We went from Mai’s place to Shizune’s house. For what turned out to be a surprisingly uneventful visit. Jigoro was still brash, loud, and annoying but…somehow, knowing a little bit of his history, I found him easier to take. Not pleasant
, mind you, but nowhere near as annoying. Even when he called me a “sweater-vested little twit,” I just smiled blandly and nodded. Which I think threw him off-balance more than any other response I could have given him.
Later, when we were alone, Shizune asked me, [Why does my father’s hostility upset you less than your mother’s?]
I had to think about that for a moment. It was true, Jigoro was certainly more overtly hostile to me than my mother had been to Shizune, but he was nowhere near as upsetting. [Partly because, I expected better of her. I’d never seen her act like that before. But with Jigoro, it’s just the way he is. He treats me no differently than he does you, or Hideaki, or the Satous. In a way, it’s like being accepted into your family.]
Shizune gave a silent laugh. [So, you’d feel less accepted if he were kind and sweet to you?]
I snorted. [I’d rush him to a hospital to get checked for a stroke if he were ever sweet to me.]
[In his own way, though, I think he is
being sweet. To you. Watching out for you, trying to make sure that I’m good enough for you. I’m pretty sure he’d be the same with any
guy you brought home. So, it’s nothing personal, and I don’t take it personally. Whereas my mother…] I grimaced. [She was just being prejudiced against your deafness. Being small-minded. She wasn’t reacting to you
, just your disability.]
Shizune nodded. [Which may also be why she doesn’t upset me as much as she does you. Because she’s not reacting to me
, personally. Just my deafness. And I’ve been dealing with flak about that all my life.]
I realized I didn’t really know that much about her childhood, and what kind of “flak” she’d dealt with. Most of the stories of her youth I’d heard were about her mother, or stories about her and Hideaki, or the Satous.
[But for all that…] I mused slowly. [Jigoro knows me better than my mother knows you. He may not like
me, but nor has he banned me from your house. It’s not exactly approval, but grudging acceptance may be as close as I’m going to get from him. For now.]
[Well, lucky for you, I’m a modern woman, and don’t require the approval of my father to date you,] Shizune said with a smirk.
I smiled back. [Nor I my mother’s, and yet…] I sighed. [It would
be nice to have it…]
She considered that for a moment, then nodded. [But at least your father approves of me. And I’m sure my mother would have approved of you, too. So we’re at fifty percent.]
[It can only go up from here, right?] I asked wryly.
We spent the next afternoon wandering a nearby mall with Hideaki, and he was overjoyed when Shizune bought him a brilliant pink floral shirt he’d been coveting. I thought it was garish beyond all reason, but he liked it.
Later that evening, I asked Shizune, [So…do you think your brother is gay?]
She shook her head. [No. I think he just likes pretty things.] She grinned. [And I think he also likes annoying Father.]
I snorted at that. [Always a worthwhile objective,] I agreed.
[I’ve observed him watching pretty girls, and he doesn’t give pretty boys the same attention. His body language seems fairly straight.]
I blinked, making a connection [So, is that how you knew Shori was interested in Misha? Body language?]
Shizune smiled. [I speak with my hands and my body. Shori’s
body language was saying ‘I want me some of that pink haired goodness,’ plain as day.] I laughed at her phrasing, and she giggled too.
I lifted her good hand to my lips and kissed it. Releasing it, I asked, [What does my
body language say to you?]
She smirked. [That you want a repeat of the last time we stayed here?]
I leered back. [Almost. Maybe without the ropes, at least until you get out of your cast.]
She gave a melodramatic sigh. [If you insist.] Then she cocked her head at me. [Are you saying you’d like to try it with
the ropes again, someday?]
I felt myself blushing, but I nodded. [It was
rather memorable. A formative experience, you might say.]
She licked her lips. [Damn. Now I have even more
reasons to find this cast annoying.]
I kissed the side of her neck, making her gasp. Pulling back, I said, [Good things come to those who wait.]
She kissed me back, firmly, then said, “Good things come now, too.”
And we did.
Upon our return to Yamaku, we entered the final prep for the National Center Test for University Admissions, a.k.a. the Center Test. Third year students had no more formal classes, just “free” time to study and cram. And fret. I had been a little afraid that the student council would somehow be involved in setting things up for the Center Tests, stealing more of my free time, but fortunately, since it was an official, nationwide event, the school managed everything.
Most students in Japan had to travel to testing centers to take the Center Test, but because of the special needs of our student body, our school had been designated a testing center. Which meant that, in addition to our own third year class, we would also have students from several nearby high schools taking the tests with us. A thought which made me unaccountably nervous. I worried that these outsiders might look down on or be repulsed by my classmates. Since I had an invisible disability, I wouldn’t be subject to as much of that kind of judgement or scrutiny myself, but I found I felt protective of my fellow students. We were just high school students too, stressing out over trying to get into a good university. The fact that some of us were missing limbs, or were wheelchair bound, or deaf, or blind, did nothing to alter that.
We continued working with our study groups. I felt a renewed sense of determination to make sure that anyone who studied with me would pass the science portion of their exams. I pulled a couple of classmates aside for some one-on-one tutoring, trying to get them fully up to speed. Likewise, Lilly worked with me individually several times, and for the first time in my life, I actually felt somewhat confident in my English abilities. Or at least in my ability to pass the tests, if not converse at length with a native English speaker.
The hours I spent studying kept increasing, and my already erratic sleep patterns suffered for it. Once, I slept through my morning swim session because I was so exhausted I didn’t even hear my alarms. But when Shizune found out what I had done…well, she made sure that I didn’t repeat that mistake.
We were in my room studying. When I mentioned I’d slept in that morning, she glared at me. [Your test scores won't matter if you drop dead the next day.] I thought that that was overstating the magnitude of my missing one day of exercise, but she was adamant. [You need to build good habits. Missing your workouts for most of winter break was bad enough, but you need to make it part of your daily routine. Wake up, brush teeth, take meds, swim. Every
I saluted her. “Yes, ma’am
.” For some reason she looked unamused by that. [I will,] I added placatingly. [I promise.]
Her glare softened slightly, and she regarded me with a twinkle in her eyes. [Good. Remember, you're not allowed to die until I give you permission.]
seemed like a particularly morbid way to put it, but I snorted and nodded. Then a mental image of me lying on my deathbed popped into my mind. Me waiting for Shizune to show up and tell me I could go, but she’d died before me and so I couldn’t die…
I shuddered and shook my head, trying to banish the macabre image. “Whas wron?” she asked, frowning at me.
I shook my head again, and pulled her close into a tight hug. “Don’t you go dying on me
,” I whispered, despite knowing full well she couldn’t hear me. After a long hug, I released her, and tried to smile at her. I rubbed the side of my thumb along my scar and said, “Jokes about dying…” I hesitated, unsure of how to phrase my feelings.
Her face fell. She hugged me again, and said, “Sorry.”
This time I waited to speak until we’d parted again, so she could hear me. [I don’t ever want to leave you. I don’t ever want you to leave me
.] I stared into her beautiful blue eyes, willing her to see the depth of feeling that I didn’t have the words to properly express.
Some of what I was feeling must have gotten through, because she gave me an unusually warm smile. [I love you,] she said.
I smiled back. [Of course you do.] She rolled her eyes, and I added, [I love you too.]
She hugged me tight for another minute, then we reluctantly broke apart and looked at the perpetually waiting stack of review questions waiting for us on my desk. I sighed.
[Time and exams wait for no man,] I said, mangling the proverb. Shizune nodded, and we returned to our books.
A few days after we got back to Yamaku, I got an email from Mai.
Hey, Hisao, hope you’re having as much fun as me preparing for the Center Test (⊙_◎)
I just wanted to let you know that things with my mother went well. Even went well with my father, much to my amazement. L(・o・)」 Apparently, they figured out I was gay a year or so ago, & were just waiting for me to feel comfortable enough to tell them. Sheesh. They coulda said something & saved me a couple of years of stress…
So thank Shizune for breaking the ice for us, & thanks for your support too (•‿•)
Good luck on your exams!
[I’m happy for her it went well, though I was confident it would,] Shizune commented after reading it.
[Yeah, me too,] I said. [Her parents are great.]
[Speaking of parents, and emails…] Shizune arched an inquisitive eyebrow at me.
I sighed. [I’ll write home tonight.] Step one in my campaign to win my mother over to Shizune. Or to at least accepting her.
Shizune gave me a teasing smile. [I’m sure it will come as a welcome break from memorizing historical dates.]
I groaned, and we returned to our studies.
After our first week of intensive studying, Misha, Shori, and I convinced Shizune that we deserved a small break.
[You need to rest your brain occasionally, Shicchan!] Misha admonished. [It won’t be useful to burn out before the tests.]
[Just a couple of hours,] Shori added. [Just dinner at the Shanghai.]
Shizune didn’t need too much persuading. Although she had more drive than the other three of us put together, she did
have her limits. Like almost every other third year student, she had dark circles under her eyes. [Very well. But just
two hours,] she agreed.
I thought getting her away from her books for a full two hours was optimistic, given her drive to study, but I’d take what we could get.
During the walk down the hill to the Shanghai, Misha and I were the only ones who could conveniently converse. “How are you holding up?” I asked her. I had barely seen her since winter break, aside from a couple of lunches and our science tutoring sessions.
Misha gave a hollow sounding laugh that was light-years removed from her usual carefree wahaha.
“I don’t think I’ve ever studied so hard in my life
,” she groaned. “Honestly, I had kind of pinned all my hopes on getting into an American school, and hadn’t planned on studying this hard. But Shori…” She glanced sideways at her girlfriend.
“She’s studying hard?”
Misha sighed. “Yeah. And dragging me along with her. I mean, I know
it’s a good thing, to do better on the tests, but…it’s exhausting
“Do you want
to get into a Japanese university?” I asked curiously.
Misha’s eyes flicked briefly over to Shori again, and she grimaced. “I don’t know, Hicchan. I’ve dreamed so long about studying in America, but…”
“But you want to stay with Shori?”
She sighed, sounding miserable. “Kinda? Yeah.”
“That’s a hard choice.”
“Yeah.” She shook her head, and plastered a smile onto her face. “But, that’s in the future. Who knows what schools I will or won’t get into? The choice might be made for me.”
I thought that her ambivalence spoke volumes about her real
desires, but I didn’t push it.
Over dinner, we talked about what we’d all done over winter break. Shizune and I skipped over the ugliness with my mother, and entertained them with Mai’s coming out story.
Misha sighed. “It must be nice to have such understanding parents.”
I shot her a curious look. [Have you told your parents you’re gay?]
Misha shrugged. [Kinda? I mean, I didn’t ever tell
them tell them, it’s just always been kinda known
, but my mother just keeps referring to it as a phase I’m going through. And my daddy just ignores it.]
“Oh.” That seemed kind of sad, though I guessed it was better than being kicked out of the family.
Shori shook her head. [I’ll probably tell my parents the day after I get married. Or maybe the day after they pass away.]
[Not the most liberal-minded of parents?] Shizune asked.
Shori snorted. [Hardly. It’s bad enough that I’m a giantess who dresses in lacy black.] She grimaced, then smiled at Misha. [Being away from home, at Yamaku, has been freeing, in so many ways.]
I wondered how my parents would react if I told them I was gay. Up until recently, I would have guessed that they’d be surprised but accepting. But given my mother’s recent behavior, I was no longer so sure of that.
Well, it was a highly theoretical point, anyway.
It felt like just a couple of days had passed since winter break ended when the final week before the Center Test arrived. The tests would be two days at the end of the week, Saturday and Sunday. In some ways it felt surreal that our futures could be decided in such a short span of time.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t myself that I felt had run out of time. I mean, I’m sure I could have benefitted from a few more days—weeks, even—of studying history and geography, but I was more worried about the students I had been tutoring in science. I felt responsible for them all, and I hoped that I had covered what they needed to know in enough detail for them to make it through.
I mentioned that feeling to Lilly on Thursday evening, after we’d done one last round of tutoring each other in our respective areas. She smiled in her gentle way, and said, “It sounds like you may have found your calling, Hisao. The best teachers are invested in their students’ success.”
I ran a nervous hand through my hair. “Yeah, but…what about the ones who fail? What if I did something wrong, or could have taught them better?”
She shook her head. “They’re people. Some will always do better, some will always do worse. All you can do is your best, and hope you got through to enough of them.”
I sighed. “I just hope training will get rid of some of this nervousness. I mean, the past couple of months have been amateur hour. I hope university will at least make it a little easier.”
She chuckled. “I think so. You don’t see too many of our teachers fretting and worrying on a daily basis. They care, yes, but they also know their limits.”
“True…though I hope I never get as, ah, laid back
Lilly smiled. “I don’t think you need worry about that.”
I was nervous about not getting enough rest the night before the Center Tests. [I have enough problems sleeping as it is,] I grumbled to Shizune. [I don’t think I’ll sleep at all
[You could ask Nurse for a sleeping pill,] she suggested.
I sighed. [Given how many meds I take, with all the interactions, it would take a doctor a week to figure out what, if any, sedatives are safe for me to take. And by then the exams would be over anyway.]
[How many are
you taking at the moment?] she asked curiously. She knew the general answer, but the specifics kept changing as the cardiologist tweaked my regimen.
[Ten.] I kept hoping for fewer, but the lowest I’d been since coming to Yamaku was nine, and for a few months I’d been taking twelve.
[You could do an extra swim practice. Wear yourself out a little.]
I smiled hopefully at her. [Or there are other
forms of exercise with proven track records for helping me sleep better.]
She stared at me incredulously. [How can you even think
about sex right now? Our whole futures are on the line here!]
I shrugged. [I was joking.] I hesitated, then added, [Mostly.]
She rolled her eyes. She didn’t say anything, but I could practically hear her thinking “Boys!”
To my own surprise, I managed to sleep almost five hours Friday night. That, a large cup of coffee, and quivering nerves were sufficient to keep me awake and focused for the exams. I started with History, easily my weakest subject, but I tried to encourage myself that it could only get better from there.
Misha had insisted that we meet for lunch. “I don’t care if we spend the whole time studying instead of talking, but you need fuel to keep your brains running!” she admonished us. I think we exchanged less than a dozen words over lunch, as we all pored over our notes, but she was right, food did help.
After lunch, I passed a boy from one of the local high schools who was standing just inside the entrance to the building, looking lost. I almost walked on by—I wasn’t being uncaring, but there were plenty of adult proctors around who could help him, and I hoped to get a few more minutes to review my notes. But I stopped when I realized that his fidgeting hands were actually signing, [Help, please?]
I caught his eye. [Do you need something?] I asked.
The look of relief on his face was immense. [Oh, thank heavens!]
[What’s wrong?] I asked.
[I need to find the room for the alternative English tests.] Those were a series of tests for students who were deaf, mute, or had speech impediments of some sort, and couldn’t take the standard oral portion of the foreign language test.
I nodded. [It’s upstairs, in room…] I paused, racking my aching brain for what Shizune had said. [Room 233.]
[Aren’t you heading there too?]
I shook my head. [I’m hearing. My girlfriend is deaf. She’s already up there.] I smiled. [You won’t be able to miss her—she’s the one with a cast on her arm.]
He shuddered in apparent sympathy. [That’s got to be no fun.]
[Yeah, that’s one way to put it.] I’d been wondering how the examiners would account for that temporary secondary handicap.
I gestured towards the stairs. [Come on, we should get to our exams.]
[Right. Thank you for your assistance.] He gave me a quick but heartfelt bow.
[Good luck!] I waved and headed off to my own exams. Social studies, followed by English, in my case. I just hoped I wouldn’t embarrass Lilly.
That evening, Shizune, Misha, Shori, and I all grabbed a quick dinner together before diving into our final evening of cramming. [Did you see a guy in a dark blue gakuran in the alternative language test?] I asked Shizune and Shori.
Shizune nodded. [He sought me out after the tests, asked me to thank you for your assistance.] She flashed a brief smile. [I guess my cast made me easy to spot.]
[Happy to help,] I said. [I found it odd to think of deaf students in regular high schools.]
Shori snorted. [Not everyone can afford Yamaku, Hisao. I attended public schools until two years ago, when my parents were able to arrange for me to come here.]
I hadn’t known that. [Was public high school very different?]
Shori rolled her eyes. [Very
. I didn’t have it too bad, since I can speak and speechread, but I had a deaf classmate who couldn’t do either, and he was miserable. We were thrown together a lot just by virtue of the fact that we could talk with each other.] She looked sad for a moment. [I heard over break that he dropped out of school last fall. I guess without me there…] She grimaced and shook her head. [It’s not easy.]
[How sad,] said Misha, looking distraught.
If I were to get more formal training in sign language, maybe I wouldn’t necessarily be limited to schools for the deaf and disabled. There might be a need for teachers with sign skills in other schools, too.
But, that was a worry for another day. We all turned back to our notes and continued studying as we ate.
The second day of testing was maths and sciences. On the one hand, it was nice to have what was, for me, the easier subjects to finish with. On the other hand, these exams were more meaningful to my future career than civics or history were, and so they were more stressful in that regard. Cumulative stress and fatigue made the exams feel almost surreal, but fortunately I knew this subject matter well enough that I could settle into them and power through, feeling fairly good about it all by the end of the day.
And then, just like that
…it was all over.
After all those months of stress and study and sleepless nights, it didn’t quite seem real that it could all pass in just two days. Two very long
days, admittedly, but still. Just one weekend, and done. I’d probably have to take a university-specific set of tests later in the spring, but I’d worry about that later.
I didn’t even go to dinner Sunday evening. I just went back to my room and collapsed. My bladder woke me a few hours later, and I groggily took care of that, then took my evening pills and undressed for bed. I vaguely wondered how Shizune was doing, but I suspected she was as wiped out as I. I fell into a deep and dreamless slumber, with no threat of insomnia to plague me.
Monday morning, I woke up around ten. At first I thought it was ten p.m. of the night before, but the sunlight disputed that notion. I had somehow managed to sleep through all three of my morning alarms, and miss my swim. For once, I didn’t think Shizune would comment, despite my having missed Saturday and Sunday also. I was surprised to find some part of me wished I hadn’t slept through my workout. I decided to check out the pool’s availability that afternoon, and make up for a little lost time.
By the time I sluiced off my body and had gotten dressed, it was almost lunch time, so I wandered over to the cafeteria. First and second year classes hadn’t gotten out for lunch yet, so it was just me and a handful of other third-year students, most of us looking like barely animated zombies. I grabbed a cup of coffee and a pastry, then dropped into a seat by myself when I didn’t see anyone I knew around.
A lot of third year students had headed home yesterday, right after exams ended, but I wanted to spend time with Shizune. And things with my mother were still unsettled. In our emails back and forth over the last few weeks, she seemed to be getting more resigned to my relationship with Shizune, but I was holding out hope for something a little more enthusiastic than merely “resigned.” I knew that I’d need to visit home, to continue my “campaign” in person, in order to make better headway with her, but I didn’t mind putting that off for a little while yet.
“Hey, Hisao.” I looked up to see Shori carrying a tray over to where I sat. She set the tray down and settled into a seat with a groan. She wasn’t wearing a school uniform, but nor was she in her preferred black laces and crinolines. She looked quite different.
[I think this is the first time I’ve seen you in blue jeans and a t-shirt,] I said to her.
She smiled mirthlessly. [I’m too tired to do my makeup properly.] Ah, that was the other thing that was different about her.
[Me too,] I said, deadpan. She looked startled for a moment, then she gave me a more genuine grin.
[If you ever want a makeover, I'd be happy to help,] she offered.
I laughed at that, then heard Misha ask, “What's so funny?” She walked up to our table and sat down, a lunch tray in hand. She leaned her head on Shori’s shoulder, and relaxed a little further.
[Shori was just offering to give me a makeover,] I said.
Misha burst into laughter. “Wahaha~! I'd pay good money to see that!”
I grinned. “Well, if I ever need to raise some funds, I'll keep that in mind.”
Shizune walked up behind Misha and flicked her ear. Misha jumped and sat up. “Ow!” She turned around to see Shizune frowning at her.
[No PDAs in the cafeteria!] Shizune scolded, although her eyes were twinkling.
Misah rubbed her ear and rolled her eyes. “Really
, Shicchan? We’re almost graduates, not students anymore!”
[‘Almost’ being the operative word there,] Shizune replied, then sat down next to me, leaving a decorous distance between us. I promptly defeated her propriety by grabbing her hand and giving it a kiss. She blushed and jerked her hand away from me, much to Shori’s and Misha’s amusement.
[Do I need to flick you ear too?] Shizune asked. I grinned and held protective hands over my ears, which just increased the laughter from the other side of the table.
Shizune looked at the laughing couple opposite us, and shook her head. [I think the tests have left some people a little punch drunk.]
“We’re not the only ones,” Misha said. “Hicchan was just asking Shori for a makeover~!”
, that’s not what I said!” I said, but my protest was just met by renewed laughter among the other three. Even Shizune laughed out loud, which I took to mean she was a little punchy too. I sighed and rolled my eyes. It was worth a little indignity to hear Shizune laugh.
Just as long as they didn’t start pulling out their makeup kits.
A few days later, Shizune and I were cuddled up together in her room, watching a movie on her laptop, when her doorbell rang and flashed. Shizune paused the movie, and, since she was sitting leaning against me, she got up to answer the door.
She opened the door to reveal Misha, looking remarkably somber. [Hi, Shicchan. Can I come in?]
Shizune just stepped back and gestured her into the room. Misha’s lips twitched in an incredibly feeble attempt at a smile when she spotted me, but she said nothing else. She just sat down on Shizune’s desk chair and slumped, staring at the floor. She was clutching a crumpled sheet of paper in her hand.
“Misha? Is something wrong?” I asked. Shizune closed the door and went to stand beside Misha.
“I…I got…” She caught herself and switched to sign. [I got accepted. At NYU.] She looked miserable.
Shizune and I exchanged puzzled looks. “Um, sakura saku?” I hesitantly offered the traditional congratulatory saying for folks who pass their exams. But she didn’t look like she was enjoying the prospect of her “flowering spring” that came from passing exams.
Since Misha was looking at the floor, not us, Shizune asked, “Why are you sad? That wash one of your first choices, yes?”
Misha looked up at the sound of Shizune’s voice. Her lower lip quivered for a moment, then she asked, “But wh…what about…Shori?”
Oh, yeah. That.
Shizune wrapped her arm around her, hugging her gently so as to not press her too hard against her cast.
Misha looked lost and bereft. “I thought I’d be so happy
if I got admitted to a university. Any
university, let alone one of my top choices. But now…” She grimaced.
“May I see that?” I asked, pointing to the letter in her hand. She just shrugged and handed it over wordlessly.
I smoothed it out and looked it over. It was a testament to Lilly’s tutoring that I was able to read it fairly quickly. “Misha…” I said slowly. “This is a full tuition scholarship. That’s…” I did an approximate conversion in my head. “That’s around fifteen million yen.” I looked up at her, stunned.
“I know,” she said miserably.
“What was that?” Shizune asked. I hadn’t signed since I was holding the paper, and Misha seemed too depressed to interpret my words. I handed Shizune the letter and repeated my statement. Shizune’s eyes went wide too.
“Misha, I…I’m sho proud of you,” Shizune said out loud, since Misha was still staring at the floor.
Misha looked up at that, and tried to smile. “Thank you, Shicchan.”
Shizune seemed to be struggling with what to say next, but she settled on, [What is it you want to do?]
Misha resumed signing with her speech. “I want…I want to go to New York. But…”
“Do you want to stay here with Shori instead?” I asked.
Misha bit her lip. “I…I don’t know, Hicchan.”
Shizune arched an eyebrow at that. [If you ‘don’t know,’ I think that means you actually know what you want. You just don’t want to say it.]
Misha squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, looking pained. She nodded.
[Are things not going well with you and Shori?]
Misha shrugged. “They’re going…okay. We have fun. But…”
“But what?” I prompted after a long pause.
“But I look at you two, or Suzu and Taro, or Natsu and Naomi, and…and I just don't look at Shori like that.”
“Look at her?” I said blankly. “Like what?”
“Like the way you look at Shicchan, or the way she looks at you. You know. Like she's the most wonderful thing in the world. Like you're in love.”
I blushed at that observation, but Shizune looked even more rattled. [Is it…that obvious?] she asked, wide eyed.
Misha looked at the expression on Shizune’s face, and laughed, her mood lightening a little. “Oh, Shicchan. Of course
[Is that something to be ashamed of?] I teased.
Shizune frowned and shook her head at me. [Of course not. I just wasn't aware we were so…obvious.]
“Wait a minute,” I said, my brain finally catching up with what Misha had just said. “Natsume and Naomi? Really?”
Shizune and Misha gave each other identical resigned looks. Thanks to Iwanako, I now recognized the sign for “oblivious idiot” when Shizune flicked her fingers at Misha in a sentence too quick for me to completely follow. Not that I tried very hard.
“Oh, never mind,” I grumbled.
At least I managed to provide Misha with some amusement, however temporarily. Her smile faded, and she asked us, “Would you be willing to help me talk to her?”
I thought about that for a moment. “You’d only need help if you were going to…” I trailed off as Misha nodded sadly.
“I need…I need to tell her that I’m leaving.” She closed her eyes and continued, almost too quietly for me to hear her, “I need to break up with her.”
“Oh.” I frowned, and exchanged a glance with Shizune. “I really think…that’s something you should do in private, Misha. I don’t think she’d appreciate having an audience.”
[But we will be here for you to talk with, afterwards,] Shizune said.
Misha slumped, but after a moment, she nodded. “Yeah. You’re right.” She stood up, and turned toward the door, looking like she was going to her execution. I intercepted her before she reached the door and gave her a hug. “Really. We’ll be here for you.”
She hugged me back, and gave me a tremulous smile as she pulled back. “Thank you, Hicchan.”
But two hours later, she still hadn’t returned to Shizune’s room. It was nearing the end of dinner time, so we left Misha a note on the door and headed to the cafeteria to grab something before it closed.
We’d only just sat down to eat when I noticed two students entering even later than us, and looked over to see Misha and Shori walk in. To my amazement, they both looked relaxed and happy. Did Misha decide to not talk with Shori about getting admitted to NYU?
I poked Shizune in the arm, and when she looked up at me, annoyed by the rough gesture, I pointed toward the couple walking toward us. Her eyebrows shot up. She turned to me and held her hand in front of her mouth so Shori couldn’t read her. “Didn’t Misha tell her yet?” she asked in as quiet a voice as she could manage. I just shrugged helplessly.
“Hi, guys~!” Misha said happily as they sat down at the table with us. Shori just nodded a greeting.
“Hi, Misha. Shori. Um…how’re you doing?” I asked cautiously. I didn’t want to spill any beans if Misha were keeping secrets. I just hoped that Misha hadn’t brought Shori here to break up with her with us as witnesses. That would just be all kinds of awkward.
“Did you hear the good news?” Shori asked excitedly.
“Ah…” I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.
“Misha got admitted to NYU!” she continued. She beamed proudly at Misha. “Full sholarship, too!”
[Yes, we heard. It’s wonderful news,] Shizune responded, recovering faster than I did.
“Misha?” I muttered without moving my lips. “What’s going on?” I felt a little rude sneaking a verbal conversation in front of Shizune and Shori, but I was really confused.
Misha laughed. “Hahaha~! It’s all fine, Hicchan. Really.”
I resumed signing and speaking. “Oh. That’s nice.” Then I got stuck for what to say next.
Misha leaned against Shori for a moment, then sat up before Shizune could say anything. “I forgot that I had mentioned in sign class last fall that I was hoping to get into NYU. Shori…” Misha hesitated, then switched to just sign for a little more privacy. [She knew all along I might be leaving Japan. It’s always been a short-term relationship from her point of view.]
[It’s been fun, but…we’re both going in very different directions,] Shori added. She smiled down at Misha. [Really
Misha grinned back. [So, we’ll just make the most of the time we have left!]
“Ah. Well. I’m glad…things are working out so well for you,” I said.
[We should celebrate your good news,] Shizune added. [Dinner out tomorrow?]
[Somewhere nicer than the Shanghai?] I offered.
“As long as they have parfaits!” Misha said.
The day the Center Test results were to be posted, Shizune was practically vibrating out of her seat at breakfast. At a casual glance, she projected an ostensible air of confidence, but Misha and I knew her well enough to see through that facade to the nerves that lay underneath. It wouldn’t be the end of the world if her scores weren’t good enough for Kyoto University. She wouldn’t be the first qualified person who failed to get admitted. But although she kept reminding us that there were plenty of options, she really had her heart set on it.
[This is just step one,] Shizune reminded us. Reminded herself. [Even if my scores are good enough, I still need to pass KU’s entrance exams too.]
[You’ll do great, Shicchan!] Misha assured her. [If anyone can do it, it’s you!] Shori nodded in agreement.
I felt the same way, but at the same time, I wanted to be able to pick her spirits up if her scores fell short of the near-perfect scores she’d need to move on. [You’re brilliant, driven, and capable. No matter where you end up, you’ll do well.]
Honestly, I was happy to have Shizune’s stress to worry about. It kept me distracted from my own worries. I had no real concerns for the maths and sciences sections of the exams; I was pretty sure I’d done more than well enough there. My stumbling blocks would be the history and civics sections. I needed to do at least passably well in those to get into a decent school, even though I was planning on teaching science.
If you’d asked me six months ago who’d be the least worried about exam results, I would not
have picked Misha. But having already been admitted to NYU, the exams were fairly meaningless for her. She came along to see our scores mostly out of curiosity and for moral support.
The scores were posted on a large bulletin board right outside the main administration office. There was a much shorter list, in Braille, at one end of the board for the visually impaired students.
I would have thought Shizune would want to be there the instant they were posted, but she didn’t. [If we just wait five minutes, the crowd won’t be as crazy. And we won’t risk getting our toes run over by impatient wheelchair users.]
I could see her point, though I was gritting my teeth the whole five minutes. But she was right; when we walked into the administration building, the majority of students had already come and gone, and we were able to peruse the board without crowds jostling our elbows.
We started alphabetically and worked our way down the board: Hakamichi, Mikado, Nakai, and Takagi.
Shizune’s scores were exemplary, of course. All 98th or 99th percentile. “Well, that’s definitely good enough to get you a shot at KU,” I said with a smile.
“Sakura saku!” cheered Misha, beaming at Shizune.
Shizune looked relieved. I’d been pretty sure she would earn one of the highest scores in the school, but I was happy she hadn’t stumbled in some way.
Misha’s scores were surprisingly good. I’d known she was bright, under the bubbly airhead exterior she projected, and NYU wouldn’t have offered a scholarship to just anyone, but even so, seeing her scores were all in the eighties surprised me. Which made me feel a little guilty, for doubting her so. “Sakura saku,” I said to her again, and, unlike the first time I’d said that to her when she told us of her scholarship, she grinned back at me.
“Thanks~! Now let’s see yours!”
I took a deep breath and skipped down a few lines to my scores. Sciences and maths were all in the high nineties. Everything else was eighties to low nineties. I blinked as I realized that Misha had gotten better scores than I had in social studies and English. Only by a couple of percentile points, but still.
“Not bad,” observed Shori.
“And you?” Misha said to her girlfriend. We all stepped down to the next page of scores. Shori’s scores were in the same range as Misha’s.
Shori sagged a little in relief. “Thank heavens. My mother would have killed me if I had to take a ronin year.” She grinned at me. “And I have you to thank for not failing the sciences portion.”
I waved that aside. “You’d have done fine without me.”
“Doubtful. I bet you’re responsible for at least ten percentile points of my score, if not more.”
I felt warmed by her thanks. “Well, you’re welcome. It was fun to teach you.”
I grinned. “Yeah. Really. I actually do enjoy this teaching stuff.”
I heard a gentle cough behind us, and a man’s voice saying, “Miss Mikado, might I impose upon your sign interpretation skills for a moment?”
We turned to see Yamaku’s principal standing behind us, smiling.
“Of course, Principal-san~!” Misha beamed.
He nodded his thanks to her, then turned to address Shizune. “Miss Hakamicihi. As the former head of the student council, and the organizer of the study groups for our students this year, I thought you should know that this year’s graduating class had an eighty-seven percent pass rate on the Center Test, the highest in Yamaku’s history.” He then surprised us all by bowing to her. Shizune of course didn’t even blink, but bowed back, a small proud smile on her face.
“Thang you, sir,” she said. “I was pleased to be able to serve my fellow students.”
“You served them very well indeed. Please don’t hesitate to use me as a reference should you need to in the future.”
Shizune bowed again. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
He nodded to us. “Well, I won’t keep you from your celebrations. Sakura saku, all of you. You’ve done Yamaku proud.”
He went back into his office. I smiled proudly at Shizune, and she grinned back. Her plan had borne fruit. Not only had we passed the tests, but a record number of our classmates had as well.
“Good job, Shizune! You did it!” Misha said proudly.
Shizune shook her head, still smiling. [No, we
did it.] She glanced at me, and we said, in unison, “We win!”
|| Epilogue —>>