Author: Green Phantom Queen
Summary: The girls in Amanogawa High each have a story to tell, dealing with melancholy, happiness and most of all, growing up during times of strife. Whatever age they are, or whatever troubles they are going through in the present, all of them understand that there are people who will support them no matter where they go, and that they do not have to be afraid of what lies ahead.
Summer I: Erin Suda (Orinoco Flow)
"One cannot reflect in streaming water. Only those who know internal peace can give it to others."
"All right everyone," said Dr. Thomas Oliver, staring at his students in his Junior biology class in Reefside High. "I want to remind you that your term papers are due at the end of the week. Next week, you'll all be taking your finals which will count as 20% of your final grade."
The classroom was abuzz with students absorbed in their own activities. The students in the front paid attention to their teacher's word, scribbling down notes as to what would be on their test. The second and third rows had students either doodling away or sneaking their cellphones underneath their desks to text their friends who were in Calculus and US History doing the same exact thing. The ones in the very back were either asleep or looking at the window, all absorbed in their daydreams.
One student in the back wasn't doing either of those things. Instead, she was staring at a letter in her hands, rereading its message over and over again. In fact, she was so absorbed in what she was reading that she didn't notice that it was time to leave until she heard the biology teacher clear his throat.
"Oh!" said the girl, looking up and seeing Dr. Oliver staring at her. "I'm sorry...I know I should be paying attention to class since we're so close to the semester's end, but..."
"Erin," Dr. Oliver began. "This wouldn't be the first time this week I've seen you so distracted. What's going on?"
"It's nothing..." Erin hastily blurted out. "I just need to get going." She folded the letter and stuffed it into her backpack. "I promise that the final draft for my paper will be..."
"I know it'll be finished on time, but we need to talk about what's been distracting you lately." Dr. Oliver interrupted. "You've been distracted and daydreaming these last couple of days. Are you sure everything's all right?"
"W-well..." Erin stuttered. She bit her lip as she averted her gaze from her biology teacher. Why was it always difficult to express something so personal to him? He always had this aura of...of...she blushed just even thinking about it.
"Miss Suda," Dr. Oliver sighed. He sat down at a nearby desk, draping his bag over the back of the chair. "I'd like to know what's going on before I turn eighty please."
"It's...it's about my travels abroad," Erin answered, twiddling her fingers. "I'm going to Japan in a few weeks to prepare for their special space program."
"I didn't know you were so into space. I've always seen you with a textbook in hand, but none of them had to do with astronomy."
"It was due to my dad. He's been working in a space program for so long, only for his chance to go to space taken away by some newcomer with a pretty face." Erin balled her hands into fists. "I want to be as good as my dad, but what if my chances go up to flames? I mean, my dad lost his big chance to some good for nothing..." She couldn't say anything else, for fear of her yelling echoing through the school hallway. Instead she sighed. "And I don't want to follow in his footsteps and find out that it was all for nothing."
"Maybe your dad wasn't meant to go into space..."
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?!" Erin screamed, slamming her hands on the desk. She grit her teeth and glared deep into her biology professor's eyes. "My father watched Neil Armstrong go into space and proclaimed that he'd do whatever it took to get there! He worked in so many part-time jobs in order to pay for his classes! How could he just lose it to that...that...that jerk who only cares about him looking good in front of a camera?!"
Erin gasped for breath as Dr. Oliver stayed silent. Once Erin finished her tirade, he spoke.
"What I meant to say is that maybe he can still do something to help with the space program in NASA even if he isn't going into space," he said. "Have you ever read anything by Ray Bradbury?"
"My mother read me The Martian Chronicles all the time when I was a kid—except for the story called 'There Will Come Soft Rains'." Erin sighed at the memory. "Why do you ask?"
"Well, he wrote another collection of short stories called The Illustrated Man. The framing device was of a tattooed man who had magical tattoos that moved on its own, revealing their own stories. One of the last stories depicted is called, 'The Rocket'. In this, an old man finally saved enough money to buy a rocket at the cost of one person going into space. However, whoever goes into space will be the envy of the family's eyes for the rest of their lives.
"So he bought a mock-up rocket, added projection screens, and made his children believe that they really went into space. The wife thanked her husband for giving them an unforgivable journey and promises that the two would have their own journey one day."
"...That's it?" asked Erin, tilting her head. "What's the point of this story?"
"While it is true that your father might never go to space, he'll be doing his best to ensure that you, his daughter, will have that chance. It will be something that he passes down from one generation to the next, in the hopes that they will have a bright future at hand. It must be tough for our father to not pursue his dreams, but all parents want their children to be successful, am I right?
"Now, back to the subject at hand, why are you so nervous about that letter?"
"It's because I'll be going to a new school without my father, my mother, my little brother..." Erin groaned. "While I'm glad I worked hard in order to obtain the transfer, it's just so nerve-wracking. You understand what I mean...right?"
"Ah, new school jitters. Well," Dr. Oliver stood up. "Come with me. I'm taking you somewhere."
"And...where would that be?" Erin asked, hastily slipping on her backpack.
"A place that I usually go whenever I need a break from teaching," Dr. Oliver replied. "A café."
Erin felt herself blushing like mad as she wrapped her arms around Dr. Oliver. The two rode Dr. Oliver's motorcycle to the Cyberspace Café, which was a popular hangout for teens and college students. Erin was usually too busy to take a gander at the place, but if Dr. Oliver said this was a place that was great to take a break and relax, what was she to complain? He could've taken her to Jack Rabbit Slims and she'd still tag along for the ride if it meant having some alone time with her favorite teacher ever.
"You're quiet," Dr. Oliver replied, parking the motorcycle at the side of the café. He turned the engine off and moved the kickstand in place. "Why's that?"
"I'm just...thinking," Erin answered, trying to hide how red her cheeks were. "I mean, I've never had a teacher bring me to a café for a...a..."
"It's not a date, first and foremost," Dr. Oliver answered. "I am here to give you some advice for your transfer to Japan, nothing more."
"O...of course." Erin shook her head to rid herself of her romantic daydreams. "I wouldn't dream of it being a...'date'...and all."
The two walked to the front of the café and entered inside. Erin looked in awe at what she was seeing. Decorating the brick walls were posters of different types of action shows and video game posters. There was a section of the café where a group of college students were playing a Tabletop RPG. To her left was a television section where a couple of students sat on a red sofa and were listening to some sort of superhero show. In front of her was the owner, Haley Ziktor, polishing the counter with a cloth in hand.
"Yo," said Dr. Oliver, seating himself at the bar. "How's business?"
"Tommy!" said Haley, smirking at her old friend. "It's been a while. I haven't seen you this relaxed since you came back from that giant find in Egypt."
"You mean that humongous skeleton in the desert?" asked Erin. "I remember reading all about it! It's supposed to be one of the biggest finds of the decade!"
"It's not all that big," Dr. Oliver mused, shrugging his shoulders.
"Don't be so modest, Doctor!" Erin exclaimed, opening her bag. She pulled out a magazine article, depicting Dr. Oliver with another colleague dressed in a dark poncho. "This is big news! It just might prove that the gods of Ancient Egypt were real!"
"'Real' is in the eye of its beholder," Haley commented, taking the article out of Erin's hands for the moment. "I'm wondering where you found this handsome devil of a man, Tommy."
"He was in the area," Dr. Oliver explained, seating himself down. Erin followed suit, hands resting on her lap. "His name was Eiji Hino, a traveler of sorts. Very eccentric with the whole carrying a pair of boxers on him like it was some sort of emergency flag thing, but he was very good in dealing with the locals and a very altruistic soul. When we arrived at the village where we would be staying, all the children came to him and they started playing soccer and such. He didn't accept his share of the find, but he seemed so…distant when he found that ankh buried near the skeleton. When I tried to ask him about it, he just brushed it off like it was nothing."
"Maybe it related to an old friend of his," Erin mused. "Did he have anything else on hand?"
"Just some smartphone which he would pick up every night to read through some text message."
"So," said Haley, placing a menu inbetween Dr. Oliver and Erin. She then handed the magazine article back into Erin's hands. "What can I get for you two lovebirds?"
"Give me the usual," Dr. Oliver answered. "One Highwind Blaster. What about you, Erin?"
"Hmm..." Erin looked at the menu and pointed toward the middle. "I think I'll have the combo of a Harvey Milkshake, Light based, and one Muir sandwich, hold the tomatoes. I mean, if it's all right with you, Dr. Oliver."
"It's fine by me," said Dr. Oliver, shrugging his shoulders.
"One Dragoon and a Paladin/Bard combo coming up," said Haley, taking the menu away. She walked off toward a row of blenders behind the counter as Erin stared back at the magazine article in her hands. Even though the article was already six months old, she never got tired of seeing how her favorite teacher found such an important discovery. She sighed as she imagined what it must've been like for Dr. Oliver to unearth something as grand as a humongous skeleton in the desert.
"Doctor," Erin began, clasping her hands over the counter. "What have you been working on lately?"
"I've recently compiled some research I've done over the summer into a book," Dr. Oliver answered. "It revolves around snakes in mythology."
"Snakes?" Erin tilted her head in confusion. "What good are they for?"
"It seems like they have something in common in regards to their roles in ancient history. For example, Quetzalcoatl was said to have created mankind using his own blood, which you could compare to Wadjet, the guardian deity said to protect the Pharaoh from harm. It's a bit of a crazy theory though, but with that discovery, I know I can change how the modern world thought of the gods from the past."
"That sounds amazing! When that book gets published, I promise I'll be the first one to buy a copy!"
"But by the time they're released, you'll be in Japan."
"Don't worry," Erin smiled. "I'm sure you have lots of fans in Japan who would love to know of your works! I mean, you are a world famous paleontologist!"
"One Highwind Blaster and a Harvey shake and Muir sandwich," Haley announced, setting a tray of food down in-between teacher and student. "Just call me if you need anything else."
As she walked away, Erin lifted a slice of toast to see the contents of her sandwich. It was chicken-salad with diced celery and red onion with a bit of mayonnaise on the bread. She took the sandwich into her hands and took a big bite, hastily devouring her meal until she remembered what she was doing. She blushed when she saw how Dr. Oliver was observing her eat her meal, so she quickly swallowed and set the sandwich back in its little basket.
"S...sorry," she said, twiddling her fingers. "I haven't had lunch all day and...yeah..."
Dr. Oliver just smiled as he took the tall, blue colored drink into his hand. Erin, still blushing like mad, took her own milkshake and took a tiny sip from the straw, relishing on the creaminess of her drink. There was some more silence as Erin dabbed her lips on a napkin and set the glass down.
"Um, Dr. Oliver," she began. "About that advice..."
"About going to Japan?" Dr. Oliver finished. "Ah, that. First off, what were your thoughts on the Cyberspace Café?"
"It was someplace I never been before, but when I entered and saw what was inside, I wasn't afraid...especially since I was with you."
"So, what do you think Japan will be like?"
"A place I've never been before but..." Erin paused as she reconsidered her words. "Wait, so this whole trip was..."
"A way to get your feet wet. There are going to places you've never been before, and things that you'll get to experience. But if you let worry and fear cloud your mind, you don't get anywhere. Erin Suda, you are a brilliant student, but you tend to let your emotions get the best of you."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You're like water in a sense," Dr. Oliver explained. "It can be calm and stationary one moment, or it can thrash around and consume those who are in its path. I've watched you for some time, and I notice that you have some anger issues to work out."
"Y...yeah," Erin felt like she was going to die right there. Of course he knew that she had problems. He was one of her teachers after all, and teachers were there to keep an eye on students. "I've been working on it though. I...it's not that big, is it?"
"It depends. I can tell that you do your best to temper it, but there are moments where it flares up. Have you been seeing the school counselor about this?"
"I go there once a week, but she was sick this week and..." Erin's face turned red as she covered her eyes. "Oh, this is so embarrassing…"
"It's nothing to be ashamed about. Look," Dr. Oliver brought Erin's hands down and stared into her eyes. "All I'm saying is that you shouldn't be angry at yourself and be happy for what you have. Not a lot of students in Reefside, let alone most of the United States, have the opportunity to travel across the globe to a new school. It's nothing to be ashamed about."
"W…well," Erin shook her head. "There's something that's making me a bit upset."
"What do you mean?"
"I…" Erin bit her lip as she stammered, "I'm…I'm going to miss you, Dr. Oliver."
"I know…" Dr. Oliver patted Erin on the head. "I'll miss one of my brightest students. I'm sure you'll be able to amaze me with your Japanese when you return, though."
"No, you don't understand. I," Erin wiped the tears starting to form at the corners of her eyes. "I…never mind. It's not important. Thank you for everything, Dr. Oliver."
"What are teachers for? Now, finish your meal and I'll take you home. I don't want your parents to worry about you having an affair with a credited teacher of Reefside High. And, one more thing."
"Keep smiling. You light up the world when you smile."
"O...okay." Erin turned to her sandwich and took a bite, trying her hardest not to choke at the pain she felt in her heart. To fight back the bitter tears, she thought of how she would return to Reefside after a year, free from her anger problems and with so many stories to tell.
Erin Suda left for Japan at the end of June. She said goodbye to her family and brought only two suitcases on her. Throughout the flight, the only thought in her mind was how she screwed up confessing her feelings to Dr. Oliver. She couldn't even tell how much she loved him, even after all that happened over milkshakes and chicken-salad sandwiches. How embarrassing…
Once she landed in Tokyo and grabbed her suitcases, she looked around for the exchange family she would be staying with, feeling so out of place in this strange land. Prior to her flight, she brushed up a bit on kanji, but the characters began to blur and become similar, so all in all she was giving herself a headache.
"Yes?" she said, turning around. She saw a boy with spiky brown hair, dressed in a white costume—or at least, that's how she saw the outfit since it looked similar to a swan—staring at her, carrying a sign that read, "Erin Suda, Welcome!" in his hands. "Um, who are you? Wait, do you speak English?"
"Very fluently," the boy replied. "My name is Norio Eguchi, and you'll be staying with me and my mother for the next year, right?"
"Y…yes, that's right. It's nice to meet you, Erin-san. Now come on," Norio slipped his hand into hers. "Let's get going. We're taking you to a great sukiyaki restaurant close-by. You'll love it."
"Thank you," Erin blushed as she followed Norio to the car. So many things were racing through her mind, but Norio smiling at her eased her worries.
"You know," Norio began. "You have a beautiful smile. Has anyone told you that?"
"Yeah, someone did. It was someone that I...liked from afar."
"Oh, really? What was his name?"
"His name was Dr. Oli...I mean, Tommy. I'm sure the two of you would get along just well."
"I bet. Hey, maybe he'd like to know that I found myself an American girlfriend like yourself! I bet he would get so jealous of me, don't you think?"
Erin hesitated, remembering her 'date' with Dr. Oliver back at the Cyberspace Café. She brushed the thought out of her mind as she nodded her head.
"Of course he'd be jealous of you," she said. "You have something that he doesn't have."
"Really?" Norio's eyes lit up. "What is that?"
"You have me," Erin answered. "And he doesn't."
Norio laughed as the two entered the car waiting at the airport entrance. As Erin packed her bags in the trunk, she looked back at Norio who waved at her at the back seat. She waved back as she closed the trunk and entered the car, waiting to see what else Japan had in store for her.
"I'll be back soon, Dr. Oliver." she thought to herself, letting out a sigh. "By then, I'll be able to say it. Wait for me until then."
Coming up next: Miu Kazashiro's first prom had her dance with a boy that changed her view of life forever, and at the same time break her heart. What was this thing that caused an optimistic girl to grow into a cold and bitter Queen of Amanogawa High?
Next: Summer II, "Define Dancing"