NARRATOR: "Although I can't help remembering the nurse's warning that I might not like what she has to say. Do I really need to know that badly? What if it's something awful that makes me repulsed by her? Can I really say that I'm prepared to handle whatever she has to say, regardless of what it is? Emi said she wanted to tell me “without screwing it up.” What the hell did she mean by that? What's there to screw up? I suppose there's not much use worrying about it, though. I'll find out today. It occurs to me that I really, really need a run this morning, to clear my head if nothing else."
NARRATOR: "Emi is waiting for me as promised, looking a little haggard but otherwise bright and cheerful. Much more so than any previous day this week."
EMI: "Hisao! You're late!"
NARRATOR: "I wave my hand dismissively."
HISAO: "Nonsense! You're just early."
NARRATOR: "Emi grins back, and it feels like we're finally back where we should be with one another. Except now Emi, not just me, wants to take another step forward. Although a part of me worries that she'll back out at the last second."
EMI: "Hurry up and stretch, Hisao! I don't want to miss the bus!"
HISAO: "The bus?"
EMI: "Yeah, the bus. I want to show you something, and I don't want to be late."
HISAO: "Oh, okay."
NARRATOR: "I try not to grin too wide. I'm happy beyond words that Emi wants to hang out after the run at all, but her promise of showing me something has me even more intrigued."NARRATOR: "Is this what she had to think about? I wonder just what she's planning to do."
EMI: "I said I wanted you to come back to my house, remember? And I promised mom we'd be there in time for lunch, so I wanted to hurry!"
HISAO: "Early start, huh?"
EMI: "It's more for my mom's benefit than anything else."
HISAO: "Ah, well that's okay."NARRATOR: "I unsuccessfully try to guess what Emi has planned, shortly before realizing that it doesn't matter that much to me."
NARRATOR: "I quickly go through my warm up routine while Emi bounces impatiently from one foot to the other. She really does seem to want to get moving as soon as possible. The run is over so quickly I can barely believe that I haven't fallen over dead afterwards. Emi set a blistering pace and I, in my foolishness, kept up with her. Well, until the last few laps. I had to slow down just in case. But I don't mind, and Emi's waiting patiently for me when I finish. As patiently as she can wait, anyway."
EMI: "Finished? Good! Come on!"
NARRATOR: "Grabbing my arm, she practically rushes me down to the nurse's office."
NURSE: "You seem in a hurry, Emi. Trying to catch the early bus?"
EMI: "Yeah, I told mom I'd be back for lunch."
NURSE: "Well, I'll take care of you first, then."
EMI: "But Hisao's gotta come with me too!"
NARRATOR: "The nurse raises a single eyebrow at this statement and peers at the two of us searchingly."
NURSE: "Really? Today, huh?"
NARRATOR: "Emi's response is a nod, followed by a surprisingly shy grin."
NURSE: "Well then, we'll make this quick."
NARRATOR: "Emi enters the nurse's office, and I patiently wait outside for her to be finished, wondering just why the nurse seemed to be surprised by Emi's declaration. I feel like I'm missing out on some joke or the significance of today. Beyond the fact that it is clearly significant in some way, of course. True to his word, the nurse has Emi out of his office surprisingly quickly, and I take her place after promising to meet up at the front gate. The nurse takes my pulse and listens for a bit."
NURSE: "Your heartbeat's faster than usual. Been pushing yourself again, have you?"
HISAO: "Well, Emi seemed in a rush to get through the run, so..."
NURSE: "Hm, I'm not surprised. Today is rather important to her, you know."
HISAO: "I suspected that could be the case, but I have no idea why that's the case."
NURSE: "She hasn't told you? Interesting."
HISAO: "So you're not going to tell me either, then."
NURSER: "No, I'm not. I suspect that Emi has her own plan for explaining today to you, and I don't want to mess with that. You'll find out soon enough, so what's the rush? Now as for your heart, I would take it easy the rest of the day. No spontaneous races or anything like that, got it?"
HISAO: "Got it. She won't have her running legs on anyway, right?"
NURSE: "No, but if you think something like that is going to stop her..."
HISAO: "Good point."
NURSE: "I don't think it'll be much of an issue today of all days, but still."
NARRATOR: "If he's trying to reassure me, he's doing a terrible job. I'm quickly becoming more and more worried about what today could be for, like suddenly finding out Emi's in a cult or something. At the same time, if today is such a big deal and Emi wants me to be with her for it, then maybe she really does want to grow closer to me. Maybe this will be the answer to all the riddles, to the sleepless nights and the sudden mood swings. Either way, I barely remember to thank the nurse before taking off as quickly as I dare for my room, to get a shower and throw on some decent-looking clothes. If today is as important as it seems to be, I should dress appropriately. Emi, of course, proves me wrong as soon as I reach the front gate, wearing her usual shirt and shorts. So at least I know it's not a terribly formal affair, whatever it is."
EMI: "You're early, Hisao."
HISAO: "Not as early as you. Eager, are we?"
NARRATOR: "Emi cheekily pokes out her tongue. The bus stop isn't very crowded at this hour, which seems to please Emi, and we end up relaxing a little as we wait. We sit in silence for a while, but I can tell that Emi's trying to work herself up to say something. I don't have anything to say myself, so I sit waiting for her to talk. It doesn't take too long."
EMI: "So uh, I'm sure you're curious as to why the nurse thought it was so weird for me to be bringing you along today..."
HISAO: "I was a bit, yes, but if you're not ready to tell me—"
NARRATOR: "Emi stops my sentence by placing a finger on my lips."
EMI: "Don't tempt me, Hisao. I want to tell you this, but I'm just uncertain as to how to go about it. I don't want to keep delaying or deferring, I just want to be able to say it."
HISAO: "So say it."
EMI: "You know that it's not going to be that easy for me, Hisao."
HISAO: "So treat it like running. Warm up to it with something small and easy, and go from there. But don't do it too fast, okay? I'm a patient man, I can wait for you to get to it."
NARRATOR: "Emi seems to consider my words, weighing them against what is probably a desire to get it over with. I will admit, as much as I keep telling Emi to take her time, I wouldn't mind her getting it over with either. But somehow I know that Emi probably needs more time than the bus ride will provide to get it all out, whatever it is."
EMI: "Yeah, maybe you're right. The bus stop probably isn't the best place for this anyway. But just to make sure that I don't go back on my word, I'll at least say this:"
NARRATOR: "She takes a deep breath, lets it out, and after a moment says in a low voice,"
EMI: "We're going to see my dad today."
NARRATOR: "The words hang in the air, and I can see that Emi's afraid that I'll panic and disappear in response. Which a part of me almost wants to do. But it would be stupid of me to back out, or to suddenly abandon the promise I made to be there for Emi when she needs me. The nurse thought it was so weird of her to bring me along. She doesn't bring anyone along, or at least I'm willing to bet that she hasn't before today. The day seems to take on an even greater significance. What has it taken Emi to even get this far?"
NARRATOR: "And why is that the best I can manage as a response?"
HISAO: "I uh, I don't know what I should say."
EMI: "Nothing, I think. Just promise that you're going to come with me."
HISAO: "Of course! You know I will."
NARRATOR: "Emi smiles wanly, looking a little relieved."
EMI: "Good. In that case, we'd better get going."
NARRATOR: "The bus pulls up just a little after she finishes the sentence. Vague memories of my first trip out here come to mind as I step off the bus, but unfortunately, they're too vague to be of any use. I will be the first to admit that I don't quite recall how to get to Emi's house, so I let her lead the way. She seems content to walk in silence, and I myself have no idea what I could possibly say, so the two of us arrive at her house having said nothing since getting off the bus. Emi's mother opens the door and doesn't seem surprised to see me standing next to her daughter. I expect that Emi would have phoned ahead to let her mother know of the change in plans."
MEIKO: "Emi, Hisao, you're just in time! Lunch is just about ready."
EMI: "Great! I was afraid we might be running late."
HISAO: "As fast as you were going this morning, I doubt there was much of a chance of that."
MEIKO: "I certainly hope she wasn't too much of a bother, Hisao. She tends to get a little paranoid about being on time when food's involved."
HISAO: "I hadn't noticed."
NARRATOR: "This earns me a swat on the arm from Emi, who despite the serious nature of our conversation on the bus and the almost brooding quiet walk has quickly become cheerful again. Probably to keep her mother from worrying about whatever it is Emi plans to tell me later. Mrs. Ibarazaki ushers us in, and in short order we're around the table devouring lunch. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I got here, but for once I seem to be eating almost as much as Emi."
MEIKO: "Goodness, it's a good thing I made so much. The two of you are acting like you haven't eaten in days!"
HISAO: "I skipped breakfast this morning."
EMI: "Me too."
MEIKO: "Had to catch the bus, I assume?"
EMI: "That and I figured you'd make too much food so it wouldn't matter if I skipped breakfast."
MEIKO: "Well, it's good to know that I'm predictable."
NARRATOR: "Emi nods enthusiastically, and conversation falls off again as we very nearly clear the table of anything edible. It is a testament to the sheer amount of food on offer that we don't finish everything. I lean back in my chair with a sigh and thank Mrs. Ibarazaki for the food."
MEIKO: "I'm glad you liked it, Hisao. Now, has Emi told you where we're going?"
HISAO: "Yeah, sort of. Is it far from here?"
EMI: "Not really, but we'll drive there to save time. It closes kind of early."
NARRATOR: "I nod in assent and stand up, ready to go."
HISAO: "Well then, shall we?"
NARRATOR: "Mrs. Ibarazaki nods and leaves the room to grab her keys. Emi, I notice, has started to fidget nervously."
HISAO: "Second thoughts?"
NARRATOR: "Emi smiles tightly at me and shrugs. She's fallen silent again, which probably means that I'm right, and she is starting to regret bringing me along. Not that I blame her; she's done such a good job of shutting me out that I doubt it's easy to suddenly open up. Honestly, I'm worried that she's forcing it. But she said while waiting for the bus that I'm not supposed to give her a chance to back out, and since I promised to go with her anyway, I suppose there's not much of a choice. I can't go back on my promise, and she can't go back on hers. I just hope the both of us are up to it."
MEIKO: "We're off!"
NARRATOR: "Emi's mother blows through the dining room, collects the two of us, and heads out the door at a brisk pace. Now I know where her daughter gets it from. The car pulls up at the cemetery gates, and I feel Emi tense up beside me. I reach over and give her hand a comforting squeeze, which causes her to relax a little. Emi's mother doesn't follow us, explaining that she prefers to visit the grave alone. Emi steps through the gates and looks back, as if to make sure I'm still there. We step into the cemetery."
NARRATOR: "I don't feel comfortable in cemeteries. Gravestones litter the ground, each one serving as a reminder that someone used to be alive and is no longer. How many died young? How many were as old as I am now? When do I wind up with a marker of my own? How much longer do I have left? The concept of not waking up, not seeing Emi any more, is not a happy one. It frightens me, and I very nearly turn around and exit right then and there. I don't want to go among dead people, I don't want to see their stones and think about who they were or what they could have been if they'd only had more time. hen I look at the girl next to me, and my resolve returns. Emi's striding purposefully down the path, eyes clear, setting a pace that's very nearly a jog. The sooner we get there, I suspect she thinks, the better."
EMI: "We're here."
NARRATOR: "A gravestone, wholly unremarkable in everything except for the name etched upon it. The grass has grown up around the base. Emi's eyes are riveted to the stone. After a few moments she turns around, looking surprisingly calm, yet solemn."
EMI: "Pink's not actually my favorite color, you know."
HISAO: "Er, what?"
EMI: "I'm warming up to it."
EMI: "People tend to think that pink's my favorite color. I think it's because I like strawberries, and even though those are red they just assume that pink's the right color for strawberries. And that it's my favorite color. But it's not. I'm too polite to tell anyone otherwise, of course, and it's not the kind of thing worth getting worried about, but I'll bet even you thought pink was my favorite color. Blue. That's my favorite color. My mom and dad are the only two who know that, and now you do too."
HISAO: "Thanks for telling me, I think."
EMI: "You're welcome."
NARRATOR: "There's a pause as she considers what to say next, drawing a quick breath."
EMI: "I can't carry a tune to save my life. I can hum, but actually singing a song is something I've never been able to do. I don't mind, because I'm not a fan of karaoke anyway."
HISAO: "Well that's one potential date idea out the window."
EMI: "People all think that I'm a really popular and friendly person, but I only have a few close friends. Probably because I keep everyone in the dark, but I think it's also because I hate the idea of losing a close friend. There aren't many people worth the risk. I'm terrible at saying goodbye. I sometimes think that I only run because it's what I used to do with my father. You're not my first boyfriend. I dated a guy for a long while during my second year at Yamaku, but in the end we broke up, because I didn't want to get closer to him. He couldn't live with that distance between us."
NARRATOR: "Her rate of speaking increases slightly, as if she's rushing towards a finish line."
EMI: "I'm actually one year older than you. Everybody thinks I'm younger because I'm short, but I had to skip one school year because of my accident. They initially thought I was paralyzed when they pulled me out of the wreckage. I'd lost my legs already, but they were afraid that I wouldn't even be able to use what was left of them. After surgery, it was clear that their initial assessment was mistaken. I couldn't feel my legs because of shock. Short term paralysis due to the other trauma I'd experienced. My recovery was one of the fastest they'd ever seen, or so they told me. I never found out if they were serious about that or if they told that to all the patients learning to walk again. I..."
NARRATOR: "She pauses, gathering herself for one last effort."
EMI: "Eight years ago today, I lost my legs. And I lost my father as well. He died on the way to the hospital. I didn't even get to go to the gravesite until two months later, and couldn't attend his funeral."
HISAO: "I'm so sorry."
EMI: "Don't be. That's what everyone always says, that they're sorry. I hate hearing that. Like anyone could have done anything to change what happened. You know the best piece of advice I got? “These things happen.” I don't even remember who said it, but I guess they didn't have anything better to say. But it's true, you know? These things happen, and there's nothing you can do about it. They aren't necessarily planned, and they aren't always bad, and they aren't always good, but they are. So I made the decision that I would live without worrying about the future. And to be sure that I never had to say goodbye again, I decided I wouldn't let people get close to me any more. After all, they could be taken away at any time. And you know what?"
NARRATOR: "She laughs, a little bitterly. Her eyes start to well up with tears, and I step forward to embrace her but she holds up a hand to stop me."
EMI: "M'not finished."
NARRATOR: "A deep breath, and she continues."
EMI: "It worked pretty well! Until I met you and saw that you were trying to adjust to stuff here, so I thought I'd help and then you were so nice and I couldn't help it, I just..."
NARRATOR: "The tears are flowing now, and she accepts the embrace this time. The rest of her sentence is mumbled into my chest."
EMI: "I tried not to fall for you, but I did. And then I tried to keep you at a distance, like with my first boyfriend, but I couldn't. But I've been so scared, because I don't want to lose you and I might anyway—"
HISAO: "Hey, I'm still around, right? And maybe I won't be forever, but don't you think it'll be fun while it lasts? Neither of us could survive the day, there could be a bus crash or something, but so long as I know that I've been with you, I don't think it matters."
NARRATOR: "A sudden thought strikes me, and I can't help laughing. My condition had me scared of dying so badly that I immediately seized on the opportunity Emi presented to improve my odds of living longer. But without Emi, would there have been any motivation to keep up with my running? It hits me that Emi is the reason I want to go running every day, so I can spend as much time with her as possible. Emi looks up at me, confused."
HISAO: "We'll go on living until we stop. And when we stop living we'll be able to know that at least we've had time together, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Because I love you, Emi, and right now that's enough for me."
NARRATOR: "Emi smiles through her tears, and steps back from me."
EMI: "You know, it's funny."
HISAO: "What is?"
EMI: "I thought that the best way to live in the moment was to do it alone. But now, I don't think I'd have it any other way either. I'm glad I met you, Hisao."
HISAO: "Well, these things happen."
NARRATOR: "Emi and I stay by the grave for a while, as Emi pays her respects to her father. When she's ready to go, we exit the graveyard side by side."
Next Scene: Hooray for Socks