MISHA: "Ya-hooo~! It's all over!"
NARRATOR: "It would appear that not everyone is affected by the post-festival depression. The rest of the class glare at her, obviously thinking the same thing I am. Misha, still frozen in the doorway with her arms still in the air, nervously looks around. It's obvious that she senses the foul mood, but can't work out exactly what to do. Suddenly, she jerks forward."
NARRATOR: "As she stumbles into the classroom, she reveals Shizune, arm still extended from where she shoved Misha."
HISAO: "Thanks for the entertainment, but shouldn't you two take your seats?"
show shizu behind_frown with charachange
NARRATOR: "Still slightly embarrassed, Misha takes a few seconds to realize she has to translate."
MISHA: "Oh! Yeah! Shicchan says she's not happy with you ditching us last week. We were really busy!"
HISAO: "Is that so? What about the stuff I already did for you two?"
MISHA: "She says that only counts for council members. Since you declined, she doesn’t owe you anything."
NARRATOR: "Misha leans closer, and whispers conspiratorially into my ear."
MISHA: "Actually, I think she's just a little sore that you didn’t spend the day with her. She's really thankful for your work last week though."
NARRATOR: "Sensing that she is being talked about, Shizune lightly raps her fingers on her desk until Misha turns around to face her. I can't understand any of the fast-paced signing that's going on, but from Shizune's slightly embarrassed expression, and Misha's poorly contained laughter, I can guess. While this exchange is happening, the door opens once again, but this time at a much more reasonable pace. Hanako quietly enters the room, and pulls the door closed behind her. Peering out from under her hair, she quickly scans the classroom. Our eyes meet, and she suddenly stiffens. She closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and then walks over to my desk."
HANAKO: "G... good morning Hisao."
HISAO: "Morning Hanako. You're a little late, aren't you?"
HANAKO: "I... was talking to Lilly. A-about today."
HISAO: "Ah, so you've got her list then? We can leave straight after classes in that case."
HISAO: "I'm looking forward to it."
NARRATOR: "Hanako briefly flashes her embarrassed smile at me then hurries off to her seat. During classes, it becomes apparent that it's not only the students that are a little despondent after the festival. Mutou simply gives us a list of exercises from the textbook and then sits behind his desk. I totally forget about the brief lunch period for a moment, such is the banality of the day. It's mind-numbing, and everyone seems surprised when the bells signal the end of the lessons. As I am packing up my bags, Shizune and Misha flank and entrap me."
MISHA: "Say, Hicchan, it's still not too late to join up. There's a lot of post-festival paperwork for us to complete..."
HISAO: "Er, sorry Misha, I've... got plans..."
NARRATOR: "As if sensing the cue, Hanako appears behind me, holding a small bag, and trying to avoid eye contact with the outside world. Misha's eyes open wide, then she bursts into laughter."
MISHA: "BWAHAHA! You move fast, don't you Hicchan~? We won't disturb your date any further! Bwahahaha!"
NARRATOR: "Behind the roaring Misha, I see Shizune taking far too little interest in the scene. I might be taking this the wrong way, but I think she's deliberately ignoring me. I feel a gentle tug on my shirt, and turn to see Hanako's eyes fixed firmly on the floor."
HANAKO: "L... let's..."
HISAO: "Got ya. Shizune, Misha, I'll see you later. And I'm still not interested in the council."
NARRATOR: "Misha and Shizune retreat into the hallway, happily signing to each other."
HISAO: "Got all your stuff? Let's head off."
NARRATOR: "Floods of students pour out of the school gates and onto the road into town. It's a little weird. It's almost a scene from any other high school, but the illusion fades because of the occasional wheelchair or missing limb. One thing I do notice is that nobody is alone."
NARRATOR: "And, as Hanako and I pass through the gates, I notice that she closes the distance between us. Not enough to be considered “close”, but she certainly isn't at her usual just-a-little-far position. I guess we're not familiar enough for her to get as close as she does with Lilly. However, even though she has moved a little closer to me physically, mentally she seems to have traveled a mile. Her hands clutched around the leather straps of her bag to the point of whitening her knuckles, her head down and her mouth pursed closed. She almost looks like she's being walked to the Principal's office for the first time. I try to stifle a giggle at the thought, but it is futile."
HANAKO: "W-what's the matter...?"
NARRATOR: "I guess there's no point in hiding it..."
HISAO: "Sorry. For a second there it looked like you were getting in trouble."
HANAKO: "W-w-what do you mean?"
HISAO: "I think you need to relax a little. We're not going too far, and it's only students around, right?"
NARRATOR: "It bothers me a little to see Hanako so worked up."
HISAO: "And you do this every week, don't you?"
HANAKO: "Y-yes. With Lilly."
NARRATOR: "Of course. “With Lilly.” I wonder, has she ever left the school without her? It doesn't seem like much at first glance, but Hanako's dependence on Lilly is absurdly heavy. If she can't even handle leaving the school without her, how would she have managed to survive if the two had never met? Would she have found someone else to latch on to? And what drew her to Lilly? Was it her lack of eyesight, or was Lilly just kind enough to lend a hand? I wonder if anyone would have fit the bill."
HISAO: "Well, I'm here. Besides, we're not going far. It'll be over before you know it."
NARRATOR: "Hanako's knuckles slowly regain their color as she tries to hide a small smile, but the effort of that seems to prevent further conversation. We travel, side by side, down the winding road towards the town. The crowd of students thins as we continue along the sidewalk. Faster students rush ahead, and the less mobile ones fall behind, rarefying the crowd into nothingness. By the time we reach the convenience store we are practically alone. Using me as a shield between herself and the attendant, Hanako moves through the narrow aisles, adding an assortment of items to her basket. Bread, milk, tea... thyme? What kind of convenience store sells herbs?"
NARRATOR: "Then again, nothing about this town seems normal, which may not be such a bad thing in retrospect. Everything is so different and uncomfortable; dwelling on such matters isn't really an option. When I think about that, it reminds me of Hanako. No matter how much you try, you can't escape her scars; they still interrupt my train of thought when I see them. As much as I don't want to admit it to myself, I think I'm forcing myself to try to ignore them. Not that I am scar-free myself. The jagged line down my sternum will never completely fade away. I just have the luxury of being able to hide it easily. But, in a way, both of our scars remind me that we're all in this place for a reason."
NARRATOR: "Hanako throws one last item into her basket then sheepishly holds it out to me, along with a few bank notes."
HANAKO: "C-c-could you p-please..."
NARRATOR: "It takes me a second to understand what she's trying to say."
HISAO: "Oh, you want me to pay for this?"
NARRATOR: "She nods, but doesn't look up. I guess this task falls to Lilly on the usual occasions."
HISAO: "Sure. Lemme just grab a couple of things..."
NARRATOR: "Hastily I grab a few essential items for myself and head for the counter with Hanako in close tow. The attendant gives me an indifferent nod as he scans in the items. I suppose just ignoring us is one way to deal with the anomalies of Yamaku; they must get a lot of students here, being the closest store to the school. The staff must all have their own way of dealing with us. Or maybe they don't; maybe it's only me who thinks twice about my unique schoolmates. Our transaction complete, Hanako and I head back out onto the street. The road is pretty much abandoned now. The students that were heading out have already left, and nobody has started returning just yet. And, with only the school ahead on the road, there doesn't seem to be anyone else around. The emptiness certainly reflects on Hanako; her arms by her sides each carrying a bag, her head no longer bowed, and back to the upright position... It's almost as if she were enjoying this walk."
HISAO: "So, why all these weird things? Mixed Spice? Why would you need that in school?"
HANAKO: "I... sometimes... like to m-make food."
HISAO: "Well, yeah, so do I but... spices? That's a little more advanced, don't you think?"
HANAKO: "N-not really."
HISAO: "Well, I think it's cool. You'll have to teach me one day."
NARRATOR: "She doesn't seem all that sure, but pushing the point doesn't seem all that wise. At the very least, she seems a great deal happier than she did on the walk down here. That alone makes me a little happier. Outside the girls' dorm, Hanako and I sort out the grocery bags with our respective purchases. In comparison, my things look positively plain."
HISAO: "I tell you, you're putting me to shame here..."
HANAKO: "N-no I'm not... I just..."
HISAO: "I'm only joking. I have a stack of homework that I skipped last week, so I must leave now. Will you be all right getting that to your room?"
HISAO: "Sure? Okay then. I'll see you tomorrow."
NARRATOR: "We part ways, and I return to my room. Piles of papers sit upon my desk, begging to be completed. With the entire ruckus of the last week, I've barely had any time to catch up. I tried to keep up with my studies while I was in the hospital, but some of this stuff I've never seen before, even back in my old school. Totally unprepared, I pop the top on a can of drink, and get to work."
Next Scene: Tea Leaves