Pastebin launched a little side project called VERYVIRAL.com, check it out ;-) Want more features on Pastebin? Sign Up, it's FREE!
Guest

Golden Slumbers

By: TonyTwoFingers on Jan 20th, 2013  |  syntax: None  |  size: 31.47 KB  |  views: 187  |  expires: Never
download  |  raw  |  embed  |  report abuse  |  print
Text below is selected. Please press Ctrl+C to copy to your clipboard. (⌘+C on Mac)
  1.         Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was almost funny - the first headache was just remembering how to spell it. But then came the tests - blood tests, MRI scans, a spinal tap. A seemingly endless series of complicated procedures and formalities that I’d found myself thrown into without any warning.
  2.         I’d seen the videos. Read the stories. Everyone told me that they could treat it - that with medication and proper care, they could fight it off. But I know - I’m living on borrowed time. A few decades, tops - and then nothing. First, my toes would shut down, then my feet. Then both my legs. Then it would progress further and further up my body until hitting my vital organs, putting me on life support for the rest of my short life. I wake up with a start in the hospital. The first moments of confusion and disorientation wear off quickly as I sit up. A small bouquet of chrysanthemums lays on the nightstand, along with an envelope crudely addressed to me in purple crayon - “For Yori”. It’s my little sister’s handwriting, and the envelope bulges at its base. Spilling the contents onto my lap, I turn on the lamp just over my left shoulder, examining the spread - two letters, and the same purple crayon that had been used to address the envelope. I unfold the neater of the two letters - crisply folded and written on my family’s stationary.
  3.         “Dear Yori, chances are you were asleep when we came by - the doctors said you’d had a long day of procedures. Your friends all miss having you in school, and it hasn’t been easy to stop them short of breaking down the front door! A few girls even came by (your mother didn’t care for them much, but I thought they were lovely! - Dad), looking to check in on you. We’ve told mostly everyone about what the doctors think. Their thoughts and prayers are with you, Yori. It hasn’t been easy for Tomomi. She couldn’t possibly understand the situation; she’s just so young. And she loves you so much. We’ve done our best, but we don’t know how much is getting through. Please be patient with her - it’s not easy for anyone. Your baseball team hasn’t won since you were first admitted, clearly because you haven’t been in the outfield! The doctors think you should be able to leave care in a few days! We’ll have dinner at that Vietnamese restaurant you love so much to celebrate. We love you sweetie, and we’re always thinking of you. Talk to you soon! Love, Mom and Dad”. I set the letter back on the nightstand. A predictably optimistic letter. My mom and dad were never ones for making me worry, and this would be no exception - they’d tell themselves everything they could to make it all seem alright. They’d tell themselves anything to avoid the unbearable truth - that even in the best case scenario, they would have to bury their son in just a few decades.
  4.         I unfold the next letter, written on a piece of printer paper plastered with vibrant illustrations in crayon.
  5.         “Dear Yori, How are you? I am good. Mom and Dad say that you are sick. I hope you get better soon. Here is my favorite crayon. I hope it makes you feel better. Don’t put it in a pencil sharpener, my teacher says that’s bad for the sharpener. Love, Tomomi”. I set it down on the nightstand, on top of the letter my parents sent. Dexterously turning the crayon over between my fingers, I assess the situation. A little sister who doesn’t understand the situation, and two parents who wish they didn’t. Suddenly, the door flies open, momentarily blinding me. A doctor stands in the doorway, clutching a clipboard.
  6.         “Mister Kuroki? Hope I didn’t wake you.” I’m too tired to come up with something clever.
  7.         “No, no, I was awake. What uh, what can I do for you?”
  8.         “Ah,” the doctor begins, tapping the clipboard. “I was just going over your charts. You should be able to go home in a few days.”
  9.         “Right, I’d just been reading something like that,” I respond, limply gesturing to the letters on the nightstand.
  10.         “Well, while it’s definitely good news, we need to discuss your post-hospital plans.” Post-hospital plans? I hadn’t even considered that anything would change.
  11.         “Post-hospital plans?”
  12.         “Well, the primary concern is the continuation of your education.”
  13.         “I was under the impression that I would head back to school as soon as possible.”
  14.         “That’s the plan, but it’s a bit more complicated than that.” His face sours. “Your parents have expressed some... concerns, regarding your return to your current high school.”
  15.         “Concerns? What kind of concerns?” I ask, my face contorting in confusion. The doctor briefly averts his eyes.
  16.         “Concerns that it may not be the best environment for someone in your condition to attend.”
  17.         “Someone in my condition?” The doctor looks gravely at me. His face is stoic - emotionless. The face of a man who has had this conversation a few too many times.
  18.         “The fact of the matter is that for a lot of children who develop serious illnesses or physical handicaps, returning to their old school can be traumatic, and detrimental to their education.” My throat is constricting, my face tightening. I know what’s coming, but I’m afraid to hear it. “I recommended you for placement at a high school not too far away from here that’s specially staffed and equipped for people in similar situations.”
  19.         “Why wouldn’t I just go back to my old school? Why wouldn’t we just give it a chance?” We. Like I have any say in the matter. “It’s not like everyone would start abandoning me!”
  20.         “Yori, your parents just want you to have a normal life.” I clench my fists, doing my best to keep calm.
  21.         “A normal life? They want me to have a normal life, so they shuffle me into a school full of people who want to have ‘normal lives’? If they want me to have a normal life, they should let me go back to my friends!” The doctor, sensing my growing anger, does his best to calm me down - visibly regretting coming in so late at night.
  22.         “Yori, the truth is that your friends may have a harder time coping with it than you. Nothing’s harder than having to say goodbye to someone every day, and never knowing if that’s the last day you’ll see them. Honestly? If you want to do what’s best for your friends, you’ll go through with this.” I sit, my lungs somewhere between fuming in silence and crying out in frustration. The doctor walks back into the hallway, preparing to close the door. “Yori?”
  23.         “What?”
  24.         “If you love something, let it go. Yamaku’s not such a bad place, either.” And with that, he slides the door closed. I sit upright for a long time, a wave of emotions rolling over me. Sadness. Frustration. Helplessness. Despite my best intentions, all I can think about is how unfair it is. Everything is being taken away from me. My friends, my school, my life - all slipping through my fingers like sand.
  25.  
  26.         When I wake up, my parents are sleeping at the foot of the bed, in two very uncomfortable looking armchairs. In my father’s hands is a pamphlet that I can’t quite make out the title of. As I lean in to get a better look, the door slides open. Tomomi walks in with a tray of breakfast food from the cafeteria - a grey spread of corn flakes, toast, and orange juice that looks like it was extruded rather than cooked.
  27.         “Morning sleepy-head!” she greets me, setting the tray down on my lap. “Mom and Dad told me to get you some food. So I got you this!”
  28.         “Oh, thanks Tomomi. I appreciate that.” I pick up a slice of the cold toast and extend it towards her. “Share some of the spoils?” She shakes her head disapprovingly.
  29.         “Nu-uh Yori. You need to build your strength up!”
  30.         “Uh-huh. That’s right,” I respond, retracting the toast and taking a bite out of it. “I meed to muild up my strengph.” My parents stir, stretching their arms.
  31.         “Mommy, Daddy, Yori’s awake!” Tomomi shares excitedly. “And I gave him the food you asked for!” My mother smiles at her.
  32.         “Thanks Tomomi. Hey, would you mind going back to the cafeteria and grabbing me something too?” Tomomi frowns.
  33.         “But I just got baaack! And I want to talk to Yori!” she pouts, folding her arms defiantly.
  34.         “How about this? If you go and get me some food, you can have my juice?” My sister’s face instantly lights up.
  35.         “Promise?”
  36.         “Promise.”
  37.         “Okay, then. Be back later, Yori!” she says, scampering out the door. For a few moments, I stare silently at my parents, nibbling at the breakfast that I have no appetite for. My father speaks first.
  38.         “So, the doctor told us about his visit with you last night. He said you didn’t seem... overly enthusiastic about the plan.” I blink strongly, taking a bite of toast without responding. “So, your mother and I brought you this pamphlet from Yamaku. It’s that high school the doctor had been telling you about. It looks like a great place to go to school. Why don’t you take a look?” He slides me the pamphlet. On the cover, a group of three laughing children: one in a wheelchair, one with a long white cane, and another without arms. Above them, a text box reading “You put the ‘U’ in Yamaku!” I get a sinking feeling in my stomach before flipping through the pages without really looking at them.
  39.         “So, what do you think?” my mother asks, hoping for my approval.
  40.         “It just feels wrong, Mom. Don’t you think I could at least try to keep going to my school?” She shakes her head, briefly glancing at my father, who shrugs.
  41.         “We really think that this would be the best choice for you, Yori. We’d feel better about having you go to school in a place that can cater to your special situation.” There it was again. My “special situation” that everyone so delicately skirted around.
  42.         “Do I have any say in this whatsoever?” My father opens his mouth to answer, but is interrupted by tapping on the door. From the other side, a muffled voice.
  43.         “Can someone let me in? My hands are full.”
  44.         Getting up to open the door, my father simply says “You’ve already been enrolled. The fact of the matter is Yori, your old school wouldn’t give you placement this semester.” I look at my mother, seeking some sort of visual confirmation. She doesn’t look back at me.
  45.         “Mom, Dad, I’m sorry I was a jerk. I didn’t know...”
  46.         “Yori, please. Don’t worry even a little bit - this is already hard enough for you,” my mother finally says, taking the tray of food from Tomomi. “Just get your rest. We’ll try to settle things with your school. Until then, just try to enjoy your time at Yamaku.”
  47.         Tomomi looks at me, then my mother, then back at me. “What are you guys talking about?” Before anyone can respond, my father scoops her up and blows a raspberry on her cheek.
  48.         “Nothing, sweetie. Nothing.”
  49.  
  50.  
  51.         The car pulls into the unloading space directly in front of the foreboding iron gates. For a few moments, nobody speaks. Tomomi fiddles with a picture book as my father cuts off the ignition. She looks up, wide-eyed. “Are we there?”
  52.         My mother turns in her seat, grinning artificially at Tomomi. “Yup, we’re there!”
  53.         “Doesn’t look quite like it does in the pamphlet, does it?” my father asks under his breath as my mother shoots him a dirty look. We step outside into the crisp autumn air, the afternoon sun desperately attempting to break through the heavy cloud cover. Tomomi kicks pebbles into a storm drain as my father begins to unload my luggage from the trunk of our station wagon. I stand in front of the iron gate when my mother puts her arm around my shoulder.
  54.         “How’re you feeling Yori?” she asks, probing for some lingering discontent.
  55.         “Okay, I guess,” I respond with a shrug. “Maybe a little nervous.”
  56.         “You sure you’re okay?” she asks as a group of students in wheelchairs races through our view. I grimace.
  57.         “I’m sure.”
  58.         Tomomi sprints up from behind, grabbing onto the iron bars. “Is this Yori’s new school?” she asks, throwing her head back to look at us. My father sets down both of my suitcases before speaking.
  59.         “Yes, it is. Isn’t it nice?”
  60.         Tomomi shrugs. “I guess. How will Yori get home from here? It’s a long way away from our house.” My parents and I exchange nervous looks, unsure how to explain to her without making a scene.
  61.         “Tomomi, sweetie, it’s not like that kind of school. Yori’s going to sleep here, too,” my father explains.
  62.         “Oh,” she responds softly, looking down at her shoes.
  63.         The clouds grow darker and the wind picks up. I’ve never been good at goodbyes. The forced back-and-forth conversation is a poor mask for the weight of everyone’s emotions. Somewhere in the distance, a car alarm is set off, fracturing the fleeting illusion of standstill - the illusion that somehow, we could stand there forever. My mother clears her throat, staring into space as she speaks.
  64.         “You know, Yori... when you were very little,” she pinches her index finger and thumb together for emphasis. “You and I would sit out in the backyard during the summertime. We would play with your toys until the afternoon storms rolled in. And I remember...” her voice quakes slightly as her eyes mist over. My father immediately moves over to comfort her, offering his arms in support. Tomomi looks on with wide eyes, confused. “And I remember how, whenever we saw the undersides of the leaves in the wind... you would say, ‘Uh-oh! Looks like rain!’ and you would waddle back inside.” She laughs quietly, remembering happier days. Wiping her face with a sniffle, she adds: “Just call us if you need anything, promise?”
  65.         I nod and hug her, doing my best to make this goodbye not feel permanent. “Promise.” Tomomi latches onto my leg and cries silently into it.
  66.  
  67.         We say our final farewells, and my family steps back into the car. Countless waves are traded before they pull away from the school, eventually fading into visual obscurity down the winding road into town. I stand alone on the sidewalk - holding all that remains of my old life in two suitcases in either hand. It is stingingly lonely. I am without friends, without family, and in a place I don’t want to be. Quite the “normal life” my parents had wanted for me. After several minutes of aimless pacing and fretting, I muster the courage to enter the school grounds, and push through the iron gate. Crossing the Rubicon.
  68.         The campus is ablaze with brilliant fall colors, and stiff gusts of damp fall air push me along the winding walkway. My legs feel stiff - which could be the ALS, the hospital stay catching up to me, or just the lengthy car ride. Still, it feels nice to stretch them. The students in wheelchairs from earlier are missing, and the whole of the place is empty, with the exception of a  single unkempt young man, about my age, with Coke-bottle glasses scampering past the facade of the main building. He freezes in his tracks when he sees me, only to quickly begin making his way in my direction. His confrontational stride locks me up, until he thrusts his hand forward. “New guy, right?”
  69.         I instinctively offer my own hand to shake. “Yeah, that’s me.”
  70.         “Kenji Setou,” he introduces himself as. “And do you have a name, or should I just keep calling you ‘new guy’?” I take the high road and ignore the painful cliché.
  71.         “Ah, right. Yori Kuroki. Pleased to meet you.” His palms are disturbingly sweaty. “So, is there someone I should talk to about signing in, or something?” Kenji frowns, as though he’s smelled something fowl.
  72.         “Pf. Administrative hacks... you’d be better off just letting your homeroom teacher sign you in.” Apparently there really is red tape everywhere. Even in a place like this.
  73.         “Oh. But I still have to pick up my room key from the administration...”
  74.         “Oh don’t worry ‘bout that yet. They’ll be open ‘till later tonight. You should come hang out at my place for the day. I could give you the rundown on how things operate around here.” I sense some ulterior motive in his voice, as though he’s hiding something - but I don’t want to be the unsocial new guy. And I definitely don’t want to seem paranoid.
  75.         “Uh, sure. I’d appreciate the help.”
  76.         “You alright with those bags?” he asks, gesturing with his chin.
  77.         “Yeah, thanks though. Not that heavy.”
  78.         Kenji leads me to a large building of red brick. “This is it - the base of operations...” he laughs before adding “the male dorms. Your home away from home. Hey uh, where is home, anyways?”
  79.         “Oh, it’s just a small town a good ways away from here. No place you’ve ever heard of, I’m sure. And what about you?” Kenji must not’ve heard me, as he simply smiles and nods. He leads me into the large building, which is much like any other dorm in the world - albeit slightly modified to accommodate the unique student populace.
  80.         “Here, we are. One-one-seven,” he says, producing a full keyring from his pocket. I look up in amazement at the sheer number of locks on his door. It’d be harder to get into Kenji’s room than out of prison. Walking in, I am overwhelmed by a moldy, damp smell that permeates everything. The room is a wreck. It’s littered with countless volumes of books on all subjects. And pizza boxes. There’s an unreasonable amount of empty pizza boxes. My shock at the repugnant conditions is broken by Kenji’s frantic re-locking of the door.
  81.         “Hey... hey! What’re you doing?” I ask, dropping my luggage on the floor in surprise.
  82.         “JUST HOW STUPID ARE YOU?” Kenji demands, his voice cracking with energy and frustration.
  83.         “What the hell are you talking about?!” I respond, terrified.
  84.         “YOU TOLD ME YOUR NAME, WHERE YOU’RE FROM, AND CAME INTO MY ROOM WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A SECOND THOUGHT. ARE YOU SUICIDAL, OR JUST STUPID? WHAT IF I WAS ONE OF THEM?”
  85.         “One of who? Seriously, Kenji, you’re freaking me out!”
  86.         His eyes narrow with detest behind his glasses. “A feminist.”
  87.         “A feminist?”
  88.         “You’re just lucky I got to you before they did. Next time, you might not be so lucky. Their tricks grow more underhanded and cunning with each passing day. Tell me Yori, are you a drinking man?” I am dumbfounded by the jump in subject matter. Then again, I’m dumbfounded by the whole situation.
  89.         “Am I what?!”
  90.         “A drinking man. Do you imbibe?” He is seemingly complacent with the shock he has instilled in me, smirking smugly. From beneath his bed, he produces a large bottle of bourbon and two highball glasses. It’s surreal to say the least.
  91.         “I... can’t say I’ve tried before,” is all I manage to choke out in my semi-afraid, semi-confused, and semi-intrigued state. Kenji chortles.
  92.         “You know, you can’t trust a man who doesn’t drink, new guy.”
  93.         “It’s Yori. And I didn’t realize you trusted me to begin with?” Kenji pauses, furrowing his brow in thought before smiling.
  94.         “I knew there was a reason why I liked you, Yori. Come on, bend elbows with me. Maybe I can learn you a thing or two.” I’m either too tired or too stupid to say no. Maybe both. Plus, it’s better than being alone. I could definitely use a drink after the past few weeks - I think I’ve earned it. “... Okay,” I acknowledge reluctantly, nodding and taking a seat on the larger of my two suitcases.
  95.         Kenji smiles and begins pouring. “Ice?”
  96.  
  97.         More than a few drinks later, the room is spinning. Kenji is, perhaps unsurprisingly, just as talkative drunk as he is sober. “I’m *hic* telling you Yori! They’ve got you fooled!”
  98.         “Yyyyyou’re nuts, man. I mean, really nuts. Just how many locks do you have on that thing?” I ask, limply tossing my arm somewhere in the direction of the door. Kenji is taken aback by my forwardness. He glares at me through his fogged glasses.
  99.         “Only five. Nothing is too safe in the battle against the feminists.”
  100.         “Who are these feminists you keep talking about, anyways?” Kenji scowls at my question, taking a deep swig of bourbon straight from the bottle.
  101.         “They’re everywhere man. Constant vigilance is required. They’ve already invaded the school.”
  102.         “You’re not really answering the question...”
  103.         “The girls in this school, Yori. They are demonic succubi whose sole purpose on this earth is to destroy the male gender.” Even drunk, this sounds unlikely.
  104.         “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sure thing, Kenji. Hey, mind if I ask you a question?”
  105.         “As long as it’s not about me.”
  106.         “Earlier, while you were giving me the third degree... why didn’t you ask about my family?” It would’ve been a fairly logical conversation topic. After all, he’d already gotten my name and hometown out of me. My family was the only icebreaker he had left.
  107.         “Huh. Didn’t I?” he asks, struggling to remember. He shrugs. “I meant to.”
  108.         We share a few more drinks before I realize how dark it’s gotten outside. “Hey, you got the time? I’ve still got to grab my room key from the administration.” Kenji pulls his wristwatch closer and closer towards his face, practically burying it in his nose by the time he can read it.
  109.         “S’about quarter past seven. Admin closes at eight. You should probably get a move on if you want to make it,” he says, sauntering over to the locked door, where he begins dizzily throwing latches and deadbolts open. I step out into the hallway, both suitcases in hand.
  110.         “Hey, thanks for having me K...” I start, only to be cutoff by Kenji slamming the door shut. I find my way to the exit of the male dorms, and step outside. The clouds have opened up, and a light rain soaks all in sight. I look toward the sky, allowing each individual droplet to kiss my face in an attempt to wash away all of my worries. They are too numerous to count. Despite that, I almost feel good for a moment - at peace, when I am forcibly yanked back to reality.
  111.         I have no idea where the administrative offices are. Terrific.
  112.  
  113.  
  114.         The walkways of Yamaku are depressingly empty. Not a soul in sight - and the loneliness is only intensified by the steady dusting of rain. I hopelessly wander for several minutes, and it feels as though I am growing more and more lost - as though I am plunging deeper into a hedge maze from which there is no exit. Free, yet trapped.
  115.         After some time, I stumble upon a solitary post that protrudes from a fork in the pathway, indicating the direction of a number of the school’s facilities. Male and female dorms, a pool, the main building... and the administration offices. My footsteps on the wet cobblestone are the only reminder that I exist - that I haven’t melted into the rain, forming some regrettable puddle of aloneness and self-pity.
  116.         Luckily, the walk to the administration offices isn’t a long one. Like Yamaku’s other buildings, the administration is far more ornate than is comfortable, giving it an air of pompousness and self-imposed bureaucracy. A number of Ionic columns form a front porch, under which a lone man stands, locking the doors to the building. He is pencil-thin with white hair, and is wearing an old-fashioned wool jacket. I jog up to him just as he finishes locking the door and turns around. Luckily, the alcohol was worn off enough as to raise no suspicion. “Hello,” I greet him. He jumps in surprise upon seeing me.
  117.         “Hello there, can I help you?” he asks, regaining his composure. His face is as skinny as the rest of his body, and he wears thin-rimmed glasses on the end of his lengthy nose. He looks down at the suitcases I tote. “You must be the new student, I suppose? What was it again...” he asks, rubbing his brow in deep thought.
  118.         “Yes, that’s me. Yori Kuroki. I just arrived today.” The man’s face relaxes in a moment of recognition.
  119.         “Ah, yes, that’s right. I’d read over your transfer files from your old high school. Well, welcome to Yamaku, Kuroki. I’m sure you’ll be a terrific addition to the student body. You can call me Mr. Tanaka.” Well, it was a predictable welcome, but a nice one at that. Plus, maybe some predictability is exactly what I need in my life.
  120.         “Pleased to meet you Mr. Tanaka - and thanks, I appreciate it. I uh, I was told to come by here to pick up my room key. Sorry I’m a little late, I got kind of... sidetracked...” The man smiles, unlocking the door.
  121.         “It’s no trouble, really. I was wondering why that thing had been sitting around all day.”
  122.         As we step inside, Tanaka switches on the blindingly bright lights. The interior feels sterile. The polished linoleum floors and eggshell walls look as though they’ve come straight out of a hospital. Desks are neatly arranged in rows, each with numerous photographs of smiling children or motivational quotes cluttering its surface. Tanaka leads me to his desk. His desk is no different from any other: a small picture of a smiling woman holding a baby is angled toward his chair. A family man. From the drawers, he produces a dossier with my name on it. He opens the folder, scanning over some documents before pulling a pair of keys from it. The room number is etched on the handle - 224. “So, Mr. Kuroki - what do you think of Yamaku so far?” he asks, setting the file down on his desk.
  123.         “It’s very nice. I uh... I like the atmosphere.”
  124.         Tanaka laughs, shaking his head.“You know Kuroki, I’ve seen a lot of students come and go. And almost all of them feel a little bit like a fish out of water at first. What’s important is that you just give it a go. You’ll get used to it.”
  125.         “Thanks, I appreciate the advice.”
  126.         For a moment, we both stand silently. Tanaka’s eyes trace over me, as though trying to memorize my appearance. The rest of him is lost in thought.
  127.         “Well, if it’s no trouble, Mr. Tanaka, I’d like to visit my room. Set my bags down.”    Tanaka snaps back to attention, smiling. “Of course, of course. I imagine today must’ve been quite tiring for you, Mr. Kuroki. Please forgive my talkativeness. It’s just not every day that I get to meet a new student. You understand. Will you be needing any help navigating the grounds?”
  128.         “No, thank you, though. I think I understand the general layout well enough now.”
  129.         Tanaka nods, straightening his coat and gesturing towards the door. “Shall we, then?”
  130.         We go our separate ways, and wave goodbye to each other. It had been a strange encounter, but it was nice to talk to someone that wasn’t Kenji. Nice talking to someone who made me feel welcome.
  131.         The rain has stopped, and the sky cleared - revealing a brilliantly dark sky filled with stars scattered to each corner of its expanses. Living by the city, I’d never really seen them like this - shining brilliantly against the backdrop of infinity. It’s strange - they’re always there. Always looking down on me, day or night - whether I can see them or not. Silent observers. Somewhere, someone else is looking up at the exact same stars. I don’t feel so lonely anymore - and the night doesn’t feel quite so cold.
  132.  
  133.         I walk down the hallway of the male dorm, until arriving at my door - 224. Slipping in the key, I step into my new home. Although “home” is a stretch. The bare walls are a reminder that this place is not my own. Each room is exactly like the next. Cookie cutter. Copy paste. I set down my suitcases on the floor, only to hear something crinkle beneath them. It’s an envelope that someone must’ve slid under the door earlier today. I open it as I sit on the dusty old mattress. The letter is typed on elaborate stationary.
  134.         “To Yori Kuroki, as members of the student council, it is both our pleasure and our duty to welcome you to Yamaku Academy. We trust that you will enjoy your stay here, and will do our best to accommodate you during your initial days of acclimation. Tomorrow, after class, it’d be our pleasure to show you around the school grounds. We hope you’ll join us. Sincerely, Shizune Hakamichi and Shiina Mikado”
  135.         I let the letter drop to the floor, my eyes heavy with fatigue. My last thoughts of the day are of friends, of family, and of home.
  136.  
  137.  
  138.         I stand outside the classroom nervously, shuffling my feet as I strain to hear through the classroom door. Mutou, the man who’d been introduced as my teacher, lectures the class about giving the new student a good first impression. There’s a knot in my stomach. My head feels like a traffic jam. I’m about to meet my new family. I hear Mutou’s muffled footsteps grow progressively closer as he moves towards the classroom door. “So, without further ado, please welcome Mr. Kuroki,” Mutou announces, pulling open the door. The class claps as I step inside. Or, at least some do. The knot in my stomach moves up to my throat, and my legs stiffen. Welcome home. A girl with pink drill-hair waves excitedly at me. “So, Mr. Kuroki, would you like to introduce yourself to the class?” Mutou asks, standing behind his desk.
  139.         “Uh, sure. I’d love to,” I respond, though I can’t help but think it would’ve been nice if he’d had asked me earlier, in private. I hate public speaking. “My name is Yori Kuroki. I came here after a stay in the hospital...” an invisible lightning bolt passes through the students. Right. Don’t talk about hospitals. “I look forward to going to school here with you. I, uh, I like reading. And maybe some writing.” I feel like a square peg in a round hole. This is going terribly. The drill-haired girl looks on intently, flashing different signs to the girl next to her. I hope she’s not describing how awkward I sound. Mutou, sensing my distress a bit later than I’d have liked, steps in.
  140.         “Well, we’re all delighted to have you as part of the class, Kuroki. Why don’t you pull up a seat in the back? Today we’re discussing Newton’s Laws of Cooling.” The class collectively groans, pulling out their textbooks from desks and backpacks. It’s a comfortingly normal response.
  141.         The class goes off without a hitch - though that’s probably because I spend most of it avoiding eye contact with any and everyone. The bell rings, and Mutou raises his voice above the clamor of students packing up. “Just a reminder class, the test on heat transfer is next week. And start studying now if you want to do well!” Before I can pack up my books, the drill-haired girl stands over me.
  142.         “Hahaha~! Did you get the letter we sent, Yori-chan?” Yori-chan? Ugh. One of those girls.
  143.         “I did, but uh... who’s we?” I ask as I finish putting my books away.
  144.         “Wahaha~! I’m Misha. And this is Shicchan~,” she laughs, stopping as she recognizes that her friend has not followed her over. “Er, one moment, please!” Misha darts over to the girl she’d been signing at earlier. The two look back at me, and Misha leads her over by the hand. The girl Misha had called Shicchan dexterously moves her fingers, never breaking eye contact with me. Misha looks on, her eyes tracing the movements. “Shicchan says hello!”
  145.         “Er, Shicchan?”
  146. Misha gasps, realizing the informality of her mistake. “Hakamichi! Shizune Hakamichi!”
  147.         “Thank you. Pleased to meet you both.” Misha laughs and signs something to Shizune, who reciprocates.
  148.         “We’re both pleased to meet you too, Yori-chan!” Shizune signs something to Misha, whose eyes widen. “Shicchan wants to know if you’ve thought about our offer?” Offer? Oh crap, the tour of the school. I had totally forgotten.
  149.         “I’d love to. Is there anywhere we should start in particular?” I had never thought such a simple question could cause such a commotion. Shizune and Misha are caught in a debate - heated in its silence. Their hands fly at extreme speeds, and it amazes me that either can understand the other. Misha turns to me and smiles.
  150.         “Shicchan thinks that because you like reading, we should start the tour in the library! Does that sounds okay to you?” I’m honestly surprised that she had paid attention to my entire introduction.
  151.         “Lead the way.”