The sound of something, a phone or a doorbell, shakes me out of my slumber. I'm not sure if I had another bad dream or not, but I still feel a bit tired. I don't feel quite as bad as last night, but maybe that will change once my brain has woken up completely. I wearily open my eyes only to let out a soft cry at the sight of Lilly's face being a mere ten centimeters away from my own.
After a moment of confusion I remember going back to sleep last night, and I giggle awkwardly. Lilly's action was very sweet, but a little bit embarrassing too.
I don't hear a reaction from Hisao, so he's probably still asleep just like Lilly is.
Before I can doze off again, I hear a door opening, followed by the sound of voices.
"Hiro? Lilly's not in her room. I wonder if she's taking a bath, and that's why she didn't open up when we rang. Shall I check the bathroom?"
"Not necessary. I have already found her. It appears that she is still asleep and... hmmm... perhaps you should come and see for yourself."
"Huh? She's asleep in the living room? Is there a boy with her or something?"
"A boy... and a girl..."
I feel an uneasy sensation in the bottom of my stomach. I'm already awake enough to recognize those voices. They belong to Lilly's parents, and it seems that her father has already discovered us here. This is probably going to be awkward.
I decide to do what's probably for the best: pretend to be asleep and let Lilly handle all of this.
"Hahaha. Oh my, it seems we just stumbled into something scandalous."
"The actual scandal would be the fact that they are still asleep. This is an important day, and our daughter here is sleeping through her responsibilities."
"Then lets wake them up, shall we? My own mother often used the the good ol' ladle and frying pan combination to get people out of bed. It never failed to do the job. I've always wanted to wake someone up that way. This would be a perfect opportunity."
"It may be effective, but it is also a bit coarse and unrefined. I prefer a simpler approach."
I hear him clearing his throat.
I instantly reel a little, and I feel Lilly immediately stirring as well. Mister Satou didn't even raise his voice all that much, but his tone was one of an angry boss who just caught one of his underlings napping during crunch time. It's the kind of tone that would probably cause me to start stammering apologies before I even knew what I did wrong.
I open my eyes and throw a quick glance at the people standing in the room. Lilly's mother has an amused grin on her face, but Lilly's father looks a little dismayed. Behind me, Hisao rises up as well, and I hear him fidget.
"Mister and Mrs Satou. Uh... This isn't what it looks like."
Lilly's mother gives my boyfriend a teasing wink.
"You know Hisao... When people say those specific words, it's often exactly
what it looks like."
"Hanako had a nightmare last night, and we just wanted to...uh..."
Lilly's father gives a prolonged sigh.
"My wife is merely teasing you, Mister Nakai. Your sleeping arrangement is of less concern than the fact that Lilly was about to sleep through her obligations for today. Do you know what day it is?"
"Yeah, it's open house day at school. *yawn* I'm supposed to help out with a workshop at the faculty. Uh... What time is it anyway?"
Hisao looks around, only to remember that Lilly doesn't have any easily readable clocks in the apartment. Mister Satou checks his watch.
"It is almost a quarter past 8."
"What? Damnit! I'm supposed to be at the faculty in half an hour!"
"So... You too..."
"Never mind that. Mister Nakai, why not pay a quick visit to the bathroom and freshen yourself up? Do not take too long. You can hitch a ride with us and still be at the university in time."
Hisao gets up and quickly leaves the room. Next to me, Lilly's slowly rising to her feet as well, yawning as she does so. Something her father just said is bugging me, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Satous' sudden appearance. Lilly didn't mention that they'd drop by this morning.
Lilly's father gives his youngest daughter a scrutinizing look.
"Is it still too early in the morning for a proper greeting, Lilly?"
"I... apologize, Father. I'm happy to see you and Mother. Welcome. It's just that your appearance here caught me off guard. Weren't we supposed to meet up this evening?"
Lilly's mother smiles playfully.
"We changed plans and decided to attend your little performance... or performances. Hehe... maybe I'll write a review afterwards. No pressure, of course."
"A good thing we did or you might have overslept."
So it wasn't just Hisao who got involved in a faculty activity for today. But Lilly never mentioned this. Why not? Didn't she promise to accompany me today? What's going on?
"Ummm... L-Lilly... What p-performance?"
Lilly grimaces and suddenly looks cornered.
"The truth is, Hanako, that I was originally scheduled to participate in an activity at my faculty as well. When you called me earlier this week to tell me that Miss Takawa instructed you to visit the open house day today, and you mentioned you didn't want Hisao to come with you because he already had a workshop activity that you didn't want him to give up for your sake, I... decided not to bring up my original plans for today. I'm sorry."
"Y-You... c-canceled something f-for m-my sake?"
"I called a classmate and told him that some personal circumstances came up. I asked him if he'd be willing to fill in for me and he said that was okay. I'm sure he'll do a very good job in my place. Being here for you today is more important to me than the activity I was initially planning to help out with. This is my own choice."
I feel guilty about Lilly having made such a decision for my sake, though part of me also feels good that she's so committed to being by my side. Mister Satou, on the other hand, gives his daughter an angry scowl.
"And how much time did you take to carefully consider that choice, Lillian?! Do you realize what it is that you are so casually dismissing after all the effort that was put into it? Do you realize what your classmates will probably think of you afterwards? What effect this will have on your reputation?"
Lilly cringes at every word from her father. I'm a little taken back by how fierce his response to the news of Lilly's change of plans is and the same is probably true for her. After fidgeting a bit, Lilly recomposes herself.
"I... I am hoping that they will be understanding, Father. I was... hoping that you would be understanding as well."
"I am understanding. But I still insist that you call your classmate and tell him that you have changed your mind. I do not think Hanako would want you to do this if she knew the whole context of the situation."
"L-Lilly... I... I think I'll... b-be okay on m-my own."
Lilly's mother gives me a concerned look.
"I don't think that sounded very convincing, dear."
Mister Satou's look softens a bit as he addresses his daughter again.
"Lilly, nobody in here doubts your ability to function as a pillar of emotional support to others, but what if something happens that... triggers Hanako's apprehensions? Will you be able to quickly get her out? Will you even notice in time? For whose benefit is this really?"
While there's no accusing tone in Mister Satou's voice this time, Lilly looks more hurt by his words this time than during the scolding she received moments ago. As much as I hate to admit it, I can't deny that there's probably some truth to his words. If something happens, and I start panicking and need to get away, Lilly's usual pace would be a hundred times too slow for me, and from the looks of it, Lilly also realizes this and it stings her.
A painful silence follows, but Mister Satou eventually exchanges a long look with his wife. Just as I start wondering what's going through their minds, Lilly's parents share a short mutual smile and Karla gives her husband a brief nod, which is promptly returned. Then she turns to me.
"Hanako... I think it's still a good idea if someone comes with you to offer a bit of reassurance in case you need it. Would you mind if I came along with you instead of Lilly?"
Lilly looks genuinely baffled.
Lilly's father nods.
"Yes, I will attend the activities at the English faculty on behalf of both of us, and my wife will accompany Hanako for today. Hanako, do not be afraid that you are imposing on her. It is a journalistic faculty after all, so she will probably enjoy the experience."
"How about it, Hanako? Can I go with you for today?"
I give Lilly an unsure look.
A tiny smile is visible on Lilly's face.
"I'm okay with it if you are, Hanako. I... I have faith in Mother."
"Uh... O-okay then."
Lilly's mother gives me an excited smile.
"Alright then. Just leave things to me, okay?"
Lilly's father gives an approving nod.
"It is decided then."
He walks out of the room and returns a few seconds later with Lilly's cell phone which he places into his daughter's hand.
"Lilly, call your classmate, and tell him that the circumstances have changed and that you will be fulfilling your obligations after all. Be sure to apologize profusely to him for the confusion you have caused."
"Ah... Yes, Father. I will."
"Good. Let us make haste. If we hurry we can be on the road in 15 minutes."
Lilly's mother heads to the kitchen and starts rummaging through the cupboard.
"I'll go and get some food ready for breakfast."
"That is a good idea. They can eat on their way there."
Things suddenly become hectic around me. As Hisao, fully dressed now, walks back into the living room, Lilly's father looks at me and gestures towards the bathroom.
"You should go and tidy yourself up too, Hanako. A proper lady does not go out in public with a head of dishevelled hair."
And with that, the morning suddenly kicks into overdrive.
Against my own expectations, we manage to finish our preparations for the day in record time although it's obvious that Lilly, who is always a slow starter in the morning, has trouble keeping up. After refreshing and dressing ourselves, we get in the car and feverishly wolf down the seaweed-wrapped pieces of fish that Lilly's mother found in the fridge and hurriedly prepared for us. I hope none of us is going to get a stomach ache half an hour into the event.
We're still finishing the final remaining pieces of food by the time we reach the campus terrain. As the car approaches the parking area, Lilly's mother turns to her husband.
"Hiro? Since Lilly and Hisao are in a bit of a hurry and the English and science faculties aren't really close to the entrance, why not stop right in front of the gate and get out there? I'll park the car for you. Since it'll probably still take a little while for preparations to finish and the actual events to start, Hanako and I still have plenty of time."
"Very well. If we get out close to the entrance we should be able to still make it in time as long as we pace ourselves a bit."
Lilly's father stops the car in front of the entrance gate and turns around to face us.
"Lilly, Mister Nakai...this is our stop. Mister Nakai, be sure to do your best today too."
"Don't worry, sir. I will. I'm not sure when I'll be back. Probably some time after the activities at my faculty end. Fortunately there are already other people scheduled for cleaning duty. I'll come to the journalism faculty afterwards."
Hisao turns to me and gives me a quick kiss.
"Hanako... Good luck today. I'll be rooting for you."
I feel Lilly briefly taking my hand in hers.
"Yes, good luck, Hanako. You'll be in my thoughts today. Hang in there."
"Let us be on our way."
Lilly's father gives the car keys to his wife and then gives her and me a quick nod.
"Karla... Hanako... Good luck."
"Thanks, Hiro. We'll do our best."
Lilly, her father and Hisao get out and head towards the entry gate at a brisk pace. Lilly's mother gets into the driver's seat and motions me to take a seat next to her. As I get in the front seat, Karla starts the engine and navigates the car to a secluded corner of the parking lot. Then she looks at me.
"We should probably go too."
"If you really want to stay in the car for a little while longer, that's fine with me, but there's not a lot we can do here. They're probably still busy with preparations at the journalism faculty building, but I was thinking we could have a brief walk around the campus. To acclimatize to the place a bit. It might ease your nerves a little. You're looking a little tense right now. Staying here and doing nothing might only make things worse."
'A little tense' is hardly an accurate way to describe how I'm feeling right now. I'm extremely nervous, and I'm getting uneasier by the minute. Funnily enough I felt okay this morning. We got off to such a rushed and hectic start that I was completely preoccupied with getting ready and making sure Hisao and Lilly wouldn't be late. I had no opportunity to think too deeply about today. But after Hisao, Lilly and her father got out of the car and the pace slowed down again, my brain was quick to remind me how horribly wrong things went the last time I was here. And now it wants to know whether I'm really ready to go back for more of what I endured last year.
Karla seems to notice my nervous fidgetting and gives me an awkward smile.
"You know... I'm... probably not as good at this as Lilly is, but I do think I understand how you're feeling right now. Last year things went terribly wrong, and you haven't been back here since. Your gut tells you that if you go now, things'll just turn out the same way."
I nod sullenly. That's pretty much the gist of things.
"Whenever you're getting particularly nervous, I'd like you to tell yourself something. I'd like you to remind yourself that history doesn't always repeat itself."
"History d-doesn't always repeat itself?"
"Uhuh. There's nothing strange about the way you're feeling right now. There's a saying that says: 'Once bitten, twice shy.' It wouldn't be a saying if what you're feeling is anything out of the ordinary. But sometimes a situation isn't completely the same. Sometimes it's merely similar, but beneath the surface things are different enough to result in a completely different outcome altogether. I think this is one of those situations."
Despite my anxiety I manage to smile for a moment. There's something strangely familiar about what Karla is saying.
"Uh... Akira said... that you told her something like this too."
Karla's look turns slightly curious.
"What exactly did Akira say that I said?"
"Just that... history doesn't always repeat."
"It was probably as appropriate then as it is now. Like I said, there's nothing unusual about how you're feeling. It's completely human. Just for the record; what I said were originally my husband's words. Heh, as a journalist it's important to name your sources when quoting someone."
We smile a little at that.
"Speaking of which, shall we go?"
I let out a deep sigh.
We get out of the car and start walking back towards the campus entrance. I make certain to keep walking on Karla's left side so I can quickly turn towards her a little if we get too close to other people. By the time we reach the gate, I have already slowed down to a fraction of our starting pace. And when we get close to the journalism faculty building, a shiver goes through my body that even Karla seems to notice. She gives my hand a reassuring squeeze.
"It's probably kinda early to go in already, so why don't we go find ourselves a spot where we can take a load off for a while? I know a place that's fairly peaceful."
I give a weak nod and follow Lilly's mother until we reach a garden-like area some distance away from the faculty. As I sit down on a nearby bench, Karla gestures back towards the building.
"I'm going in there really quick to get us some snacks for lunch. The cafeteria's probably open for business already. Can you think of anything in particular that you like?"
"N-No. Anything's fine."
"Good. I'll probably be back in ten minutes or so."
She turns around and hurries off in the direction we just came from. I've noticed before that Karla's usual pace (and not just her walking pace) is quite fast. I feel bad about making her slow down so much for my sake.
I shoot an uneasy look at the faculty building in the distance. It sounds crazy, but when we were near its entrance just a few minutes earlier it felt like the building itself loomed over me like a faceless bully, and I could almost picture it throwing a mocking greeting my way.
Hey there! Remember me? Good, because I certainly remember you! Did you come back to cause more trouble?
I shiver again.
"History d-doesn't always repeat itself."
I softly repeat Karla's mantra to myself. It doesn't really do much to put my mind at ease.
"History doesn't always repeat itself."
That implies that at least some of the time it does. It sure feels like it'll do just that. I can still recall the summer of last year. Getting into a relationship, strengthening my bond with Lilly and making some new friends, enjoying life for the first time in a long while despite the increasing need to focus on my studies, the approaching mock exams which I didn't think much of at first, visiting this place, feeling very uneasy from the moment I set foot on the campus and then having a panic attack at the worst possible moment and in the worst possible place.
Thinking about it, this year hasn't been all that different. 'Hanging out' with Lilly and Hisao at the festival, starting to play chess with Hisao again, my relationship with Hisao going through a bit of a rebirth, reviving my friendships, being fairly happy with my life, being fairly optimistic about the mock exams, visiting this place again and feeling very uneasy again. The only thing that's still missing is the panic attack - so far.
I'm certain that Lilly's not going to accidentally call me today, but the way I'm feeling right now I might not even need a phone call. Just being in the building for an extended amount of time might be a trigger. And then what?
I don't think I'll be able to stay at Yamaku for another year. Besides, I don't want to lag another year behind Lilly and Hisao. Deep down I want to move on as well, despite my anxieties. I could always apply to another university. I've learned this year that despite the physical distance I've still been able to keep interacting with the people who are important to me, despite my initial worry that my bond with them would quickly fade out after graduation day.
But a university isn't a high school for the disabled. They probably won't be as willing to accommodate my apprehensions the way Yamaku has done. I won't be one of many. I'll be the odd one out, no matter what school I'll end up attending. It'll be a major change in my life regardless. And exactly because of those inevitable changes that will inevitably be extremely difficult for me, I want part of my life to remain familiar and comfortable. Hisao, Lilly... maybe even Naomi. Having them as constants in my life in the background might just give me the strength to face the unknowns that are waiting for me beyond graduation day. They might make the difference between struggling through or breaking down after the first week.
I guess in the end this place really is the best thing I can go for.
If only I could be a little less... me.
"History doesn't always repeat itself."
I jump a little at the sudden sound of my name. I was so occupied by my own brooding that I didn't even notice Lilly's mother making her way back to me. Karla gives me an apologetic look.
"Did I startle you?"
She holds up a plastic bag filled with... something.
"I remembered correctly, and they were already open. I got us enough snacks to make it through the day. Now we can have our lunch break wherever we want."
"You r-remembered... correctly?"
Lilly's mother nods.
"I'm fairly familiar with this campus. I accompanied Lilly to school during the first few weeks of her college life until she memorized the layout of the place a bit. I used to take walks around the campus while Lilly was taking classes. I naturally visited the journalism faculty from time to time, out of curiosity."
She sits down next to me.
"I'm gonna assume we're not gonna lose sight of one another, but in case we do get separated I was thinking it'd be a good idea if we designate a spot or two to meet up."
In other words, we're going to pick a spot where to run off to if I suddenly lose it.
"We could pick this spot or maybe the bleachers facing the sports field. You can see the field's floodlights from here."
"Good. Like I said, it's just a little precaution. I doubt we'll lose sight of one another, but better to be safe than sorry."
"You know... while I was leaving the building just now I could already see the first bunch of visitors making their way inside. It's probably best if we go there too. That way we can still pick a spot in the respective classrooms."
I guess this is it.
"While I was inside I already picked up two pens and notepads they were handing out. I also got today's program."
She takes out a pamphlet and hands it over to me.
Information sessions and presentations: (start every 45 minutes. 9:15 - 15:15)
- History of journalism (classroom 1-1)
- Journalistic writing (classroom 1-2)
- Research and analysis (classroom 1-3)
- Researching media and culture (classroom 2-1)
- Advanced reporting (classroom 2-2)
- Political reporting (classroom 2-3)
- The media and popular culture (classroom 2-5)
Closing session: (15:30 - 16:00)
- The internet, social media and the future of journalism (lecture hall 1)
I can't be sure, but I'm fairly certain the program isn't very different from last time. Maybe it's even exactly the same. Another case of history repeating itself. Not exactly reassuring.
Still, despite my uneasiness, I manage to take a deep breath and get up. Karla smiles at me.
"So, which one shall we attend first?"