NARRATOR: "I pace around in the park, feelings of anxiety rolling over me. Every so often I reach into my pocket to take out my phone, but each and every time I hesitate and end up slipping it back in. If this were any normal situation, I wouldn't be cutting classes. Unfortunately, it isn't, and so I find myself in the town below the school at two in the afternoon. Ever since I met Hanako, I've been the one to initiate everything between us. The one that started conversations, went to her wherever she was, and suggested what we should do. Today, this once, I don't want to be the only one doing that."
NARRATOR: "My hand dives into my pocket once more. This time I quickly navigate to the texting menu before I have a chance to change my mind again. “Hanako, if you want to talk, I'll be at the park in town for a while.” Fighting a last measure of doubt, I thumb in my message to Hanako and press the button to send it. And now... I wait. My part in this has been fulfilled; what needs to happen now is for Hanako to make the decision. It would be meaningless for me to drag her here. She needs to decide for herself whether she wants to meet me."
NARRATOR: "The apple juice from the vending machine tastes awfully bitter as I swill it down. My grip on the can has caused it to dent slightly in the middle. I shouldn't be this tense, but it's probably inevitable. Hanako is dear to me. What happened in the last couple of days has put a lot of pressure on both of us. The idea of losing all the progress we've made in coming closer to one another, and losing our friendship as a whole, is deeply unsettling. But even then... I still don't really know how close we are. We may have had sex, but before that, all I knew us to be was friends. Maybe we are more than that, but if so, I never realized it. Maybe that's why I feel so uneasy right now. I don't understand Hanako, despite all the time we've spent together. The minutes are ticking by, and I still have no idea whether she'll show up."
HANAKO: "H... Hisao...?"
NARRATOR: "I pause for a moment, almost not believing that I'm hearing the voice I am hearing. I drop the can and stand up with a start."
NARRATOR: "We look at each other for a few seconds, before Hanako becomes too embarrassed to maintain eye contact and begins to nervously fiddle with the roughly-cut lock of hair covering the side of her face. When I went to see Hanako in her room by myself after her breakdown, I had no idea what to say. That was fine, then. All either of us wanted was each other's presence. Now, though... I feel like I need to talk to her directly. I want to break down this wall between us, before it forces us apart for good."
HISAO: "Hanako... I... What we did that night... how should I interpret that?"
NARRATOR: "Hanako stops playing with her hair and looks at me, her head cast slightly downwards. She looks ashamed, which is probably a good mirror of how I would look now if I weren't so concerned."
HANAKO: "I thought... you might eventually go away if I was only someone you needed to protect. I thought that if I let you do that... you might see me as someone more than that."
NARRATOR: "My first reaction is disbelief, but... I did do it with her, after all. I had plenty of opportunities where I could have stopped things, stepped back, and questioned what we were doing. In the end, though... I didn't. A horrible feeling rises in the pit of my stomach. She offered herself to me because of what she thought I wanted, and now, it feels like I took advantage of her. She may have been willing, but only under false premises. I've never been good at hiding my emotions from physically showing, and now is no different. Hanako looks down once more, a strange mixture of depression, regret, and sickness written to her face. Thick silence hangs in the air, save for the breeze blowing through the trees around us."
HANAKO: "I knew... you couldn't look at me that way..."
NARRATOR: "Hanako's words are said in little more than a whisper, seemingly directed just as much at herself as to me."
HISAO: "In what way? What do you mean?"
HANAKO: "All I ever was to you was... a useless person. Just someone... to protect. Someone like... a child. I-I wanted to be more to you than that, but after so long... I... got used to it."
NARRATOR: "The tone of her voice is unlike any I've heard her use before. She sounds disgusted. Not at me, but at herself."
HANAKO: "After I came out of my room... I saw that you had started drifting away. I felt like I was going to lose you, because... you wanted somebody you could have... that kind of relationship with. You were more quiet in school than before, and you were getting on so well with Yuuko... I thought... that I might lose you."
NARRATOR: "She thought I was bored of her, because I wanted a romantic relationship?"
HISAO: "But... we're friends, right? I wouldn't just abandon you like that, even if what you're saying was true."
HANAKO: "Friendship... was something I thought I'd given up on. I stopped believing in others... after what happened after the accident... Before the accident happened, I got on well with people and other children. I didn't have many friends... but I didn't mind, because I treasured the ones that I had. Afterwards, though... I was called names by the others, and teased a lot. It hurt... really deeply. The teachers tried to help, but they couldn't do much, and even many of them recoiled just at the sight of me. Among those calling me names and teasing me... were the ones that I thought were my closest friends. From then on, I believed that it didn't matter if nobody else acknowledged me. All my existence ever did was make people troubled, after all. It was... easier... if I just didn't exist. But after meeting Lilly, and then you... I tried, but I... couldn't make myself think that way again."
NARRATOR: "All that time... she didn't trust me. She thought, just like everyone else in her life had, that she was worthless. Someone to throw away once I got bored of being with her. That hurts. That's the one kind of person I never, ever wanted to be seen as, because I know better than most just how horrible it feels to be thrown away by those who I thought liked me. She's cracking from the memories she's bringing up. I feel useless, completely unable to console her. In a strange way, though, I am almost thankful that she's allowing me to know this. The wall between us is going away, even if it hurts so badly to bring it down."
HISAO: "Hanako, if you'd just told me..."
HANAKO: "Was I... wrong?"
HISAO: "Of course you..."
NARRATOR: "She wasn't. Hanako wasn't wrong. It's difficult to force myself to admit this, but I know trying to deny it is pointless. To me, and to Lilly, she was someone we tried to protect. She had become to me what I'd become to my friends after my heart attack - a broken person. I liked her, possibly even loved her, but I never acted on that precisely because I thought she was so fragile."
HISAO: "I mean... I don't look at you that way now. I got worried about you after what happened to you in class, and I thought I should try to protect you. When you locked yourself in your room, though, I got afraid. I thought you were rejecting me, and it forced me to think a lot about... different things."
HANAKO: "I wasn't rejecting you!"
NARRATOR: "She blurts it out with an almost scared tone to her voice, taking me off guard. She quickly becomes embarrassed by her outburst, before clenching her fists and working through what she wants to say in her mind."
HANAKO: "I wouldn't ever do that. Not to you. Even though I was scared... even though I tried to push you away... you still tried to get closer to me. I locked myself away because... I was just a burden to you. To Lilly. To everyone. E-every birthday was the same. Everyone doing their best to pretend that I mattered. Everyone pretending everything was all right... for that one day of the year. I didn't want to exist, but they wouldn't let me. Even after meeting Lilly... everything was the same. I was as useless as I'd always been, unable to do anything for her, or for myself. I didn't want to be the same way... to you."
NARRATOR: "Lilly and I were completely wrong. From what she's said, everything we did for her... it would have only made her feel worse. Even what little I thought I had right about her was a complete misjudgment."
HISAO: "After you locked yourself in your room, I decided to try to work out my past as well, and sort out my future. I didn't know how to deal with the things I'd lost by coming to Yamaku, so I was trying to sort them out myself. I thought... it would help us become better friends... if I did that."
NARRATOR: "Silence hangs in the air again. I try to keep looking at her, but I can't. I feel really low, and though I want to apologize... I don't know how I possibly could. I hear her take a deep breath, and only look back to her after hearing her drop to the ground."
NARRATOR: "The sound of her crying breaks my heart. I know I'm responsible for this, and I know that I can't do anything to help her. If Hanako feels ashamed, then I feel all the more so."
NARRATOR: "I rush to her as tears continue to roll down her cheeks unabated, wrapping my arms around her. I don't care about how I must look any more. I just want to be close to her right now."
HANAKO: "I'm sorry, Hisao... I-I've messed up everything..."
HISAO: "It's fine. Everything's fine. I'm the one that should be sorry. I was meddling around behind your back, and I never told you anything."
NARRATOR: "I can feel my grip tightening on Hanako as my vision blurs. I can't be bothered trying to hold back, now. I have to force my words out as a lump begins to stick in my throat."
HISAO: "To tell you the truth, Hanako... I was scared. For the first time since my heart attack, I was really scared."
HISAO: "I lost so much when I came to Yamaku. I was... depending on you, more than I ever thought I did. Even now, I still have that hole inside me. After losing my entire life, and everyone I'd known, the thought of losing you, as well..."
HANAKO: "But I'm just a useless—"
HISAO: "You're my friend, Hanako! You're... No, you're more than that. I love you, Hanako. I love you so much, that the thought of losing you frightened me so much..."
NARRATOR: "Ah, this is bad... I'm really letting all of this out. I can't bring myself to look at her face right now."
HANAKO: "I'm sorry, Hisao... I can't help... feeling a bit happy. For so long... that's what I've wanted... to hear..."
NARRATOR: "The last of the floodgates breaks, the sound of her crying permeating the air as her body jerks against mine. We hold each other tightly, connected more closely than ever in our shared grief, and our shared happiness. I don't know how things are going to be like, after this. Right now, though... I don't care. There's no other person in the world that either of us could possibly share these memories and emotions with. Nobody."
NARRATOR: "After dropping the dirtied can into a bin next to the bench, I take a seat beside Hanako. She puts away the handkerchief I gave her to clean herself up, which hasn't helped much. Then again, I doubt I look much more presentable. Even now, I feel emptied and a bit embarrassed after letting my emotions out in public like that. It's not a bad sensation, though. I think Hanako feels the same way, too."
HISAO: "Have you calmed down a bit?"
HANAKO: "Y-yes. Thank you."
NARRATOR: "For a while, we just sit and take our time before talking again to one another. We both need a little time to collect ourselves."
HANAKO: "The weather is nice at this time of year."
HISAO: "Yeah, it is."
NARRATOR: "I close my eyes for a moment, relishing the feeling of the sun's heat and the cool breeze against my face. The weather really is nice, today. Really, really nice."
HISAO: "You know... I don't really want to go back to classes, right now. Do you?"
NARRATOR: "She shakes her head as she finishes wiping her eyes with her cuff. The small smile she gives is nice, and it's a reminder of how earnest it can be. Smiling for other people might be a completely normal, everyday thing. For Hanako though... she smiles so rarely and so sincerely, that each and every time she does it, I feel a sense of relief and happiness."
HANAKO: "I'm sorry. For... everything."
HISAO: "It's okay. I think we both have a bit to be sorry for."
HANAKO: "I know that... I'm too shy. I know you don't want me to be, I don't think I can..."
HISAO: "You can change, Hanako. I know that because, even in the time I've known you, you've already changed. To be honest, just being able to sit here and talk to you like this means that you've changed a lot since we first met."
HANAKO: "But... I can't be like that for... anyone else. I don't have any plans for after school ends, either..."
NARRATOR: "Hanako's confidence begins to slide down again, but I think that now, I can finally talk to her as an equal. I can do it because I know that we're just the same in so many ways."
HISAO: "Just give yourself time, and I think you'll be able to achieve what you want. No, I'm sure that you'll be able to do it. I can see you've been trying, and I have faith in you. And you can depend on me if you feel like you need someone to support you, you know."
HANAKO: "B-but I can't ask that of you..."
HISAO: "You can, because that's exactly what I'm asking of you. I'm going through the same thing, you know. It's called love."
NARRATOR: "Hanako smiles, before I get off the bench and dust myself off. She does the same in short measure."
HISAO: "I'm kinda hungry. Want to grab something to eat?"
NARRATOR: "She nods vigorously. The way she's smiling, the way she's acting, even just the general air she gives off... I feel as if this is the first time I've seen her genuinely happy. We both make our way onto the street, walking beside each other."
HANAKO: "I... I think... I don't really understand you."
HISAO: "I don't think I understand you, either. I believe that's fine, though."
NARRATOR: "There's not a single hint of despair in our voices. Not understanding each other is only natural; the walls we set up between ourselves couldn't possibly be broken down in a single day. But that's fine. As long as we take it day by day, and try to understand one another... I think everything will be okay. As we walk down the street, though, Hanako's eyes flick to my face and back to the street repeatedly."
HISAO: "Is something on your mind? You look restless."
NARRATOR: "She slows before stopping completely. When I turn to meet her, she takes a long, deep breath, looking at my face intently. This expression... I saw it once before on her face. Just once, when I accidentally surprised her in her room."
HANAKO: "I... I think... I think I have something... I need to give you."
HISAO: "What is it? You don't need to be evasive about it."
HANAKO: "I wanted to give you this for a long, long time, but... now that I need to... it's too embarrassing..."
HISAO: "Don't worry. I'll accept it, whatever it is."
NARRATOR: "She gives a sweet, bashful smile, before taking my shoulder in her hand."
HANAKO: "Then, please accept my first gift to you, Hisao..."