Woo, finally got around to finishing this one. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders because of a lot of obligations these last few months including conventions and other rush projects. I didn't want to shelf this chapter as long as I did, but I wanted to make sure I was happy with it because a lot
This is also the longest chapter I have ever written, clocking in at 10.5k words and nearly 30 pages, pushing this fic to over 200k words.
I want to thank Retrograde for one of the art sketches in this chapter, along with Cherubi for a picture I found on the shimmie
Thanks for sticking with me this long guys. The title from this chapter comes from "Immortal" by Marina and the Diamonds.
It's an absolutely beautiful
Act 4: Liftoff
Scene 3: From The End To The Start
The classroom feels like a ghost town. I imagine having almost half the seats vacant would do that, but the way they’re scattered around makes it feel even emptier than it actually is.
Winter break started yesterday, so I know not everyone who is missing is gone until March. Those that are, I won’t see until they come back for the graduation ceremonies. Regardless of who’s here and who isn’t, I’m sure the feeling of relief over finishing our exams is something that will bind all
of us together for at least another few weeks. At least the teachers were kind enough to give us an extra day to rest before trudging us back into the classroom this morning. Heck, maybe that’s why there are so many empty chairs. I bet a few of them belong to people still catching up on sleep.
Despite it being Christmas Eve, it’s been a fairly uneventful morning.
After the bell rings, Mutou takes a few minutes to straighten out his desk and apparently his thoughts. He approaches the front of the classroom and hands the first person in each row a few papers, instructing us to take one and pass the rest behind us.
“First off,” he states, “congratulations to all of you here for surviving the final exams. I’m pleased that all of you ended up getting good enough scores to graduate at the end of March.” He gives all of us a warm smile. “I know you all worked hard, so if you’re staying until graduation take the next three months to spend as you see fit.”
Since Taro is gone, Molly only hands me a single sheet over her shoulder.
“Myself and the other third-year teachers will be available to go over any individual or group tutoring you may need or want to brush up on. If that’s something you want to take advantage of, you won’t be gathering here by default each morning. Instead, you’ll go to that teacher’s homeroom. I’ll be here tutoring science. You’ll go to Mrs. Miyagi’s classroom if you want help with English, and so on.”
I’m already ahead of him on the page, looking at the list of restrictions. There are fewer than there were in the packet I got when I first transferred in, but the big ones like curfew and no sleeping over are still there. I’m sure they’ll be adhered to just as much as they have been.
“It’s pretty common the last few months for those that stay to help the younger classes,” Mutou drones on. “A few of the first and second year teachers could use some aides, and clubs will still be meeting up after classes until the end of the year.”
There’s not much else on the paper I couldn’t have guessed at, given what I’ve heard about how summer break was handled. There’s a short blurb saying that the cafeteria will keep the same hours, and things like the library and pool will remain open as well.
Mutou soon pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket and switches to a topic most of us are much more interested in. “So now that that’s
out of the way, let’s have a show of hands. How many of you are planning to go to the city tonight?”
I raise my hand, along with most of the other classmates. Miki and Suzu are among those who have their hands up, so I’m hopeful we’ll all be able to hang out together at least part of the night. We haven’t really talked about doing so since the time we ran into each other at the pool, but maybe they’re like our group and keeping plans loosely open.
Maeda also has his arm in the air, but I tell myself not to worry about it and just enjoy one last night with my friends before we all see each other again in March. I mean, if we ended up at karaoke together I wouldn’t leave the building...but I would
move to a different room.
Mutou seems to make a mental count of all the different students who just answered his question and gives a slight nod. “Good! Just so you all know, here are the staff members going tonight.” He reads a list of names off of the paper in his hand, starting with Nurse and himself.
There’s only two names that I recognize, those being Mrs. Miyagi and Mrs. Sakamoto. The latter name surprises me a bit because I wasn’t sure if she was coming or not. The other names must be staff members that teach other years or different clubs.
“Everyone who goes is free to eat wherever they like, but we’ve called ahead to Soroumoni so they know to expect us. Everyone’s invited and I hope to see at least at least some of you there.”
Saki and Chisato both mentioned that they wanted to go to the dinner, as long as our group would be able to split off and do our own thing afterwards. We still hadn’t decided what that might be, although we’d been kicking around ideas to each other. Maybe that’s changed?
“Don’t forget about curfew. After dinner you’ll have a few hours to spend however you want, but make sure you’re back at the school by curfew.” Our teacher then picks up a piece of chalk and writes a phone number on the board. “This is my personal number for those of you that don’t have it. I would like everyone here who is going tonight to send me a text message when you get back to the school for safety reasons.” He then pauses slightly and smirks. “If something happens and you can’t make it back in time, just give me an idea of what’s going on and what time you’ll be back. We need to know when and where to send out the search and rescue parties.”
Mutou looks up at the clock. While only a few minutes have passed, he seems content to let us enjoy the rest of our morning. “That’s it for now. Remember, we’ll be meeting up by the front gate at two for a final headcount. I guess the only thing else to say about tonight is...have fun,” he finishes with another one of his soft smiles.
“Get all your packing done, Noriko?”
Noriko turns from Saki to look back at Chisato. “I finished most of it last night...just another two or three boxes I think.”
“What time did you say your folks were going to be here?” I ask, checking my watch.
“My father gets off work in about half an hour, so another forty minutes after that if traffic is good,” she finishes with a yawn.
Our group is sitting together in the cafeteria, enjoying the first stress-free lunch we’ve shared together in weeks. Over the last month or so the cafeteria had changed from a place of laughter and lively conversation to one of soulless pragmatism. Students would trudge in and simply spend as little time as needed to fuel their bodies with sustenance and caffeine in a brutally rigorous schedule, or try and stretch the process out to steal a few moments of respite from the world around them.
It happened so gradually, I never realized how much had actually changed until I was shocked by how much laughter, relief, and life
you can feel in the air.
“Do you think we’ll need one trip or two?”
” Saki asks.
many, I mean, at least as long as all of you can help me.”
Noriko, like a lot of other third year students, is dealing with the logistics of how and when to leave. More than once over the last few days when I’ve ventured to take a walk or go down to the cafeteria, I’ve seen students with their parents carrying boxes and other belongings out to the parking lot. She’s been trying to recruit us into helping her with the same thing.
“I’m going to miss you,” Chisato pouts, leaning over onto her friend’s shoulder in a sing-song whine.
“Me too...but it’s not like we’re not going to see each other the next few months. Just give me a call whenever you guys come down to the city and I can meet you.”
“You couldn’t do this in a few days?” Saki asks. “It’s just kind of a bummer, what with it being Christmas Eve and all.”
Noriko yawns again. “This is the only day my father could take off early this week.”
“I, um...is it alright if you call me when your dad gets here?” Chisato asks. “Mitsuru’s packing, and I...uh…”
Her friend instantly picks up on it, then assures her. “That’s not a problem. I will.”
“Speaking of tonight,” Saki interjects, ”what are the plans? Did you want to go to karaoke, the arcade, or what? Did Miki and Suzu ever say what they were doing?”
“I haven’t had a chance to talk to them about it yet,” I answer. I haven’t run into either of them outside of class except for a handful of times where one of us was busy and couldn’t really stop to chat.
“Better make a decision soon.”
“We’ll bump into each other when we get ready to head into town. We can figure it out then, or at dinner. We’re all going tonight, right?”
Everyone else gives their agreement, and after a few more minutes of finishing up our meal, we start walking back towards the dorms. With afternoon classes happening for the underclassmen, we practically have the campus to ourselves.
“You get any packing done the last few days?” Noriko asks.
“Nah, not much,” I reply. “I’ll do most of it when I get back up here from winter break.”
“Did you figure out when that would be?” Saki asks, giving my arm a light squeeze.
I walk up the steps to the dorm courtyard, coming to a stop with the rest of the group. I can already feel a crispness in the air; a subtle indication of the evening to come. Truth be told, I haven’t come up with any answers yet, not even as part of an if-then exercise. While I know I’ve been worrying about how the appointment this week will go, it’s been rather convenient to throw myself into studying in order to take my mind off it. Now however, without the distraction, my subconscious has been chewing on the situation and not liking the taste.
“I guess it all depends on what my doctors say. If everything goes well I may be back after a week or two,” I say with a heavy sigh, adjusting the strap of my bookbag on my shoulder.
Saki’s hand slides down my arm and squeezes mine assuringly...as if to tell me that no matter what comes of it, we’ll figure it out and be okay.
“Don’t forget to call me, alright?” Chisato says while turning slightly to break off from the rest of us, no doubt eager to help out her boyfriend.
“We’ll text you,” Saki answers.
Chisato gives us a small smile of thanks, then a wave as she makes a beeline straight for the male dorms.
“You know, I don’t mind carrying an extra box or two if it means that she gets to spend some more time with Mitsuru,” I idly comment as I watch the door close behind her.
Noriko’s phone makes a chirping noise, and she pulls it out of her purse to check it. “That’s probably a good idea. My dad just texted me and he’s going to be here in about thirty minutes. His boss must have let him leave a little earlier…”
“What more do you have left to pack?”
“Just a few more papers and some clothes. I left a few things out because I’m trying to figure out what to wear tonight...”
Saki brightens up at this. “Ooo, need help?”
Noriko smiles. “Maybe.”
A few moments, hallways, and stairs later, Noriko opens the door for us and we step into her dorm room. I’m actually taken aback a bit when I see it; it’s not the first time I’ve been in here, but seeing the room stripped down to the bare essentials is shocking. All that’s left on the walls of the colorful posters that used to be there are a few small spots of residue left behind by the tape that held them up, and only then if you know where to look. Books, electronics, pictures; all of them are crammed into about a dozen boxes along the far wall. Even the sheets have been packed away, leaving the green mattress exposed on its frame. The only signs that anyone actually lived in this room except for those boxes is a stack of papers on the corner of the dresser.
“Give me a minute,” Noriko says, tossing her purse onto the bed and opening the closet.