NB: this story contains spoilers regarding the first, 'best' ending of Kana: Little Sister. Please don't proceed unless you've completed this ending to the game.
'New Blooms', part 3. This story follows 'Old Scars'.
It's the way I walk.
When I injured my spinal cord, I disrupted all the nerve pathways that led from my brain to the rest of my body. Pathways that had been in place since I was a child pathways I'd developed and perfected as I crawled and learned to walk.
And now, I have to develop them all over again.
It's a slow and painstaking process. The damage to my spinal cord is permanent; the cells won't regenerate. And so I'll never be as strong or as nimble as I once was. I'll always have trouble using my fingers for delicate work. It's not just a matter of building new pathways, in those cases. It's a question of permanent physical limitations.
But I can perfect my walk. That's what we're doing at the moment me and the team of physical therapists headed by Yamada-san. My current shuffling walk isn't efficient enough. A normal person lets momentum and gravity do most of the work, but my halting steps require a lot of effort, even with a walking stick. That's why walking tires me out so quickly.
And so, five days a week, I come back to the physical therapy room at the hospital, and I practise walking unassisted for a couple of hours. It's hard work it leaves me physically and emotionally drained. But that's not the end of my day. After that I end up here, in vocational therapy, staring at a computer screen as my fingers hesitate and fumble at the keyboard.
It's not always keyboard skills. There's a variety of things that Yonekura-san sets me to do. There's writing exercises and hand-eye coordination tests. After I mentioned the chopstick situation to her a week or so ago, she's had me practising with those as well, picking up pencil erasers and bits of string. I'm getting better.
Gross physical movements are easier to relearn than the ones that demand fine motor control. That's why I'm well on my way to regaining my old walk, while more demanding tasks like typing still strain my resources.
My mind's wandering even as I sit at the computer, trying to copy the page that Yonekura-san gave me. Thinking about my walk. Thinking about my stretches and balance exercises. Thinking about Kana.
She's not here today. Normally she attends the physical therapy sessions for moral support, and catches up with Miki while I'm in here. Yonekura-san doesn't appreciate her patients being distracted, and the work in here is more intellectually demanding than the physical rehab. Kana doesn't seem to mind, though, as long as she gets to come to the hospital with me.
Today, however, she had to go into town. The approval for her name change finally came through, and Kana had to go in to get everything signed off and collect the documentation. Kana Ichida. Kana... Ichida.
"Ichida," I mumble, my eyes glazing over as I peck awkwardly at the keys. "Kana..."
I've typed her name half a dozen times before I realise my mistake.
"Concentrate!" Yonekura-san berates me, looking over my shoulder at the screen. "You can't get through life with girlfriends and walking, Taka! You need skills. Employable skills!"
"Couldn't they schedule vocational before physical?" I protest, weakly. "I'm worn out by the time I get in here!"
"Aww, you're making me cry, Taka!" She laughs. "The real world isn't fair. Out there in the real world, you're not going to get nap breaks!"
"I'm not going back to the real world," I grumble. "I'm going to university."
"Essays. Reports. Correspondence," she says, crisply. "What do these have in common? You type them. That's what. What is it, Taka? Do you miss playing with your chopsticks?"
"I'm working, I'm working," I tell her, embarrassed. "Let me get back to it..."
"Twenty minutes left, Taka," she says, drifting away. "Make them count."
She's a worse taskmaster than Yamada-san could ever be. Grimacing and shaking my head to clear some of the haze away, I start typing again.
I'm dragging my feet as I step out of the elevator into the hospital lobby. Yamada-san would have a fit if he saw me walking this way. But I'm just so tired. I hope I don't fall asleep on the train ride into town. I've done that before. I don't know how many times I'd have missed my stop if Kana hadn't been with me.
We're going to meet at a bookstore in town later this afternoon, but that leaves me with an hour or so to spare. I guess I'll head in early and find somewhere quiet to sit. Maybe I'll take a nap...
"Yes, we'll get started on the paperwork as soon as I get the forms back to the office," someone's saying, her tone brisk and practical. The voice is vaguely familiar. "Please let Fujisawa-san know as soon as you've received the patient's consent."
"Of course, Kashima-san," the receptionist says.
"I'll be back tomorrow." The voice fades into the background noise a little as I hobble across the foyer, heading toward the exit. The pale winter light shimmers in the polished floor tiles, glaring slightly in my eyes. Behind me, there's the sound of hasty footsteps, high heels clicking on the floor.
"Taka? Is that you?"
I pause, still leaning on my cane. In fact, it might be the only thing keeping me upright.
"It is!" She steps around to stand in front of me, her handbag slung over one shoulder, a thick sheaf of documents tucked under one arm. She's dressed smartly in a crisp grey jacket and skirt, with a sky blue scarf loosely knotted around the neckline of her white blouse. Every inch the successful businesswoman.
"I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see you here," she says, assessing me with a single efficient glance: my bent posture; the cane in my right hand; the slight slump to my shoulders. "You're still coming in for rehab every day, right?"
I shake my head.
"No? Not every day?" She drifts closer, peering into my eyes without even the slightest hint of self-consciousness. I find myself backing away almost instinctively.
I shake my head again. "Nno. Five days. Just five..."
"Five days a week, hmm?" She closes the distance between us again, and this time I don't back away. It's useless trying to deter her. I know that all too well. "Are you still living at home? Me too. You still have a year of university left, don't you?"
I nod uneasily. Yumi cocks her head at me, pursing her lips.
"What's wrong with you, Taka? You're acting like your little sister used to. You'd be hiding behind yourself if you could... I'm sorry. I shouldn't call her that, should I? Kana. How is she? Dad mentions her to me sometimes..."
"She's... fine," I mumble. Grinning, Yumi steps even closer, opening her eyes comically wide and staring into mine, tilting her head this way and that.
"I knew it," she says, at last, drawing back and eyeing me with a satisfied expression. "What have you done with him?"
I blink. "Um, Yumi?"
"Taka Todo. The real Taka Todo!" She points a finger at me dramatically. "What have you done with him, you impostor? As soon as I saw you limping your way across the foyer, I knew you couldn't be him! Hah!" She laughs, light and fun dancing in her eyes. "Taka Todo would never walk that way!"
"I do!" I blurt, wounded. "This is the way I walk now! I can't help it. I'm doing my best!"
"Aha!" She grins at me in triumph. "You said more than two words to me! This is progress."
"I'm just... I'm just tired," I mutter, looking down at the floor. "I've been here since ten, and I didn't get much of a break."
"I understand," she says, her voice warm. "I'll tell you what. I don't have to be back at work for a while yet. Why don't I buy you lunch?"
I look at her, confused. "Um, I don't know, Yumi..."
"Come on! It'll be fun! We can catch up. You can tell me what you've been up to, besides learning how to walk and things like that. I'll bore you to tears with legal mumbo jumbo, and we'll call it even. What do you say?"
"I, uh... I guess it would be okay." I've never known how to say no to Yumi. It's years since I last saw her, but nothing seems to have changed. "The cafeteria should still be ope"
"The cafeteria? Nonsense! I used to eat there all the time, and their food hasn't gotten any better," Yumi says. "I know! Let's go into town. There's a place where I always eat... I'm sure you'll like it."
"I don't have time for... anything involved," I say, awkwardly. "I'm supposed to meet Kana at three..."
"It's okay," Yumi says, unflustered. "I'll drive you to meet her afterwards. Where are you meeting?"
"In... in town," I admit, feeling a bit stupid.
"Then everything's fine," she says, happily. She tucks the papers under her left arm and takes my hand, leading me outside. "Come on. My car's this way."
How did we get here? Why is it that every time I run into Yumi, I end up somewhere I wasn't even remotely planning to be?
It's a restaurant that caters for the lunchtime crowd people who don't have much time to eat. The service is quick and efficient, if a bit perfunctory. The waiter comes to our table, slams two cups of tea in front of us, and stands there silently with his notepad ready.
Yumi seems used to the rudeness, though, and orders for us without hesitation. The waiter scribbles on his pad, nods curtly, and vanishes into the thinning crowd. The lunch hour rush is pretty much past, and there are more people leaving than coming.
I'm not sure what to say to her. I sip at the scalding hot tea awkwardly as she sets her handbag on the table beside her. She looks at me casually, with an easy smile on her face. She seems so composed, so professional. Underneath, she's still the same Yumi, though.
It's actually nice that some things don't change. My life has been turned upside down and inside out over the past eight months, so much that I don't recognise myself half the time anymore. Kana; my parents; my future: everything's changed and been re-evaluated. It's hard to deal with everything being in transition all the time. But here's Yumi, sitting across from me and smiling. Even this is different. But it's different in a good way, I realise. She reminds me who I am.
"See?" she says. "I told you I'd get you here in one piece."
"I think it's more luck than anything else," I retort. "I'm surprised we're both still alive."
Yumi's driving is pretty much as direct and unapologetic as she is. She knows where she's going, and she does her best to get there in a hurry. If that means weaving between slower-moving cars, cutting in front of them with only inches to spare and pouring on enough acceleration to push me back in my seat, then that's just the way it has to be, as far as she's concerned. Time is of the essence. Life is meant to be lived fast.
It's yet another thing I don't quite understand about her.
"It sounds to me like you don't need anyone's help putting your life in jeopardy," she says, lightly. "Or is falling down stairs all in a day's work for you?"
"You heard about that?" I ask, surprised.
"From Dad," she says, the confident mask slipping for the first time. "Not all the details. Just that you were at the hospital... and that you were badly hurt."
"I survived," I tell her, shrugging it off. "It hasn't been easy, but I've managed. With Kana's help."
"Yes," Yumi says, looking down at the table. "Kana. I came to visit you when I heard what had happened, but you were still unconscious. Kana was there, asleep next to your bed. She looked terrible. Exhausted. Dad said she was there for almost two weeks, hardly ever leaving your side. I... In the face of that, I didn't think there was much I could offer you."
"Just a visit would have been enough," I say, surprised at her revelation. I'd forgotten there was this side to Yumi. I'd been so busy supporting Kana that it was almost too easy to forget how much Yumi needed me too. "I, um... I'm sorry."
She looks up at me, puzzled. "For what?"
"For not loving you the way you deserved, I guess."
Her eyes go wide. "Taka?"
I smile, gently. "You seem to be doing well for yourself. What have you been doing since you graduated?"
"It's... it's hard to believe it's been almost a year," she says, collecting herself. "I got a job with the legal firm that represents Dad's hospital. It's basically been courier and secretarial work so far. I carry documents back and forth. I type up reports and memos and letters. I get to sit in on some of the client meetings and take notes, and observe how the partners do business. In some cases, I do legal research to back up the main team. It's interesting."
"Did your dad help you get that job?"
Her eyes narrow. "Of course not! It was my first choice because I wanted to work close to Dad, if I could. But I earned the position on my own merits."
"I was just asking!" I laugh. "There's no need to get all defensive."
"I'm not. I'm..." She pauses, then lets out a deep breath. "I'm just glad to see you, that's all. I don't want us to get off on the wrong foot again, not after so long. I mean..." She looks up at me, a wistful smile on her face. "We can be friends, can't we?"
"Even after what we've been through?" I ask. "You, and me... and Kana?"
She doesn't say anything for a moment. "I don't know. I've wondered about that a lot over the past few years. You hurt me, Taka. You can't know how much you"
"Here y'go." The waiter shuffles up to our table with two bowls on his tray, and plonks them down in front of us unceremoniously. He's mixed up our orders, but I doubt he'd care if we told him. I take the steaming bowl of ramen and hand it to Yumi, taking my bowl of chicken and rice in return. It smells good.
"Eat up," Yumi says, with a smile. "No point letting it go cold."
There isn't, at that. Thankfully, I don't need to use my chopsticks to eat a spoon makes far more sense with this kind of food. Yumi's attacking her ramen diligently with her chopsticks and spoon. It's lucky she didn't order the same thing for me
Lucky? Or something more?
She said her dad mentions Kana to her. But why would he do that, unless Yumi asked about her? About Kana... and about me?
She looks up at me, her mouth full. "Mmph?"
"How did you know I can't use chopsticks yet?"
For a moment, a guilty look flickers across her face. "I don't know what you mean. I ordered oyako-don for you because I know you li"
She sighs. "I asked Yonekura-san about you. I wanted to know how you were doing, and she told me what you'd said about chopsticks. I didn't mean to pry. I promise."
Strangely, I'm not offended. If anything, it's nice. It's almost... endearing. Yumi was worried about me.
"It's okay," I tell her, quietly. "Don't worry about it."
She smiles, briefly. "Thanks, Taka."
I try some of the rice. Yumi was right. I do like it.
"I feel much better now," Yumi says, sitting back from her empty bowl. "I have to get back to work eventually, though. Where did you say you were meeting Kana?"
"There's a Sanseido just a few blocks away," I tell her, checking my watch. "I'm meeting her there in half an hour. If I get started now, I should make it in plenty of time."
"So soon?" she asks, sounding almost wistful.
"I'm not the world's fastest walker, you know," I tell her, laughing. "Thanks for lunch, Yumi. It was... it was good to see you again."
"Osaka," she blurts, as I start getting out of my seat.
I pause, looking at her curiously. "What?"
Her expression is pained as she looks up at me. "You're leaving for Osaka next month, aren't you?"
"How did you know that?"
"Aren't you?" she demands.
"Well... yes. Kana and I are moving there, to"
To hide? To run away from the truth?
"get a fresh start."
"A fresh start to what?" she asks, looking miserable.
"Yumi..." I sink back into my seat, looking across the table at her. She's not looking at me. Her hands are on the table in front of her, the top one clenching the lower one tightly.
A fresh start to our love, of course. To the love Kana and I share.
I can't say that!
I remember the look of horror on her face when she found out about me and Kana. When she walked in on the two of us kissing. I betrayed her then. I betrayed Yumi. I can't do it again.
"Can I see you again?" she mumbles.
Abruptly, she reaches out and puts her hand over mine. "Before you leave, Taka. Before you go to Osaka with her. I want to see you again. One more time."
"I... I don't know..." Suddenly, I want to leave. The emotions churning in Yumi's eyes are far too strong, and far too unmistakable. But her hand is there, holding mine in place. And her eyes are pinning me as well. Driving skewers of compassion and remorse into my heart. "I... I have a lot to do between now and then. If I... If I have time, I might call you or something..."
Kana. Kana's waiting for me. Wait for me, Kana. I'm coming.
"Please," Yumi says, quietly, looking straight into my eyes. "I don't want the last time I see you to be like this. Let's meet up again before you go. You can name the day and time. Just... just let me see you again. Just once. Taka?" Her fingers tighten over mine as I make a reflexive, useless attempt to pull free. "Please," she says again. Her eyes tug at me, imploringly. "Please, just this one thing. Promise me, Taka. Promise me."
"Taka!" Kana cries out happily, running up to meet me as I amble up the street towards her. She throws her arms around my waist and hugs me tight. "I was starting to get worried!" she tells me, drawing back and looking up at me brightly.
"I'm not that late," I protest, a little guiltily.
"I know." She lowers her gaze and hugs me again, resting her head against my chest. "I missed you, that's all. It was so boring waiting in that office all alone."
"It... it won't happen again, Kana. I promise." I bend my head to hers, my arms enfolding her tightly. Possessively.
She shifts a little in my embrace. "Taka?" she asks, sounding worried.
"It's nothing, Kana," I lie. "It's nothing at all."
Taka finds little reason to celebrate, in Questions.