Graduation day came with a huge spring thunderstorm. It ended up so bad that the electricity went out half way through the principal's speech, to the relief of many of us. Of course, not even my closest (and I use the term loosely with the least offense intended), friends could understand why I flinched and turned into a jittery mess. It was just a normal power outage, and in a few minutes it came back on, the principal waved us off to go make the world a better place, we cheered, and I followed my peers back out into the hail and rain—where a crowded team of ghost investigators waited for me beneath umbrellas. Even, to my surprise, Masako.
"Guys…" oh yeah, the feels, the tears, here they came. They just had to stand there like the little makeshift family I thought they were.
"Congratulations, Mai-chan," said Takigawa and Ayako, who came to either side of me to bring me under their canopy of umbrellas.
A gust of wind threatened to upturn it, throwing raindrops at us. It's okay, mother nature. It wasn't like I spent an hour trying to make my shoulder length boring brown hair look good or anything.
Not to mention we graduates wore our school uniforms, which meant I ended up like an unsuccessful Marilyn Monroe trying to keep my skirt down. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Naru smirking. John suddenly looked somewhere else. Lin didn't change at all.
"Italian!" crowd Takigawa. "Mai-chan must have fine pasta cuisine! My treat."
"You idiot, her favorite food is sushi! Right, Mai?" Ayako gave me a smug smile, knowing brownie points were in her direction.
"Dummy, I bet Naru get's her sushi all the time! We should give her something to remember the event by."
"How about not freezing to death?" I asked, huddling closer to my boyfriend, who was more than happy to throw his jacket over me, which was long enough to assist in keeping my skirt down.
Masako agreed with me, a kimono sleeve held over her head like a blanket.
Which found us all in the company van, which, for the first time, had the never before seen seats installed in the back rather than the usual block of equipment. We fit in a bit tightly, but everyone got a seat belt, and I got the seat behind the two front seats with Masako.
"So, Mai," she said quietly as we headed under way. "What will you be studying?"
"Huh? Oh, I'm not going to college."
A dead silence fell over the van. Everyone stared at me in surprise. Well, everyone but Lin, who had his eyes to the road.
"Wait," said Takigawa. "You aren't going to college?"
I sighed. I had gotten quite tired of this from my friends and teachers. I wasn't stupid and got good marks, so the teachers found it a crying shame. "It's not like there's a college degree in paraphysiology or ghost hunting in Japan. Besides, I really like the idea of being a housewife someday, so until that time happens, I can support myself just fine without getting into loads of debt for a college degree I may or may not use."
John beamed. "That's wonderful, Mai! Mother and homemaker is the holiest calling on earth, you'll do wonderful! If only more woman chose that route—"
Ayako interrupted him. "Are you sure, Mai?"
Masako had lifted her sleeve to her face, making the crinkle of her dark eyes difficult to read.
"Yes, I'm sure, and I'd think I've been adulating long enough to know what I want."
"A housewife," said Ayako, and her nose wrinkled in disgust. "God, no."
Just as the hurt started to register in my heart, the last person I expected to defend me spoke up.
"A most noble and brave choice of career," said Masako quietly.
Ayako must have realized the thoughtlessness of her comment when Takigawa glared at her and John lowered his eyebrows and more or less did the same. "Oh my gosh, you're totally right! You can do whatever you want, of course." She hesitated. "But what if, you know…things don't turn out right? I mean, can you really depend on some man to provide for you? And what if you have kids?"
Takigawa gave a snorting grunt of indignation. "It isn't like she'll be a dead in the water dependent, Ayako. Besides, if her husband decides to run off or kick the bucket, I'll marry her, so there."
"By the time that happens, you'll be too old or dead."
"Just how old do you think I am? And who are you to talk, grandma?"
"Oo, wow, get your insults from a fourth grader? Seriously, Monk, grow up."
John cringed besides them in the back seat. I rolled my eyes and focused my attention to the dark ocean eyes looking back at me from the rearview mirror besides Lin. They blinked and looked away.
"Naru…?" So many things echoed in that one question that I didn't know if I wanted answered. Did he even want to be with someone with ambitions to be a housewife? To raise and be there for children and to make a home? Having lived both with and without a mother, I knew how much of a difference it made, but would he see that? Did he disapprove?
For one of the few times since I had known him, he read my mind when I actually wanted him to.
"That's wise of you, Mai."
I could feel a smile popping on my mouth. From behind me the fight went on.
"Hear that? Naru's all for it, and he's the one who's going to marry her—"
"Please, you two, it's really none of our business," tried John.
"Shut up! All I did was express an honest concern! Being a single mom is hard—"
"There's nothing saying she'll be a single mom! Honestly, do you think anyone else could put up with Naru's attitude?"
"For Pete's sake!" I cried. "We're not engaged, already, will you two act your age, please?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Masako's shoulders slump down, as though relaxing at my words. My stomach did a little nervous squirm at that. But when I next looked up, it wasn't to see her hopeful expression, but the tiny smile from my boss in the rearview mirror.