Apparently her timing had been good—Naomi-san’s reply came just before the assembly began, so rather than replying, Emi sat back in her seat, content to listen. She couldn’t claim to be interested in much the teachers or Principal said; once upon a time the renovations might have intrigued her, but whether her months at home had numbed her to such trivial excitements or the newfound guilt in the back of her mind simply took precedent, she found it hard to care about them beyond any possible changes to the floor plan. Even then, at this rate, if she could get back and forth from her locker and her classrooms, she’d probably be content. She had better things to do with her time now than tag every extracurricular room and trace out the building in her head.
So, as the staff droned on, Emi’s mind was cursed to wander, a twist forming in her stomach as she waited for Nakano Sakuya to finally take the stage. The two of them had never really been “friends”, that much was true enough. Emi knew Sakuya through student council, and of course, she’d been close with her older brother, Reiji. But they’d never interacted much outside of an official capacity. But what sort of excuse was that? It wasn’t one; she should have reached out to her after her brother disappeared, especially knowing the two of them were on their own. Goodness, her father in prison and her brother missing? Sakuya must have been a wreck; much more of one than Emi had any right to be. But rather than check on her, maybe offering a shoulder to cry on or some kind words about her brother, she’d just shut herself away from everyone and everything, convinced that somehow she must have been the only one hurting. Emi had to make it up to her—if Nakano would even welcome the effort.
All the more reason Emi had no right to feel the way she did when Nakano took the stage.
It was probably terrible, but she couldn’t help it; when Nakano’s voice finally rang out from the microphone, her very first reaction was indignance. Logically, she knew that Nakano ascended her position as student council president perfectly legitimately, but all the logic in the world couldn’t stop the tears pricking at the corners of Emi’s eyes. No matter what she told herself, all she could think was that it should be Hanami up there addressing the school, giving words of wisdom and encouragement with all the life and energy she brought to everything she did. There’d be no somber words with Hanami at the mic, no stoic proverbs, and certainly no heavy condolences. She’d have livened up the gym effortlessly, and carried that same joy and optimism through all year long. Right up until her speech at graduation.
This just wasn’t right.
She seemed to forget herself, brought out of her reverie only when a warm tear splashed onto her hand. Emi gasped, doing her best to swallow the lump in her throat as she fished for a tissue to dry her face. Goodness, she expected returning to school without her friends to be rough, but maybe she hadn’t given the challenge enough credence if she was just losing it like this in front of everyone. But what was the alternative, going back home to mope for another five months? No! There was work to be done! Not only that, but fate had been so kind as to give her a direction; this was meant to be, she knew it. She had to stop thinking of her friends as dead and gone—they weren’t. They couldn’t be. And that was all the more reason she had to face up to Nakano and everyone else she’d forgotten in her cloud of grief.
It wasn’t until she had to unfold her cane again that Emi realized how tightly she’d been gripping it, her knuckles creaking as she uncurled them. She stood on shaky legs, but thankfully, each step and tap of her cane grew more steady as she went, and by the time she’d navigated to her new homeroom, she was feeling a little more sure of herself. Or, maybe she was just more determined. Whatever it was, she was grateful for it; it wouldn’t do to crumple into tears on her first day back.
Finally making it to her homeroom, Emi slid into the nearest desk to the door, which had expectedly been reserved for her. Closer to the door meant fewer obstacles to navigate, after all. She checked the seat out of habit and slung her bag over the back, folding her cane back up once she was seated. Judging by the “vibe” of the room—she really wasn’t sure what else to call that feeling her Persona had given her, but it surely came in handy—as well as the ambient noise, she guessed she was probably one of the first to arrive—not surprising, given her hasty exit from the gym after her little episode. Students were steadily filing in, though, most of whom she either didn’t know or only knew in passing. They were a bit harder to make out than those she knew well, but she still kept tabs on the door, waiting for Nakano Sakuya to arrive.
After a few minutes, she did just that, and Emi stood in her seat, offering a small bow. “Nakano-san, is that you?” she asked. She was vaguely aware of someone walking nearby, toward the front of the class, if only because it was a little weird. Whatever, didn’t matter.
“That was a beautiful address you gave,” Emi continued, her voice a little choked by emotion even now. “Your tribute to Hanami-chan was…” she had to pause a moment to swallow the lump in her throat, her hand over her mouth. “It’s just… thank you, for mentioning her. For mentioning all of them. It’s comforting to know that not everyone wants to forget.”
Emi was vaguely aware of some chatter starting up in the room, but she paid it no mind, searching for the right words. “Nakano-san, forgive me if I’m a little too forward, but I wanted to offer my condolences. And an apology.” She drew a long breath, closing her eyes. As much as her conscience screamed to get on with it, admitting wrongdoing was still never easy, and she struggled against her emotions and the room’s distractions to put the words together.
“I know this should probably wait, but I just wanted to say… I mean, you know I’m frie— was friends with your brother, and I can’t imagi— okay what is going on?” Emi turned sharply toward the rest of the room, where the ambient chatter had swelled to an abnormal volume. She could hardly hear herself think, dammit! She turned sheepishly back to Nakano, more than a little flustered, and gestured to the room. “I’m sorry, but do you know what has them so riled up?”