should dig in. It looks extremely hot. I can see the smoke coming off of it and the oil bubbling on the surface."
NARRATOR: "Shizune and Misha both look at me, as if waiting for me to eat before they can begin. I can't back down, so I spear one on the tiny plastic fork jauntily sticking up from the corner of the plate. However, before I can even put it in my mouth, Shizune and Misha begin eating eagerly, Shizune taking quick but delicate bites out of the takoyaki while Misha eats with relish like a small child. I guess at the end of the day, both of them are just kids like any other student here."
NARRATOR: "This is kind of nice. I don't think I've had a chance like this in a long time to just hang out with other people and enjoy their company. Even before coming here, I'd been going through a very busy year. So busy that I hadn't realized what I have been missing until now. Here, I feel at peace. This is a soothing atmosphere. I didn't know these kinds of festivals still existed."
MISHA: "Eh? Hicchan, you aren't going to eat your food?"
HISAO: "No, I'm going to eat it."
MISHA: "I hope you aren't chickening out because it's too hot."
HISAO: "That's not it."
NARRATOR: "Even their teasing is beginning to become endearing. I eat quickly before my food can get cold, thinking that the dimly lit paper lanterns glowing warmly against the sunset make for a beautiful sight. Before I can finish my last bite of takoyaki, Shizune steps in front of me, standing perfectly straight with her arms rigidly behind her back. I can see she's trying her best to look as serious as possible, but even she can't hide her good mood, as there is a slight smile on her face."
MISHA: "Ahahaha~! Come on, Hicchan, let's go play some games!"
HISAO: "Are they even done setting up?"
MISHA: "No, but it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter~! Come on, Hicchan, before it gets too crowded!"
NARRATOR: "Misha puts her hand on my shoulder and laughs very loudly."
MISHA: "Come on! Come on! The prizes look really great this year, really really~! Wouldn't you like to win some prizes for two cute girls like us?"
NARRATOR: "Misha flashes her best “cute” look, which is admittedly pretty cute. I look at Shizune, expecting her to do the same, but she just looks at me like I'm insane."
MISHA: "Misha, stop doing that! Wait... I'm Misha..."
MISHA: "Hicchan, hurry up, you've been holding that piece of takoyaki for like a thousand years! Hahahahaha!"
HISAO: "I like to savor everything that I eat. Even this."
NARRATOR: "Without warning, Shizune picks the takoyaki from my hand and plops it into her mouth with a smile. It happens so fast that there was no way I could have stopped her. Before I can even fully process what just happened, Misha bursts into laughter, and Shizune smiles at me, probably the closest I've ever seen her come to laughing."
MISHA: "Well, that takes care of that~! Wahaha! Hahahaha!"
NARRATOR: "Shizune grabs my right hand, and Misha grabs my left."
MISHA: "You're coming with us! There's a lot to do tonight, you should try harder to enjoy it! Hahahaha~!"
NARRATOR: "Running through an already sizable crowd of people, we play game after game, from ring toss, to whack-a-mole, to games I've never even heard of. We rarely win, but it's fun nonetheless."
HISAO: "Hey, do they have that goldfish scooping game here?"
MISHA: "Of course! I didn't know you liked that game, Hicchan!"
HISAO: "Well, I've always wanted to try it. It doesn't seem too hard."
MISHA: "Are you sure about that, Hicchan~? Wahahaha~! Okay, okay! We'll see! It should be around here somewhere!"
MISHA: "But, where are you going to keep your fish? Do you have a bowl for it?"
HISAO: "Well, no..."
MISHA: "Maybe he'll eat it!"
MISHA: "Hahahahahaha! Ahahahahahaha!! All right, Hicchan, if we win any fish, we'll give them to you!"
HISAO: "Oh, really? Another game? Fine, then."
NARRATOR: "Shizune pushes me excitedly towards the booth, trying to hide the enthusiasm in her eyes. Fortunately, the two of them fail to catch a single fish, but I don't do any better. I can't help but laugh as immediately afterwards, they start tugging me towards a particularly large, colorful stall that I helped build. I remember this one; it had been a real pain in the ass to make. The booth runner, an average-looking guy with dyed brown hair, snaps to attention when he sees us walking over."
NARRATOR: "I notice two things: First, it's one of those games where you throw a ball at a pyramid of opaque bottles and try to knock over as many as possible. Four balls for 50 yen, that's pretty good. Second, there are instructions on how to play in braille. I almost want to say something, and look to see if Shizune and Misha see it as well. Either they don't, or they don't find it strange at all."
SHIRAKI: "Hey! It's good to see you, Hakamichi! Thank you so much for your help with this booth. Having fun?"
NARRATOR: "Shizune glances towards Misha, who signs everything to her in a flash, then beams at the operator."
MISHA: "Haha~! It was nothing, nothing at all, really~! Yeah, this is great, I think the best festival we've put together yet! Shiraki, we'd like to play this, that's okay, right? Of course~, it would be really great if you would just give your cute, hard working Student Council representatives a prize, for all the hours we put in to make all of this possible!"
SHIRAKI: "Hahaha, haha... No."
NARRATOR: "If anything, Shiraki has balls."
HISAO: "Hey, I built this stall, it was a backbreaking job, too. I wasted two hours of my life, I think I deserve at least a free round."
MISHA: "And me!"
MISHA: "Me too! Ah..."
NARRATOR: "After some hesitation, he eventually gives in, and hands us each four balls with a shrug. Barely a second later, Shizune and Misha dump theirs in front of me."
HISAO: "What gives? Don't tell me that after making such a big deal out of it, you two aren't going to even play? Not after the way we ganged up on Shiraki."
MISHA: "You stay out of this, please~!"
NARRATOR: "Shizune turns to me and begins waving her hand dismissively. Misha appears torn between translating for her and consoling the booth operator."
MISHA: "Ahahaha! Hicchan, where's your sense of chivalry? Besides, I - Shicchan, have a policy against throwing balls! Ah, sorry, Hicchan. I don't know if my aim is that good, either. You must be pretty good at these things, though, right, right? It shouldn't be a problem for you!"
NARRATOR: "This looks simple enough. The bottles aren't even that far away, the only challenge is that these are wiffle balls. I throw one at the bottles hard, and it bounces off unceremoniously."
HISAO: "What the hell?"
SHIRAKI: "Ah, yeah, it's not as easy as it looks. There's water inside the bottles. Trade secret."
MISHA: "That's not very fair!"
HISAO: "This must be why it's four balls for 50 yen. How devious."
MISHA: "Come on, Hicchan, you can knock them down! You have eleven more chances! Go!"
HISAO: "Maybe you should do it. Shizune? Do you want to try?"
NARRATOR: "Shizune emphatically shakes her head from side to side. I laugh, this is actually pretty fun. Winding up, I throw another ball at the pyramid of bottles and manage to get them to budge just slightly. Both Shizune and Misha are casting longing glances towards a doll shaped like a cat."
NARRATOR: "All-in-all, they really aren't that different. Sometimes I wonder if Shizune would sound like Misha if she could talk. No, they're not that alike."
NARRATOR: "I throw another ball, realizing that it's actually quite simple. If I can hit two bottles in the bottom row at the same time, it's an easy win. Already, a small crowd is beginning to gather, so the pressure is really on me. Nine more shots. Winding up like a baseball pitcher, I throw as hard as I can and the bottles come tumbling down."
NARRATOR: "Triumphantly, I claim my girlish cat doll prize and Misha laughs uproariously as if it was her who won it. Shizune stares at me with her usual blank expression. It's clear she wants the doll too."
MISHA: "Hicchan, congratulations~! What are you going to do with that doll?"
NARRATOR: "There is no right answer. I have to tread carefully."
HISAO: "I... do not know."
MISHA: "Wellllll~ I'll take it, if you don't want it..."
MISHA: "Unless you want to keep it for yourself, Hicchan. I didn't know you liked dolls. How delicate."
HISAO: "I don't. I have no use for this."
MISHA: "Can I have it, then?"
NARRATOR: "Their eyes are drilling into my soul. This is a decision I don't want to make. I turn back to the booth."
HISAO: "Hey, you have more than one of this doll?"
SHIRAKI: "Actually, yeah, just one more."
HISAO: "Okay, set everything up again, I want to try for that one as well."
NARRATOR: "I still have eight tries. As soon as the game is set up again, I throw as hard as I can again, but miss."
MISHA: "Hahaha! Trying to win another one? Taking the easy way out, Hicchan?"
HISAO: "If it's that easy, you could try it."
MISHA: "No thanks~! Say, Hicchan, can you at least put the doll down while you throw the balls?"
MISHA: "There's only one more left, you had better get it! If you fail, I'll kill you~!"
MISHA: "What a clever way to duck out of giving me the doll, though! And by me, I mean me~!"
MISHA: "Ahahahaha~! Just kidding!"
NARRATOR: "I can see Misha didn't mean any harm from it, and Shizune seems to enjoy her joke, smiling at it, but she looks a little depressed afterwards. I decide to hand her the doll, at least while I'm trying to win the other one. It's kind of hard to aim holding a giant cat."
MISHA: "Thank you, Hicchan. Shicchan seems happy, Hicchan~! But, you're going to win one for me, too, right?"
HISAO: "That is what I'm trying to do, isn't it?"
NARRATOR: "I throw again, but my aim is way off this time. My arm feels kind of heavy as well, as if blood isn't flowing to it properly. I scold myself mentally, thinking that it's pathetic I could get tired from something like that. Then I realize maybe it's because of my heart. If it is, then I don't know what to think."
NARRATOR: "It's depressing that even something as small as this is enough to make me realize my own mortality. I guess there won't ever be a time when I'll be able to forget about it. Even today, when I thought I would be able to just enjoy myself, on this beautiful night and in this beautiful place, I can't escape the reason why I'm here. I've never felt so at peace in my life, in this place which is like nowhere else I've ever been. It's hard now to keep from thinking the unthinkable: That I may just have been sent here to die."
NARRATOR: "These past few days have been some of the best of my life. The first time in a long time that I've ever felt truly alive. But in the end, I'm someone who finds himself reminded every time he climbs too many stairs or throws a ball too hard that he could die at any second. I'll always be limited by this. I feel depressed by that, and angry as well. In the end, I care about my life, and I enjoy it, and now it's more transient than ever before. I wonder what it is that will finally do me in. It could be anything, if I'm this weak and pathetic: a bad fall, a punch to the chest, a stray baseball. I've now lost my will to keep playing this game, but I keep playing anyway."
NARRATOR: "Suddenly, I feel a split-second sensation of pain in my chest. It comes and goes instantaneously, but it's enough to make me stumble just a bit. Shizune jumps back, startled. She comes closer, staring at me with concern. Misha puts her hand on my shoulder."
MISHA: "Hey, Hicchan, are you okay?"
HISAO: "Yeah, I'm fine. I don't really feel too good right now. I think I'm sick. I don't think I can go on."
NARRATOR: "Misha frowns."
MISHA: "Don't strain yourself. If you're that sick, you'll just make yourself sicker."
MISHA: "Look, the festival is just getting started, and we've been playing games for a while. We can take a little break if you're tired. Good idea, Shicchan, I'm feeling a little tired too! I think we're all a little worn out, running all over the school, Hicchan!"
NARRATOR: "I nod. They don't seem to notice anything unusual. That's good. We walk through the sea of people, with Misha cheerfully pointing out the faces of everyone she knows. Shizune holds the stuffed cat in her arms, cradling it absentmindedly. It seems like they're having fun. Suddenly, I feel a pang of guilt. Because of my poor health, we all had to stop."
MISHA: "Hicchan, we're both feeling kinda hungry. How about you?"
HISAO: "I'm not as hungry as I could be, but I do want something to eat."
MISHA: "That's good enough, Hicchan~! So, what should we get to eat?"
HISAO: "It doesn't really matter to me."
MISHA: "Ah! How about sandwiches, then? And we'll need something to drink, too! Misha'll get everything! What?"
NARRATOR: "Shizune looks at me and smiles, and I realize she might be trying to cheer me up with a joke. I laugh."
MISHA: "Hicchan, it's getting kind of crowded, so we might not be able to eat here. It's getting kind of loud, too."
MISHA: "Maybe we should go eat up on the roof."
HISAO: "That's fine with me. It might be a nice view, and there could be a little breeze."
MISHA: "Okay then! I guess I should get the food and drinks now... So I'll see you two then~!"
NARRATOR: "Misha gives a clumsy wave and then runs off. Before, I didn't notice how the paper lanterns look illuminating the dark night, but now that I'm able to see it, it's really an amazing sight. Fireflies float overhead, their soft glow making it look as if it's snowing lights in the night sky. This type of thing would be impossible to see in the city."
NARRATOR: "Shizune tugs at my sleeve impatiently and crosses her arms, frowning as if to show displeasure at me for getting distracted."
HISAO: "You know I don't know how to read sign language."
NARRATOR: "Come to think of it, isn't it kind of stupid of me to have said that to a deaf person? She wouldn't have heard it. I shrug, hoping to show her that I don't understand. Shizune shakes her head and dismisses it with a wave of her hand. Maybe I should get around to asking Misha for some lessons on sign language. Climbing up onto the roof, I find myself in awe again at the sheer size of this school. The grounds are so expansive I can't believe I hadn't realized it before. As I walk across the roof, trailing behind Shizune, I can't help but be taken in by the stars shining in the sky."
NARRATOR: "Shizune and I sit down on a bench. She seems like she's in a good mood as she smiles softly while the breeze blows through her hair. We look down at the festival, which looks like a sea of glowing amber lanterns and waving paper fans teeming with people, some of them festively dressed in yukata."
NARRATOR: "In fact, most of the girls seem to be wearing yukata. I wonder why Shizune and Misha didn't dress up today. The two of them would look nice in yukata. I briefly think about what types they would wear. Shizune would likely go with something traditional. However, Misha is a bit harder to place. Misha arrives, panting as she runs to us, trying to keep the food in her arms from falling. Setting everything on the ground, she lets herself drop backwards."
MISHA: "Ahahahahahahahahaha~! That took awhile! Come on, you two didn't tell me what you wanted, so I got some rice punch, some sandwiches, and some candy, too! A little bit of everything!"
HISAO: "That's great. Let's dig in."
NARRATOR: "Misha takes a bite out of a small, triangular sandwich."
MISHA: "So, Hicchan, what do you think of the festival? It's nice, isn't it?"
MISHA: "The stars are nice tonight. This couldn't have been a more perfect day."
NARRATOR: "The sound of people talking below us is like faint music alongside the chirping of crickets in the distance. I take a sip from the can of punch and look over at Misha, who looks as if she's sleeping comfortably with her back stretched out and a half-full can of apple juice balanced on her stomach. Shizune sits with her legs drawn close to her, rocking back and forth slowly like an impatient child as she stares up at the sky. The two of them are so cute. I look around and can see many students holding hands with their girlfriends or their boyfriends. Not too far from us on this roof, there are couples gazing up at the stars or down at the lights of the festival, holding each other's hand. A part of me wants that."
NARRATOR: "Looking at Shizune and Misha, I wonder if maybe I should ask one of them out some day. I wonder if it would be worth the risk. The golden hands moving across the face of the delicate watch on Shizune's wrist catch my eye, and I see that it's getting kind of late. But the festivities are still going strong. Shizune is still holding the stuffed cat I won by the paw. She notices me looking at it."
NARRATOR: "Offhandedly, she offers it to me. I smile, wanting to ask her what I would do with it, but she wouldn't be able to understand me. I shake my head and try my best to tell her to keep it, hoping she'll understand. As I look out towards the school, I can see before me so many people, all of which are happy and cheerful. Watching them makes me feel content. This really was something. Today was worth it. But I still can't shake the feelings of guilt and melancholy from earlier, they keep hanging onto me, and I can't let them go. Shizune signs something to me, and I can't understand her. No matter what I say, she won't be able to hear me."
HISAO: "I can't understand you, Shizune. Well, whatever. I wonder if we both consider ourselves at fault for this. Anyway, I'm sorry for not being able to understand. You know, I'm almost, almost glad that you tried to coerce me into coming here. If I attempt to date you, though, I might have to think more about that side of you. No, actually... I'm glad. Today was nice. You would be cuter if you smiled more, you have a nice smile."
NARRATOR: "Frustrated, she stands up, arms behind her back, looking authoritative and confident against the backdrop of stars. Suddenly, Shizune throws her arms out towards the open sky, seeming to hold it between her hands. It's as if she's telling me to look at everything in front of me: The school, bathed with the festival's glow and lit up with the colorful yukata, the roof illuminated by fireflies, the sky so vast that it imposes the feeling of awe onto you. What does she want? It slowly dawns on me with time. This beautiful scene before me is proof that there are things wonderful enough that spoiling them with a bad mood would be unforgivable. And I can feel the weight of Shizune's personality pressing the point further."
HISAO: "Thanks, I guess."
NARRATOR: "I look away, but then Shizune grabs me by the shoulder, her watch brushing against my cheek. With her left hand, she points up at the sky. With faint pops, fireworks begin to go off in the sky, each one spreading a shower of bright colors that slowly fade into the dark. I can't even recall the last time I saw fireworks at all, much less a display this large. Not to mention it seems that they're being launched from the school; it's almost impossible to believe. The lights in the sky mingle with a second salvo from the town below, and they seem timed to complement each other like two parts of a duet. They continue for maybe fifteen more minutes, and then stop. Shizune realizes her hand is still on my shoulder and withdraws it carefully, looking a little uncomfortable."
NARRATOR: "Regaining her composure, she grins, with her hands on her hips and her chest thrust out in front of her. It's in these moments that she seems most like a regular teenage girl. Energetic, happy, and carefree. I eat thoughtfully with Shizune, the two of us looking out at the gradually thinning crowds below in silence. She sits leaning forward slightly, her chin resting softly on her hands and a contented look on her face with just a hint of wistfulness. All the while still gently holding on to the stuffed cat's paw. I start feeling tired and I tell her that I'll see her and Misha tomorrow, without even realizing that she can't hear me, and then start walking back to the dorms."
NARRATOR: "I feel warm and alive, even in this chilly night air. The image of Shizune standing forcefully before the stars themselves, denying my self-pity, does not leave my mind easily. If... if it only takes a moment for there to be love, I think I may be falling in love with her. Just a little bit."
END OF ACT 1