Hitomi’s plan was complicated. There were many things she had to take into account in order to skip a day of school without any repercussions. Many of the problems were solved by involving an adult. There were only two who would agree to help them; her mother and Gratia. Her mother was still away for work, which left Gratia. A simple plea from Rose was all it took for her to take their side. She got them out of class for the day, and provided them a way to get to the high school without taking public transportation alone. With the problem of getting there out of the way they still had to deal with the fact that they would stand out too much among the high school students. It would have been easier to come up with an excuse if they had a sibling there. On top of the fact that their target might not even be there to begin with there seemed to be no easy solution to this problem. It was actually her father who gave her a thread of hope. Among his large collection of books he authored were a few series that were popular among high schoolers. He signed a few of them and gave them to Hitomi to have them give away. Hitomi was surprised by her father helping her do something he would normally condemn. He chalked it up to how good they have been. A single mischievous day was nothing if they didn’t become rebels. The only problem left for HItomi was finding Yuuna Yamashita. She had a vague idea of what she might look like. Her father’s spirit knew what she looked like two years ago. People change a lot in two years. Knowing this, Hitomi tried to think of a way to get information but she figured that Rose would do better at talking with others. Compared to the middle school the high school had more than enough people to paralyze her if she didn’t focus. They had a secret weapon on their side; cuteness. Even if all else fails they could use the fact that they were still young to stumble their way through. “You’d think you were robbing a bank with how much you are worrying about this.” Hitomi snapped out of her world of thought. “You could always back out.”
“You know I can’t. We needed a reason to go somewhere else after exploring everywhere we went to on a daily basis.”
“So you intentionally decided to do something about it. Very brave indeed.”
“A little too brave. I shouldn’t have even suggested it.”
“I agree, but as your mother would say ‘You are too young to follow all of the rules’.”
“She would say that. I wish she would take the reverse of her advice ‘You are too old to break all of the rules’. I know, she’s not like that, but it certainly seems like that with her suggestions.”
“You know the reasons, even if you can’t make sense of them. Maybe someday you will, or maybe you won’t. She is quite the strange one.”
“Don’t need to say that twice. I should get going. It would be rude to keep them waiting.”
“I’m glad I could help you calm down. Talking outloud like this is nice every so often.” Seto let out a soft laugh as he picked up both of their plates. “I’ll take care of cleaning breakfast.”
“Thank you. I’ll be back later.” HItomi grabbed her backpack, flipping through her stuff to make sure she grabbed everything she would need. A set of her father’s books, lunch, and her journal. Compared to usual it was much lighter. She knew today would have a lot of walking so this was a blessing. The walk from her house to the shrine was around the same distance as from her house to the school. Hitomi walked at a brisk pace. SHe didn’t want to jog due to the annoyance of having her backpack hit her each time she took a step, and walking would take far too much time. The flow of people went in the opposite direction which left her the entire side of the street to herself. It was a nice change of pace from the river across from her that she usually found herself in. As a result of this she was in front of the shrine before the appointed time. As expected, a presence far larger than life was awaiting her.
“Well if it isn’t little Hitomi! I was afraid you were going to get cold feet.” Gratia was as straightforward as she remembered. Much like Morgan and Rose, Gratia was clearly a foreigner. Her hair was a light brown that bordered on being blonde. She was taller than almost everyone in the town. If you could sense spirits, looking at Gratia would probably set all of your instincts to ‘run’. “What’s with that look?”
“I’m just surprised to see you haven’t changed since last we met.”
“Lying isn’t good.” Gratia saw right through her, but didn’t push any further. “Rose is still eating. She is really nervous about the whole thing.”
“I wonder how long that will last.”
“I’d put money on seven minutes, fifteen seconds, and 3 microseconds.” It was an absurd claim. Yet she was completely serious.
“I’ll take your word on it. Thank you for taking care of us today.”
“I’m glad I could make time. The next few days are going to suck for work. I want to go back to just goofing off all the time~”
“Mom, please take your job seriously. Don’t make me tell on you.” Rose appeared from the shrine. Even from there she knew what Gratia was saying.
“I swear Morgan trained her to tell when I talk about slacking.”
“But… nevermind.” Hitomi knew that Gratia had already known the order that things were happening. Yet despite this she acted as if she didn’t. It was a skill Hitomi wished she could master. “Good morning Rose.”
“Good morning HItomi! I hope you weren’t waiting long I was just-”
“Shaking in your boots?” Rose kicked Gratia in her shins. “Ahahahaha!” Gratia grabbed Rose and twirled her around. “Good, that’s the energy I expect! Healthy as ever.”
“This is embarrassing.” Rose whispered. Even if she tried, she couldn’t hide the sheer happiness she was feeling.
“I’ll play with you all I want today. How about it Hitomi? Want to be swinged around?”
“Hard pass.” Hitomi held up her arms in a cross. Gratia nodded her head as she put Rose on her back.
“That’s fine. Your mom wouldn’t let me hear the end of it if I made you mad. Rose, what should we drive today?”
“I would say the motorcycle but it only fits two. Let’s just take the car.”
“Oh that won’t be a problem.”
“Oh no.” Hitomi’s face went pale as she read just what exactly Gratia meant. However the joy on Rose’s face was impossible to go against. Before she knew it, she was sitting in small motorcycle side tow. “I am not ok with this.”
“It’ll be ok! Mom is really good at driving!”
“That’s not the problem!” Despite her protests she still went along with it. The entire ride she was screaming internally. Rose meanwhile was screaming externally for a different reason. Gratia meanwhile was having the time of her life driving incredibly recklessly. The only upside Hitomi could find in the depths of hell she found herself in was that the faster speed led to a faster arrival time. Gratia parked with just as much danger as she drove, but despite it made no errors.
“That was fun. It might not be the fastest, but it sure is fun.”
“Yeah! You drive so fast!”
“Don’t break the laws of the road when you are able to drive ok? I’m pretty sure I didn’t break any laws.”
“Too many to count, but I’m just glad it’s over.”
“I never learned the laws, so I’ll take that as a victory. Well, now that you are here what do we do? I’m pretty sure I can’t keep this here.” As Gratia said, there were no parking signs everywhere around them. Hitomi took a second to think of a solution.
“We might take a long time, so finding a parking spot would be best.”
“Will you guys be ok without me?”
“Of course! We planned to do this by ourselves just in case something like this happened.”
“How mature. Alright, I’ll go find a place to park this and come and find you guys afterwards. I’ll go into the other plane just to make sure no one sees me.” Gratia took Hitomi’s and Rose’s helmets and threw them in the tow before speeding off to find a spot she could legally park.
“Gratia is having a good time.”
“We should try having as much fun as her! Look, the High School is a new experience! Who knows what we will find there?!” Rose’s energy was enough to power the entire area. If Hitomi didn’t slow her down she would forget why they were there.
“There is suppose to be someone to greet us. We called the school beforehand so make sure we could get some help right away.”
“Right. Do you know where they are? It’s be bad if we got lost right away.” With Rose’s logic back in the forefront of her thought, Hitomi continued with what she had set up.
“They said to enter the building straight from entrance and go into the first room of the left. That’s the uhh… well the name isn’t important.” She quickly avoided putting the spotlight on her forgetfulness. Even if Rose wouldn’t bring it up it was to avoid making the mistake in the future. “I doubt I need to say it, but once we get through those gates I’m sure I’m not going to be very talkative.”
“Don’t worry! This is where I shine. Just tell me anything I need to know so I don’t have to improvise.”
“I’ll do my best. We should try to get as much done before Gratia gets here. I don’t want her taking credit away from us.”
“Show what we can do ourselves huh? I like it. Alright, near the gate. Stay near me. Who knows what- oh wait I guess you do.”
“We’ll see.” If Hitomi could put how she felt about being around older students it wouldn’t be positive. Even as they inched closer she couldn’t stand the thoughts going through their heads. The difference a few years made on the mental stability one had always surprised her. Thanks to Rose’s infinite bravery she was pushed steadily forward despite her discomfort. The feeling only got worse as they got closer. Compared to the museum this was nothing. It wasn’t nearly as dense as her entire class, but the voices were loud. As if everyone was screaming to themselves.
“Oh that must be the person we are looking for!” It did not help that her partner in crime was actually yelling. “Can I get a confirmation?”
“Confirmation granted. Target Confirmed.” Hitomi had no idea why she said it like that. She was just going along with the tone Rose had.
“Approaching target.” Rose kept it going as they walked over to them. “Hello! Are you waiting for us?”
“You two must be Ms. Edith and Ms. Kagami.” As soon as she started Hitomi hid behind Rose to avoid the conversation shifting towards her. Rose took the lead even without noticing this.
“That’s right. I’m Rose Edith and this is Hitomi Kagami. And you are?”
“Mr. Takeshi. Your japanese is pretty good.”
“Umm… thank you?”
‘In case you forgot, which you clearly do sometimes, you aren’t japanese. People don’t expect you to speak as clearly as you do.’
“Ohhh. I’m still not fluent so I”m sorry if I say anything wrong.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem. I’ll be taking you to the principal's office. We are going to wait here until classes start so we don’t have to deal with the packed halls.”
“Okay!’ With introductions out of the way conversation died quickly. As soon as the first bell rang the amount of people around them dropped significantly. Despite how rebellious they were portrayed they still followed the bell like it was law.
“That should be good. Follow me.”
“Okay!” The two of them followed behind him as ordered. While they were walking they had a silent conversation.
‘You need to say more than just okay to everything.’
‘What else am I supposed to say?’
‘Well… like “very well” or “of course” right? Ok I don’t have anything better. I’m going to see if I can gleam anything from those around us.’
‘It means to look over and find? I’m not a dictionary.’ Rose did her best to cover her mouth before she laughed. She successfully avoided laughing. Hitomi was impressed given her failing track record. Her attention was then turned to the sea of thought around her. Reading just any one was hard, but listening for a certain word was easy. It was rare that someone would be thinking about any specific word, so listening for just that proved to be effective. It’s the same principle as the cocktail party effect. Yet despite how reliable this method was, she didn’t hear anything from the sea. Before she knew it she bumped into Rose’s back to signify that they reached their destination.
“There are some chairs inside. He’ll fetch you when he’s ready.”
“Thank you for guiding us here.”
“You’re welcome. Make sure you don’t roam about.” And with that Mr. Takeshi left them. They followed his instructions, but immediately continued their operation.
“I didn’t find anything. This place is huge but I feel like we passed by enough.”
“Oh that’s right, let me draw how we moved. We need to write down everything in the journal. They both took out their journals, with Rose taking slightly longer as she had to dig it out of her bag. “It was like this. If you want you can copy what I draw.”
“I think I will, if only so I know what I missed. I would feel bad if I just copied what you would write about it.”
“How’s this?” What she saw was completely different from what she was expecting from her thoughts. “I know that face. That’s ‘how did you manage to do that’.”
“Maybe I’ll help you learn how to draw later. It’s not bad but I know you can do better.”
“Eh? I thought I did a good job.” Rose looked back at her drawing. Hitomi took the time to sketch what she interpreted from Rose’s drawing. The difference between the two was clear even from an unbiased position.
“I didn’t know you could draw!”
“My dad draws all of his book covers himself. I learned from him. I’m still not very good with straight lines or things that are detailed.”
“Now that I think about it, my parents aren’t very artsy. Speaking of which, she should be back by now.”
“Of course I’m back. It’s just cute watching you guys do things alone.” As if she were there the whole time, Gratia was standing against the wall. Her presence was far weaker than earlier, so she was probably hiding in the spirit plane. “So this is what you two have been up to. Morgan told me about it. It’s good to expand your world. I suppose it’s our fault you haven’t had the chance to really do that in the first place.”
“We are young, it’s only natural to keep us close.” HItomi gave a logical response. She knew the reasons behind their actions and understood why they chose that set of actions. “Are you ok being around so many people? What if someone has the ability to sense you?”
“I already made sure I wouldn’t be sniffed out. Just pretend I’m not here. I’ll help you guys out if you need it.”
“Can you teach me how to draw?!”
“I mean I could, but that’s cheating.”
“And cheating is bad. Guess I’ll take you up on that offer.”
“I’ll gladly help. Ah, someone is coming.” Hitomi put her journal away, motioning with her head that Rose should do the same. By the time the person that Hitomi heard approached, the two of them were ready for the next step in their plan.
“Good morning you two. Sorry for the wait.” The man took a seat behind the desk in the room and look down at a sticky note her placed there earlier. “Ms. Kagami and Ms. Edith correct?”
“That’s right. Thank you for meeting with us.”
“It’s not like this school isn’t getting anything from letting you come here. Not that there is a reason to not allow you here.” He quickly covered his tracks before continuing. “We didn’t go over the details on the phone. Your father and I, that is.”
“Sorry, he has a lot of trouble talking with others. You don’t have to give us anything in return for the books. Just give them away as you see fit.” Hitomi stopped talking for a second but continued after an idea entered her mind. “Actually, if you could, if I end up coming to this high school I want Rose to be granted acceptance as well.”
“While I can’t give you my word, as long as her grades are reasonable I can say she will have a very good chance.” Hitomi knew this was just his way to skirt around legal bindings. Luckily Rose took this as a challenge.
“Hey! I’ll get wherever you go with my skills! Don’t go making deals to get me in!”
“Forgive me. I’m just making sure.” Gratia laughed beside them, but since her laugh couldn’t be heard by the principal he talked over it.
“It’s good to see you taking the initiative. I’m sure the contest will be popular with the students. Where are the books?”
“I have them here.” Hitomi took them out of her bag and passed them over to Rose to give them to him. “Do you mind if we look around the school?”
“You can, but I suggest leaving before the first period is over. That’s only in twenty minutes but you should get a feel for the school in that time.”
“That will be more than enough time. Right Rose?”
“Huh? Can we run?”
“No running in the halls.” Rose tilted her head towards Hitomi, who gave her a thumbs up. Since Hitomi didn’t give her any details just yet, she responded to the principle.
“Got it. We’ll make it work. Somehow.”
“Thank you again for dropping these off. Thank your father for me as well.”
“I will. Thank you for your time.”
“Thank you for your time.” With that, the man left back to the other room from which he came. “Twenty minutes isn’t enough time is it?”
“Usually, but I have a plan. Gratia, when we get to an intersection can you flip a coin to pick which way to go?”
“Oh, clever. Alright, I’ll go along with that. Rose, you are a smart kid. Why is that a good idea?”
“Umm… I’m better if I see it working first.” Rose pushed off answering, but she had a basic idea of her plan. As soon as they entered the hallways, the amount of voices she could hear began to rise at a steep pace. “Are you ok?!”
“Yeah… Sorry. I forgot for a moment how loud it was. I got too comfortable.”
“Don’t worry, I’m right here. You did a good job with the principle. I’m bad at talking to people with… ummm… what’s the word?”
“Yeah that. It takes a lot of time to get the right words. But enough about that, we only have twenty minutes!”
“More like eighteen now. Here is the first flip. Heads.”
“Let’s make left tails and right heads. I won’t be able to talk much after this, so make sure I don’t walk into a wall or something.”
“Got it. I’ll leave whatever plan you have to you as I try to figure it out.” Hitomi and Gratia continued this for five flips before Rose finally figured it out. “Oh! I get it! But I wasn’t paying attention!”
“It’s ok, this last flip was all I needed to know. Gratia, this girl isn’t here is she?”
“That’s right. Alright Rose, since you were thinking so hard you weren’t paying attention, I’ll tell you which directions we went. Right, Right, followed by three lefts.”
“I get it! The reason Hitomi knew she wasn’t here is because your coin flip brought us back to a point we were at before and she didn’t find her!”
“That’s my girl.” Gratia patted Rose as she praised her.
“Hitomi, that’s a really smart plan! But this is a problem isn’t it?”
“Can we talk about it once we aren’t surrounded by people?”
“Can do. Which way is out?”
“Just follow me. I’ll bring you back to the front gate.” Gratia took the lead, allowing them to get out without any trouble.
“Much better. Here, I did pay attention enough to map out a little more.” Hitomi took out her journal and quickly sketched out what she remembered before it disappeared from her mind. We didn’t get much more now that I see it.”
“It’s still enough, probably. I doubt our teacher is going to care much how detailed we mapped out the high school.” Rose did her best to copy the sketch. Like Hitomi said it didn’t seem like much, but they weren’t in the school for long. “So what are we going to do about this? If they aren’t here, where would they be?”
“I don’t know. The only way anyone would know that is if they, oh I don’t know, knew everything about the situation.”
“I’m not just going to give you information I shouldn’t know. However it does seem you hit quite the roadblock. Hmm…” Gratia took a second to think, taking her time to make sure she didn’t think anything that would spoil things for Hitomi. “Alright, here’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you a miracle. For one million yen.”
“Hehehehe. Look, changing things in the world ain’t easy. Lots of variables to change. Unless you want the world to implode from impossibilities.”
“We are in middle school, we can’t come up with that much money. How about something more reasonable? After all, you wouldn’t want your poor daughter to have to spend her saved up money she spent so long to build up to buy a bike. Now would you?”
“Cheeky. Emotional manipulation through guilt. If I wasn’t an infinitely powerful god I’d be shaking in my boots at the thought of my dear daughter being so sad. Alright, you win this one. It’s going to take about four days to get the conditions, but I can’t expect you’ll complain.”
“I have no idea what you two are talking about, but we don’t have to get the money right?”
“Right my sweet little Rose. I’ll have Mrs. Kagami take care of things.” Gratia showed a devilish smile as she took out the keys to the motorcycle. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure it’s worth the trouble. Think it’s fair Hitomi?”
“If that’s what needs to be done.” Hitomi didn’t agree with how underhanded Gratia was but there wasn’t any other choice. Rose still looked confused about the matter, but that quickly turned to joy as they rode back home. Since they finished so early they spent the rest of the day helping out at the shrine. It was tiring work, but still better than sitting surrounded by people.