"Hmmm... Notepad and pen - check."
I'll probably end up taking some notes.
"Study books - check."
To study in the car. Fortunately I can read just about anywhere without getting motion sickness.
"Lunchbox with extra large lunch - check."
They probably have a cafeteria there, but I bet it'll be really crowded, and we'd be standing in line for half an hour. Better to bring my own lunch.
"Pocket change for vending machines - check."
"Sweets for consumption during the trip - check."
"Cell phone - check. Battery's fully charged too."
I look at the cell phone lying on my nightstand. I've been using it as an alarm clock ever since Naomi accidentally wrecked my actual one, and I keep putting off buying a new one. It might be a good idea to use both my phone and an actual alarm clock on the day of the exams. Can't be too careful.
Did I forget anything? I have my wallet with me. Hmmm, can't think of anything.
A knock on the door interrupts my thoughts.
The door opens behind me, I hear someone walk into the room, and the next moment someone kisses me on my left cheek.
"Hey there. Good morning."
I turn around, kiss my boyfriend back and smile at him.
"Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
"Yeah. And you? Did you stay up late yesterday?"
"I studied until eleven, but I think I've caught up now."
Since Naomi, Jun and I were busy with our outing the whole Friday evening, I spent most of the Saturday afternoon and evening holed up in my room in an attempt to compensate for the time lost. It practically melted my brains, but I feel I caught up with Hisao and Lilly now.
"You did remember to eat yesterday, right?"
I'm not a kid, Hisao.
"Just a quick bite, but enough to keep going."
Hisao looks at my bed and notices something that wasn't there before.
"Hey, aren't you going to introduce me to your new roommate?"
I show him the teddy bear that is lying near my pillow.
"I... haven't thought up a name for him yet. But Naomi got it for me from a crane game at the arcade."
"He certainly looks cute. I just hope he'll have the decency to sleep somewhere else when I stay over."
I chuckle and nod my head.
"So, have you packed everything for the trip?"
"I think so. Is Lilly ready?"
"I saw her outside the dorm just a while ago. I think she's ready to go."
"Let's go outside then."
We leave my dorm building and make our way to the parking lot. As we approach the gate, we see two tall figures standing nearby. I easily recognize Lilly, but I have to look twice before I recognize the man next to her as her father. Of course he's not wearing his business suit today. Instead, he's wearing dark pants and an inconspicuous light-grey vest under his long coat. His glasses are different too. These ones soften his appearance a bit. But the biggest difference is his body language. He still looks formal, but I notice his shoulders are a bit more slumped than before, and there's a slightly tired look in his eyes. He also appears to be a bit thinner than before. He looks like he's aged a decade in those few months. I wonder if Lilly is aware of that.
"Miss Ikezawa, Mister Nakai. Good morning."
He politely bows as we approach, and I notice that his bow towards me is particularly deep.
"Good m-morning, Mister Satou."
"Good morning, sir. It's been a while. How are you feeling?"
"A lot better, thank you."
I'm not sure if I quite believe him. From the few things Lilly has told me, I know that her father's physical recovery has been going fairly well, but he's had a lot of trouble adjusting to life at home and he's quite at a loss what to do with his life now that he no longer has a daily job.
Hisao turns to Lilly.
"Now that we're all here, it might be a good idea to get going. It's still a pretty long ride."
Lilly's father raises an eyebrow.
"Are we still not one person short?"
"Hey guys! I didn't keep you waiting, did I?"
Greeting us with a cheerful wave, Naomi comes running up to us.
"Huh? Are you coming along as well?"
"Hanako asked me yesterday if it was okay if she accompanied us. Since we still had room in the car, I saw no reason to decline."
I smile sheepishly at my boyfriend. I did plan to tell him that, but I've barely been out of my room yesterday, and we didn't see each other for very long.
"Sorry I didn't tell you."
"Eh, it's okay."
Naomi looks past me at Lilly's father.
"You must be Mister Satou. Pleased to meet you. I'm Naomi Inoue."
Lilly's father answers Naomi's bow with one of his own and introduces himself in return.
Naomi smiles at Lilly's father.
"Um... is your wife here too? I'd really like to talk to her again. She's been this really strong motivator for our club. Hehe... both clubs actually."
Lilly's father shakes his head.
"My wife has been in Scotland this week and is currently on the plane back home. I am afraid that my company will have to suffice for today. I will be sure to give her your regards."
Naomi is visibly disappointed, but then gives a resigned nod.
"Yeah, that'd be great."
Lilly tries to give Naomi an encouraging smile.
"I'm certain you'll be able to talk to her again. She'll be present for our graduation after all."
And with that consolation, we head for the car and hit the road.
"Ummm... Anybody want another piece of chocolate?"
"That sounds good. Thank you Hanako."
This is probably the third round of chocolates we've gone through already, but it's been quite a long ride, and we've got to keep our brains in top gear so we can keep studying. Well, at least that's true for Lilly, Naomi and me. Hisao's just looking out the window.
"Hisao, do you often get car sick if you read on the road?"
"Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. I remember when my father drove me to Yamaku, I was reading pretty much the entire way there, and that was the same route as we're driving right now."
Lilly's father raises an eyebrow and looks at Hisao through his rearview mirror.
"I take it then that you are originally from Chiba? Are you planning to move back into your parental home?"
"That's the idea. Living five minutes away from school is a luxury I'm going to miss, but I have my own room at home, and my parents work long hours, so I'd welcome the extra privacy."
"Eh, you shouldn't see it as a lack of privacy. You ought to see life at the dorms as a good way to meet lots of interesting new people with whom you might not interact as much if you weren't living on campus. Heck, they say that university years are the party years of your life. Not that I can go overboard with parties myself of course, but I bet it'll still be awesome."
Sounds like somebody is looking forward to her time as a university student. I am not so eager to move accommodations myself.
"I'm... not really a party p-person myself, but..."
There was Lilly's proposal, but I wonder just how much chance she has of changing her father's mind.
"Father, do you remember that conversation we had previously about... accommodations?"
"I do. But is now really the proper time to bring that up again?"
"Would you be willing to reconsider if a person like Hanako moved in as a roommate to keep an eye out?"
"A person like Miss Ikezawa or Miss Ikezawa herself?"
"Hanako herself. I... ah... have reason to believe she'd be interested in the opportunity if it was presented to her."
I can see his eyes giving me a long analyzing look that sincerely unnerves me.
"Miss Ikezawa, is that so?"
"Y-Yes... ummm... sir."
"You are not merely saying that because it would convenience my daughter, are you?"
"N-No. I'm... not very good with people, so... having a bit m-more space and only having to s-share the facilities with my best friend would be very convenient for me too."
Lilly's father furrows his brow as if weighing every word I just said.
I look at my boyfriend who's remained quiet during this discussion and now suddenly speaks up.
"Yes, Mister Nakai?"
"Would you mind if I shared something with you that caught my attention about this?"
"Go right ahead."
"I don't think sharing a place with a blind person is something that works out well for everyone. If you're sloppy by nature and leave stuff lying about or don't put things back in exactly the place where you found them, you'll usually make things harder rather than easier for your roommate."
"That makes sense."
"But I've seen Lilly and Hanako prepare a meal together a few times in the past and they seem to have a system in place between the two of them that allows them to work almost in perfect unison. Hanako seems to know exactly how to arrange things so Lilly can easily find them, and she's always very meticulous about putting things back in exactly the right place when she borrows stuff from Lilly's cupboard. I don't think it's an exaggeration when I say that Hanako is easily the best roommate Lilly could ever wish for."
I blush from this unexpected avalanche of praise. It's true that I'm somewhat used to Lilly's preferences related to chores and cooking, but I don't consider that trait to be nearly as impressive as Hisao is making it out to be. Lilly, on the other hand, smiles and gives an appreciative nod.
"I could not agree more with that assessment, Hisao."
I kind of wonder if this is going to make any difference whatsoever. I'm not really sure how useful I would be to Lilly in everyday life once she's memorized the layout of the apartment and the neighborhood. I don't think of myself as an extremely reliable safety net, and if Mister Satou's not willing to rent an apartment for his daughter, what are the odds of him wanting to do the same for a relative stranger. Unless...
A realization suddenly dawns on me.
Unless he felt he owed that person something. Didn't he say before that if I ever needed anything, I only needed to ask? If he's serious about that and he knows that I'd like having a small place of my own together with Lilly, would he refuse? Could he? Wait a second... Is Lilly counting on that? Is that why...?
No, Lilly seemed genuinely happy when I said I'd like to be her roommate. I believe she sincerely desires my company. I also don't think she'd like it if an obligation to me was the only reason her father would allow her to live on her own. But even so, Lilly's employing a pretty devious strategy, and when I look at Mister Satou, I notice that he opens his mouth to say something, but then merely sighs, shakes his head and gives his daughter a long, hard look.
"It appears that you inherited your negotiation tactics from your mother. Well, if you want me to take all of this into account and reevaluate my opinion, I am willing to do so, but I cannot make any promises."
"Thank you Father. I greatly appreciate it."
"Wow, it's really big. I hope I won't get lost here."
"Could you describe it to me, Hisao?"
"If the map we're looking at is any indication, this place is the size of a city block."
"Have you already located the places we're supposed to be heading for?"
"Let's see. You and your father have to be in the building on the northwest side of the campus. The faculty building I'm heading for is located on the east side and Hanako and Naomi are set for the building just to the north of here. Geez, we're spread all over the place."
"Seeing that we're all applying for different studies, it's no surprise we're set to visit different faculties."
Lilly's father turns to us.
"I propose that we meet up back here at the entrance after we are finished for the day."
We all nod in agreement. Hisao checks his watch.
"At what time should we be back here?"
"I have looked up the day's program online and I believe it ends at half past 3. So I suggest we meet back here at four o' clock."
At least somebody came prepared. Since I spent most of yesterday cramming for the upcoming mock exams, I didn't even think of looking up today's schedule. And it seems like the same is true for the rest of us.
"Fine by me."
Lilly gently takes her father's arm.
"We'll return here at four o' clock then. Shall we be off then? Have fun everyone."
Lilly's father bows to us and then walks off into the crowd together with his daughter. Hisao looks me over before picking up his backpack.
"Are you going to be okay?"
Looks like he picked up on my nervous mood. Over the course of last week, I've kept telling myself that I'd be okay today, since I've lately been able to walk Yamaku's hallways with only some mild discomfort every now and then. Looks like I've been fooling myself into thinking it'd be that easy. Ever since we've passed the gate, I've been feeling an unusually oppressive atmosphere.
"Y-Yes, I'm okay."
"Keep an eye on her, okay?"
Naomi rolls her eyes at Hisao.
"Geez, have a little faith. We'll be just fine."
"Well, good luck today."
I sigh softly as I watch my boyfriend disappear into the mass of people. Naomi picks up her backpack from the floor and gestures towards the buildings ahead of us.
"Shall we go too?"
"N-Not too fast, please."
I take a deep breath and then we start making our way through the crowd. I make sure to keep to Naomi's left side and stick as close to her as possible while keeping my head down. When we finally reach the entrance to our building, Naomi grabs two pamphlets from a desk near the door and hands one of them to me. I fold it open and look at its contents.
"Information sessions, huh? They're probably kinda like ordinary class sessions we can attend if there's still room."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)
"So, any special requests?"
"Let's check out 'Research and analysis' first."
I nod and we go off to find classroom 1-3 where the lecture about that particular subject is being given using the map on the back of the pamphlet as a guide. As we reach the classroom, Naomi looks inside.
"Swell, there's like 4 seats left. Shall we?"
I cautiously peek into the room from behind Naomi. There are indeed a few seats left, but they're all on the left side of the room. If I sit there, everyone will probably be able to see my scars.
"Ummm... What about t-the classroom next t-to this one?"
"We c-could do this one later."
Naomi looks puzzled for a second and then shrugs her shoulders.
Classroom 1-2 fortunately has several more vacant seats, and I make my way to the back of the classroom as quickly as I can. Naomi hurriedly moves to the seat next to mine. I feel guilty about forcing Naomi to put up with this. The last thing I wanted was to throw her into the babysitter's role.
The next 45 minutes are mostly spent listening to a long story about what makes a well-written article, but I'm having trouble taking notes due to the thoughts whirling around in my head.
I've been a bit antsy over the course of the week, but for the most part I've been able to keep myself from getting too worked up about it. I actually felt fine this morning, but the moment we reached the campus entrance my agoraphobia almost immediately kicked in. Despite Yamaku's campus being far from small, the school itself is definitely not very large and houses only around 250 students or so, so things are usually rather peaceful aside from the hallways and cafeteria during lunch break. It's such a contrast to this place which is both massive and crowded. Especially the classrooms are a lot larger and more crowded here. It reminds me a bit of my middle school, and I'm not so sure whether that's a good thing.
Finally, the teacher in front of the class looks like he's finishing up his story. I instinctively start gathering my stuff and prepare to quickly slip out of the room, but before I can get up I see Naomi subtly shaking her head at me, and I realize that I just stopped short of making a huge mistake. While the teachers at Yamaku were informed of some of my circumstances and tolerated my tendency to leave class early in order to avoid the crowds, I don't think there'll be such leniency here. I merely would have made a spectacle out of myself. That would have been disasterous. I quickly give a nod of understanding and put my backpack back down before I attract anyone's attention.
We wait until other people rise from their seats, and then I quickly get out of the classroom with Naomi in tow. After we get a safe distance away from the classroom entrance, Naomi turns to me and points down the hallway.
"Want to try 'Research and analysis' again? We might have more seats to choose from this time."
We quickly head over to classroom 1-3, which is still in the process of emptying. As the stream of people moves past us, I hurriedly hide behind Naomi, which is only partially effective since I'm a bit taller than her. Eventually people stop coming out of the classroom, and Naomi and I both carefully walk inside. Naomi gives a little nod with her head.
"Are we going for a spot on the right in the back again?"