Chapter EX: Looking Glass
I’m awoken by the smell of fresh pancakes wafting into my room from downstairs. That usually meant one of two things; it was one of our birthdays or I got good grades, neither of which have happened in months. Still, I’m not going to turn my nose up at pancakes.
I sluggishly make my way downstairs, in the baggy t-shirt and loose shorts I use as pyjamas, to find my parents already bickering in the kitchen. My Mom, wearing her violet hair up in a casual ponytail and my dad’s apron, sways back and forth to keep out of reach of Dad’s grasping hands.
“I can do it myself, Akio!” Mom hisses, lightly tapping Dad’s hand with a spatula. He recoils and sighs, shaking his auburn hair — the sparse tell-tale silver wisps of age shimmering softly in the light as he does. He pours himself a mug of coffee before he finally catches sight of me.
“Well, well, well! Good morning, lazy-bones!” Dad remarks, cane in one hand and raised mug in the other. “I hope you’re not going to make a habit of this when the new semester starts.”
Oh boy, barely awake ten minutes and I’m already getting chewed out… Am I really sure it’s not my birthday? I give Dad the raised eyebrow of indifference; a move I haven’t quite perfected yet, unlike Mom, who delivers it perfectly.
“Leave her alone, dear. Here you go! Pancakes with your choice of syrup or butter.” Mom cheerily offers up a plate and I nod appreciatively as I clamber onto one of the high stools, shortly joined by Dad.
“Thanks, Mom! Don’t worry, Dad, I’m just enjoying my last day of freedom before you ship me off forever…” I breathe a sad little sigh before smirking at him and shovelling a forkful of pancake into my mouth. I thank my lucky stars that Mom decided on pancakes to see me off. Then again, if it was anything else, Dad would have cooked it. Food poisoning wouldn’t be the best start to high school…
Me and Dad gorge on the pancakes offered while Mom makes a few more, picking at the one she served herself in the meantime. She fixes herself some coffee and pours me a glass of orange juice as Dad finishes wolfing down his pancakes. “More please!” He grins while offering his plate. “Gonna need lots of energy for today!”
Mom looks to me and I shrug. We both know full well that we’ll be doing the lion’s share of the work while he goofs off. She shakes her head with a sigh but complies. “If you keep asking for seconds, you’ll get fat
“Considering how often you cook something this
delicious, I don’t think we’re in any danger.” Dad jokes as he reaches for the plate being proffered by my Mom, only for it to be pulled away from his grasping hands.
“Just for that, you don’t get any more.” She pouts, picking up her own fork and tucking into the pancake herself, Dad’s horrified face soon becoming sullen as he regrets making fun of the one thing Mom can cook without causing a fire. He should really know better…
The drive down to Sendai was long and mostly boring, Dad insisting on telling one of his oh-so-funny stories, Mom interjecting now and then to correct him on the details, which in turn leads to more arguing. It’s so weird how they bicker all the time but never in anger. It’s… Playful. Like they’re kids, almost.
At some point, Dad must have fallen asleep because Mom excitedly shaking his shoulder rouses him and visually distracts me from my book, my attention fully turned to taking in the surroundings of a sleepy mountain town as we pass through it.
“Wake up! We’re here~!” She giddily announces. I peer out of the backseat windows at the rather unremarkable old town but can’t seem to find whatever it is that Mom and Dad find so fascinating. I guess I’ll have the chance to find out though, since this will be home for the next three years.
Huh. As we creep up the winding mountain road toward our destination, I suddenly feel anxious. I thought I was prepared for this but actually being here, preparing to live on my own and attend a strange new high school, makes me second guess my decision.
I blame my parents, honestly. Hell, the way my Aunts and Uncle talked this place up made it sound like friggin’ Hogwarts or True Cross or Academy City — full of wonder, romance and adventure. Honestly, after all their tall tales, how was an impressionable young girl not going to be curious about this school?
“Honey? Are you alright?” Mom asks, her voice muffled and distant sounding thanks to the glass pane separating us. In my reverie, it seems I missed us pulling up in the parking lot. I hop out of the car and into the mid-afternoon sun, filling my lungs with the cool mountain air.
Dad is unusually quiet as he calmly pulls my rolling suitcase from beside a large cardboard box. Mom seems to pick up on this too but she shrugs it off for now as we pick up the heaviest boxes and make our way to the girls’ dorms; my parents leading me through a lot of ‘shortcuts’ that lead to dead ends. Apparently there’s been some remodelling done since they attended. Dad takes it in stride, despite his limp, while Mom mutters curse words under her breath. “Language, Hanako.” Dad cheekily chastises.
We eventually arrive at the girls dorms, being greeted by a gaggle of students out front. They look just like me — just some ordinary school girls who I assume are in their second or third year — but I know they aren’t just by their presence. My anxiety only heightens continues as we make our way inside, thanks to a girl in a wheelchair holding the door open for us.
I’ve heard all the stories. I’ve heard them dozens of times but actually stepping foot in these halls feels like I’m trespassing on hallowed ground. I have to admit, the topsy-turvy feeling of odd-one-out
-ness is definitely new to me.
“Oi!” Dad calls out and I find myself standing apart from my family, several feet away from where they stopped. “Your room’s right here, kiddo.” My dad smiles, handing over a key card out of his pocket. I look at the strange door curiously. Not that it’s in any way strange — it’s just a door, after all — but it was because it was so nondescript but yet meant so much.
This was my point of no return. My last chance to back out, to turn and run. Do I really belong here? I mean, this school is
really important for a bunch of reasons and none of which are satisfying a girl’s curiosity. Still, my parents didn’t raise a coward and what would my Aunt Miki say if I backed down from an obstacle as simple as a door?
I take the plastic rectangle and cautiously swipe it over the black box next to the vestigial yale lock. The beeping lets me know the door is unlocked and I carefully slide it open, retrieving the heavy box from the floor before entering.
“Well this is…” I begin, unable to think of a kind enough word for the Spartan quarters I find myself in — that I’ll be living in for the foreseeable future. I can sense my parents buzzing around me but their actions and words don’t quite register as I plonk down on the edge of the surprisingly comfy bed.
This is my life now. This is what I wanted.
And I don’t think I’ve ever been more terrified.
“…” My mom’s beautiful face fills my vision but I don’t hear her at first. Dammit, girl! Focus!
“… Are you okay?” She asks, placing her right hand atop of mine tenderly. I nod with a crooked smile.
“Sorry, kinda spazzed out there for a second.” I offer apologetically as I rise from my seat, Mom meeting me with a pair of firm hands on my shoulders.
“Brave heart, little one. I know this will all seem… strange
at first, but I speak from experience when I say that they are just as scared of you
as you are of them
.” Her voice soft and soothing, full of care and love.
“You’re thinking of spiders, Hana.” Dad chuckles at his own barb but Mom ignores it and continues.
“You’re going to be fine. We’re only a couple hours away and there’s plenty of support here if you need it. You’ll make a ton of friends in no time.” She beams and pulls me into a tight hug. I embrace her gladly, a small part of me not wanting to let go. Once Mom lets go, I look over to my Dad, standing a few feet away and looking squarely at his feet, rubbing the back of his neck. I step over to him and peer into his line of sight.
“You okay, old timer?” I ask softly but with the charming smile that I know he adores. It works a treat too, as he pulls me close and squeezes me like a favourite teddy bear. “D-D-Dad!?”
“Promise me something?” He asks quietly, the question muffled into my shoulder.
“Don’t grow up just yet, okay? Just be my little girl for a little while longer.”
If there’s one thing I can always count on, it’s Dad making things weird… But it’s familiar in a good way and makes me think I just might miss his constant protective fussing.
“I’ll always be your little girl, Dad.” I reassure him, squeezing back but not enough to hurt his frail form. We break and he strokes my face with a wistful smile and misty eyes.
“That’s all I ask, kiddo. That and you stay away from boys
.” There it is, more of the familiar protective fussing.
“Daaaad!” I playfully whine and he puts on the best stern expression that old joker can muster.
“I mean it; boys are nothing but trouble. Especially the boys who end up here.” He lectures and I look to Mom for support.
“He’s right,” She sighs, dreamily gazing at Dad like a love-sick teenager. “The boys here are more trouble than they’re worth.”
We all laugh and share one more collective hug before they leave. It’s weird to see them go. And be left alone to finish unpacking. It takes a couple hours but I get my room mostly presentable as the evening encroaches. Books put on bookshelves, laptop and printer on desk, clothes hung away and my brand new uniform hanging ready for the morning.
Okay… Now what do I do? Hmmm. I guess I could go exploring, maybe meet some of my dorm-mates but am I feeling that brave?
I have the boxed dinner that Dad prepared and the Thermos full of tea Mom made… There’s a shared en-suite bathroom, something Mom was especially jealous of and the student handbook left on my desk has the dorms’ Wi-Fi password, so I really don’t need to leave this right now…
I change into my pyjamas, dim the lights and load up a movie on my laptop — bundling up in my covers with my homemade sweet and sour chicken and let the rest of the school do its thing while I mentally prepare myself for tomorrow.
! Can’t be late on my first god damned day of school! Aunt Shizune will never let me hear the end of this unless I get a move on! Racing through the halls at full speed is probably against the rules but screw it — I know for a fact that I’m not the first!
My eyes scan the classroom signs as I race past and I almost miss the one I need. Clutching the rim of the door closest to the front of the class, my momentum carries me round, through the door and crashing into the back of a fellow student.
“Fuckshitsorry!” I blurt out as I reach out and grab them, stopping them from tumbling forward onto their face. “I’m soooo s-sorry! I’m r-running late and I didn’t look where I w-w-was going and--” I stammer in my anxious and panicked state.
“Hey, hey, whoa there! Take a deeeeeeep
breath.” The boy says with a concerned expression. Why is he concerned! I could have killed him! He holds up his hands in a gesture to get me to calm down. I do, eventually, resting my hand on my chest.
“There you go. You even in this class, Speedy?” He smirks a little and I look around, suddenly realising I’ve made a spectacularly klutzy first impression with my assembled class-mates. My cheeks no doubt match my hair as I bow my head in embarrassment. All I can muster is a nod and the boy wanders to his seat. I peek out from my hair and see a couple still vacant spots, one of which is smack in front of the boy I almost trampled… I slink to the furthest seat away from him, flanked by a couple other students who seem just as uneasy as me.
Safety in numbers, right? Not going to get bothered by the shy kids at least. The bell chimes and the teacher arrives, looking a little flustered herself. She must be out of shape, given her plump figure and how heavily she’s breathing.
[“Good… Morning… Class 1-3!”] She wheezes, signing haphazardly as she does so. I guess that must mean one or more of my class-mates are deaf. Or mute. My eyes move away from the teacher to study the room again, looking for any obvious sign of deafness, which I realise is utterly stupid a couple seconds later.
The teacher brushes her wavy brown hair from her face and tugs her shockingly pink blouse down a little. [“Greetings. Aloha. Hiii~! My name is Ms Mikado and I will be your homeroom teacher.”] She explains, her signing becoming much neater after straightening her appearance. [“I hope our time together will be both fun and
educational! Yes, I can see some of you rolling your eyes already but I mean it!”]
Then she laughs and it’s the most ear-piercingly shrill — but somehow bass-y — laughter I’ve ever heard. I kind of envy the deaf students right now because they’re still blissfully unaware that their teacher is an anime villain made flesh.
[“Let’s kick things off with that old classic; introductions! I’ll call out your names and you can either stand where you are or come to the front to say a little something about yourself. Sound good?”] She asks, an excitable smile playfully curled on her lips. There are murmurs of various kinds and Ms Mikado shrugs.
[“Okay, first up iiiiis~”] Her voice lilts as she peers at the tablet device on her desk. Her brow furrows a little before she looks around. [“Ikezawa? Alice Ikezawa?”]
I raise my hand and the teacher looks over to me. She tilts her head curiously, studying me as I approach the front. Crap, what did I do? She places her tablet down and approaches me, placing an arm around me conspiratorially and facing away from the class.
“Are you… Are you Hanako and Akio’s daughter?” She asks in a whispered tone. I cock my eyebrow before answering in an equally confused whisper.
“Yeah… How do you know my parents?”
“No wonder Shicchan assigned me to this class…” She mutters before flashing me a huge grin. “We’ll talk after class, Alicchan
~.” She pats me on the back and walks to her desk, hopping onto it and crossing one leg over the other.
Look at her and she gestures towards the class. I sigh and turn to face the class to find a mass of curious gazes. Thanks
for that, Ms Mikado, that didn’t look suspicious at all
[“Oh! Before Miss Ikezawa begins, I’ll point out that I’ll be translating for those who need it.”] Ms Mikado claps her hands together before standing up again and signing her explanation. Heh, you’re not the only one with a few surprises up her sleeves.
[“That’s alright. I can do it myself.”]
The little smirk I throw her way punctuates my little power-play and results in some interested murmurs from my class-mates. Ms Mikado looks shocked for a second before giving me a cheeky double thumbs-up. I take a deep breath and face my new class head-on.
[“Hello, my name is Alice Ikezawa and I’m happy to meet you all. I was hoping to make an impact at this school but I didn’t figure I’d do it quite so literally. Sorry, man.”] I bow a little towards the boy I bumped into earlier who nods in response, some of the others giggling.
[“I come from a large family, with a lot of interesting characters, but I can’t wait to get to know all of you and learn all your stories. Let’s get along!”] I finish up and plant my hands at my side with a smile.
Definitely no turning back now… You’re through the looking glass, Alice.