Act 1: Life Expectancy
Scene 1: Detour
This takes place in Act 1 immediately after the scene It Builds Character, where Hisao has a conversation with Mutou about learning to deal with the disabilities of the other students. Misha barges in and asks for help finding plywood and other supplies, and Mutou encourages Hisao to give her a hand. Instead of heading right down to the art room (where he meets Rin) he instead decides to start his search in a different area.
Aaaaand I'm lost.
Overall, it's not that bad. I just got here to Yamaku a few days ago, and with the process of settling in, I haven't had much of a chance to look around the campus yet. Ever since I introduced myself to the class, Shizune and Misha seem to have been monopolizing what little free time I have. I appreciate them making the effort to make me feel welcome, but it can be more than a little exhausting.
This time though, I'm thankful for their interruption; Misha barging in saved me from a what was shaping up to be a fairly uncomfortable conversation with Mutou. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to help Misha find what she needed, without stopping to think how much knowledge of my surroundings I would need to actually do this.
Thus the reason I'm wandering aimlessly around campus.
I find myself actually enjoying the walk around the grounds. I haven't been able to do much walking at all in the last few months, and the afternoon sun on my skin and slight breeze running over me make me close my eyes and inhale the clean air deeply in appreciation. It's such a stark contrast from the environment that was my existence until only recently; the overly filtered sterile air that always had an undertone of harsh chemicals and antiseptic, and the precisely controlled temperature with no variation at all.
When was the last time I did this? It feels like a lifetime ago.
I let my breath out in a heavy sigh, opening my eyes to look around me and take stock.
Yamaku is actually larger than one would think a normal school would be, and much larger than my old one. I'm not sure just how large it is yet. I've seen glimpses of a running track and athletic field out of the window in class, and there are a few other buildings scattered around the garden than just the dorms and the two I've been in. I know the important things like my classroom in the main building, the dorms, the cafeteria, and the nurse's office in one of the auxiliary buildings. Nurse and the dynamic duo mentioned something about a swimming pool as well. Maybe I'll find it if I keep wandering around.
As I walk down the pathway towards the building that houses Nurse's office, I begin to think a bit more about the school and the people I've met so far, reflecting on Mutou's words. I stumbled in on Lilly, and that was...pretty nice, actually. It was the first time since I got to Yamaku that I actually was able to let my guard down and relax a bit. I had a very brief conversation with Hanako in the library and then spoke with Yuuko, who can only be described as “intriguing.” Then there's Kenji...
I decide I don't want to think about Kenji right now, and decide it would probably be wise to follow that policy as much as possible in the future.
I stop in front of the auxiliary building, next to a large tree planted in a hole in the concrete sidewalk. There are a few here in a line, almost as if forming a barrier between this building and the rest of the school. I see a few students milling about by themselves or casually talking in groups of two or three. Considering the school day is over, maybe they belong to the clubs I was hearing about?
Another glance at the front of the building has me seeing a sign emblazoned over the main entrance that I didn't notice yesterday.
“Performing arts center. Huh,” I mumble to myself. I can’t see how I missed that earlier. I look down at the list Misha had given me, giving it a thorough read for the first time. Even if I can find all this stuff, how am I supposed to lug it back to the student council room?
I scratch my head while taking a moment to ponder. This is
the performing arts wing. Maybe if Yamaku has a theatre department, they'll have some plywood for their sets or know where to get some. If I'm lucky I'll find an art classroom here as well since Shizune specified she needed no less than five different colors of paint.
“Excuse me,” says a timid voice behind me. “Are you lost?”
Startled out of my musing, I turn around and see the source of the voice. One of the female students is staring at me with a slightly quizzical amused look on her face.
“Um,” I manage to stammer out, “...I guess I am. I'm new here.”
“What are you looking for?” she asks, not unkindly, with a quick look down at the paper I'm holding. Her head tilts to the side for a second, waiting for a response.
It certainly can't hurt to ask.
“I guess I'm an errand boy for the student council right now. They sent me to fetch a few things they need for the festival stall, and I was trying to figure out where to find them,” I say, somewhat sheepishly. She gives a small nod of acknowledgment and holds out her free hand expectantly for the list. As I give it to her, I get a few seconds to look at her and see why she only has one free hand.
She's a few centimeters shorter than me, with a cute face framed by light chestnut hair that reaches down just past her shoulders. She's wearing the standard Yamaku uniform, but instead of white stockings like Lilly or black stockings like Hanako, she's wearing a pair of dark black socks that come up to just below her knees, and standard brown shoes...which aren't alone in touching the ground. My eyes shift to her left hand, and the cane she holds.
Unlike Lilly's which is very skinny and used for guidance, this one looks like it's built more for support, especially from the fact the loop on the handle is firmly encircling her wrist.
The most striking feature, though, are a pair of honey colored eyes peeking out from under her neatly brushed bangs. They're filled with an eagerness and intensity as they fly over the paper, practically twinkling as the gears in her brain turn.
“Well,” she says, fixing that gaze on me and handing me the list back, “you can probably find most of this in one of the art rooms.” It's said lightly, but that look of amusement hasn't left her eyes yet.
Strangely, I find it disarming.
“I thought as much,” I reply, “but I'm not quite sure where that is. I thought it may be in this building, since it says 'arts' right in the title.”
She laughs. “A lot of people think that, but this isn't where the art rooms are. This is for the theatre and musical departments. Drama, band, things like that. That's why that side of the building is so large,” she says, pointing towards its far end. “That's the main auditorium for different performances and school assemblies. We call it 'the PAC' for short.” She brushes a stray lock of hair back over her ear, revealing a small red earring dangling down. “There's also the main medical offices at the other end.”
“Ah, yeah. I've already met the nurse,” I explain. “He's...interesting.”
She laughs again. “Oh you don't know the half of it. He has a bit of a reputation around here. I can show you where the main art room is. I'm in the art club and I need to head there anyway.” She pauses for a second, looking at me expectantly. “I just need to grab one thing here first, if you don't mind waiting.”
“That would be great, actually. I still don't know my way around this place yet. It's only my third day,” I explain apologetically. “Yamaku is a lot larger than I expected.”
“If there's anything you want to know, just ask. It's pretty easy to get around once you know the place. Here, I'll show you what's inside.”
She starts to head towards the lobby door, with me easily falling into place beside her. I can't help but notice the very slight limp she has, but also the practiced ease with which she moves with it. I suddenly realize that I've gotten this far in a conversation and don't even know who I'm talking to.
“Thanks,” I say, maybe a little too formally. “You know, I didn't get your name.”
“It's Saki,” she replies, turning her head towards me and smiling. “Saki Enomoto. What's yours?”
“Hisao Nakai,” I give, trying to match the genuine tone in her voice with my own and finding it surprisingly easy. I take a step ahead and pull open the door for her.
“Pleased to meet you, and thank you,” she says as she steps through, with me following closely behind.
The foyer is modest yet airy as I look around, with a few scattered chair and benches, a wall with a brightly painted mural, and large doorways leading off to other areas of the building. I see a few others sitting around the room, either chatting in hushed tones with their peers or their noses intently in books. Two look up and wave in our direction, and Saki waves back.
“This way,” she gestures, moving towards the door on her right. I see the lettering on it right before she opens it, indicating it's the music room.
“I'll only take a minute. I hope I'm not keeping you from anything.”
“Don't worry, I have nowhere else to be, really.”
Saki pulls open the door before I have a chance to open it for her, and quickly slips inside. I use the brief lull to look around and take in my surroundings. The corkboard on the wall next to me draws my attention, and I choose to study it for a few seconds.
It looks like the festival is mentioned about half a dozen times. It seems that everyone in the school is getting involved in one way or another, and I guess it only makes sense that the performing arts departments would be just as involved as any other class.
True to her word, after about thirty seconds, I hear the door open again next to me. Saki comes back out again, cane in one hand, and a case in the other. It only takes me a second to see that it's an instrument...a violin or a fiddle, maybe?
“Got what you came for?” I inquire, indicating the case in her hand.
She nods happily, and we start back towards the entrance to the building. When we get to the door, instead of holding it open for her, I get another idea that I mentally kick myself for not having earlier.
“Would you like me to carry that for you?”
“Are you sure?” she frowns.
“No problem. You're showing me how to get to the art room, it's the least I can do, right?”
“Thank you,” she answers, with a sincerity to her voice as she hands me the case. It weighs more than I expected, but then again, I don't exactly have a frame of reference. How much should one of these weigh? I put the question idly in the back of my mind while we start making our way back across the campus.
“So, Hisao,” Saki starts, skipping normal formalities and calling me by my first name, “you said this is your third day at Yamaku? How do you like it so far?”
“It's...different. It's a lot to take in at once, I guess. Between moving and having to deal with Shizune and Misha running me ragged-”
“Oh, it's those two?” Saki says, with a sympathetic groan.
“You know them?” I asked surprised.
“Trust me, those two are known all over the school,” she clarifies in knowing dismay. “Anyone on the same side of the school as Misha knows she's there, and wherever she is, Shizune is too.”
I find myself laughing before I can stop it. She completely nailed Misha there...but it does present another question.
“Well Misha is a given, but how do you know Shizune if you aren't in our class?”
“I have to deal with her from time to time when we do different events through the year, like the festival. She means well, but the way she tries to inject herself into everything can be very...”
“...taxing?” I offer.
“I had a few different
words in mind, but that's one of the nicer ways of putting it,” she says with a hint of annoyance. “Just be careful or before you know it you'll be on the student council. She tries that with almost everybody.”
“You have no idea,” I mumble under my breath.
Saki gives a little evil chuckle. “Uh oh, is she already trying to sink her claws into you? You should know it's going to get worse before it gets better. That girl loves a challenge.”
“I've noticed,” I submit, my shoulders slumping in an exaggerated sigh.
The next few minutes pass by with idle chitchat. I ask Saki about the festival, since I'm new and it's coming up fast. It seems to be a really big deal for everyone.
“For some people, it is. Others couldn't care less. I guess it just depends on the moods of the people who go to school here and the ones that come during it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Honestly,” Saki hesitates, “I probably wouldn't go at all if we weren't performing.” A bit of enthusiasm goes out of her expression as she continues. “I was there the last two years, and while it was fun, I don't know the best way to describe it.”
She slows down for a second and looks off back in the direction we came, almost to see if there was someone behind us as she lowers her voice.
“It's...the school, Hisao. More the guests themselves really. We put on the festival, because it's a normal thing to do, and most of the people that show up are fine, but there are others who just...”
That same lock of hair has slipped down again, so she reaches up to tuck it back while she collects her thoughts. When she speaks again, her voice takes on a matter-of-fact tone.
“Yamaku isn't a normal school, and those people go out of their way so hard to make us feel normal.
The worst ones are the ones who pat themselves on the back for coming, showing that they're concerned, and that they’re so
progressive just for showing up. You can see it in their eyes, the way they talk, even the way they move. It's smug and it's just...sickening.”
Her words give me pause, not because of their frank nature, but because of the way they strike a chord deep within me. She just summed up and put into words the nagging feeling I had sensed during my stay in the hospital - a feeling and attitude that I started to get from my friends when they came to visit me.
Something I couldn't pinpoint, something out of reach, but something that felt wrong
“Sorry!” Saki says, startled. “I guess I didn't realize how dark that got. Don't mind me. Those people are pretty few and far between.” She takes a deep breath, and exhales it with a smile, the light shining in her eyes again. “Shall we keep going? We're almost there.”
Without me realizing where we were going, I find we’re almost back to the entrance of the main building.
“Please don't tell me it's in here,” I lament, hanging my head.
“Yep,” Saki says. “It's upstairs. Why?”
“So’s my classroom,” I reply, shaking my head. “Well, I suppose the walk was refreshing.”
Saki laughs, a soft pleasant sound. “You got to see more of the school at least,” she says, as I hold open the main door for her to walk through. She turns her head slightly and gives a nod of thanks as she crosses the threshold.
I'm surprised with how empty the building seems to be. Every time I've been through here it's been bustling with faculty and staff, but there's only one or two people wandering about. Everyone must want to leave the classrooms as quickly as possible after the final bell rings, or head off to any clubs that aren’t
in this building.
I start to turn towards the elevator, when Saki surprises me. She's making a beeline for the stairs, as if she was completely oblivious to its existence.
With deliberate, practiced motions, she places her right hand on the banister and starts up them, slowly but surely. She uses her cane for balance as she lifts it up one step, followed by a foot, and then repeating the process with the opposite leg.
It's not until she's on the midway landing and turning to look at me that I realize I've been staring. My face flushes red in embarrassment, Mutou's and Yuuko's words replaying themselves in my head.
“You coming?” she says, choosing to purposefully overlook - or ignore - my transgression. The knowing grin on her face suggests that it’s the former. She waits with her hand still on the banister, looking at me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. When I turn my face away from hers, she giggles lightly.
“I'm sorry,” I apologize, my voice thick with shame. “It's just...”
“You're new here?” Saki answers softly. “It's okay. Everyone needs some time to adjust here. And I don't just mean to the school. I'm sorry for teasing you, but when I saw your face like that, I couldn't help it.”
“Does that happen often?” I say, starting up after her as she continues.
“Once in a while, but usually only once. Just don't ask me to go hiking behind the school. Stairs aren't that difficult, just slow.”
We both reach the top at about the same time, which opens up into the now familiar hallway. Down to the right is my classroom, and down to the left...is where Saki points. “This way, furthest door down on the left.”
“Great,” I say with exasperation. “Sure took the long road in getting here...”
“Yes, but if you didn't take the long way you would have made me carry that thing all by myself,” Saki chides, looking down at her case as we start towards the end of the hall.
“What's in here, anyway?”
“My violin,” she responds, our footsteps steady, accompanied by the soft click her cane makes every time it touches the ground. “I'm also in band.”
the art club?” I say, with a mixture of surprise and admiration. “That seems like it would be quite the schedule.”
“I like to keep myself busy,” she replies with a shrug. “Besides, it's fun and it helps.”
Helps with what?
That's the last thing I think to myself as she reaches the door and opens it.
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