Takenaka leans against one of the brick pillars in the east lobby of the Student Union. It’s busy for a Monday night. People are weaving in and out of the Union Market doors, loading up on Red Bull and Monster for the coming final weeks of the semester. Needless to say, it’s loud. Anxiety blankets the whole campus, and Takenaka is standing in one concentrated section of it. He’s starting to think he should have asked Tome to meet up with him somewhere else. Somewhere outside maybe, it’s late November and it’s cold as hell--he doubts many people are loitering at the benches. Just as he’s about to pull out his phone and text her, an ancient aliens meme pops up in the corner of his mind.
Hurry up, it’s loud in here. Takenaka projects at the memeing culprit. Tome laughs back at him in her thoughts.
Sorry, sorry! Getting out of the Library was a challenge, it took me like forty minutes to print my art history paper. Place is packed. She’s close enough now that he can pinpoint her location, and starts walking in that direction. She’s just outside the doors and he meets her at the entrance.
“So what exactly are we doing?” Takenaka asks, jamming his hands in the pockets of his winter coat as they turn and head right back outside.
“Alien hunting!” Tome chirps, galloping along the sidewalk excitedly, packed snow crunching underfoot.
“Yeah, I know, but what does that even mean?” Takenaka rolls his eyes, quickening his pace to keep up with her.
“We’re going to chill out on the roof of my dorm and see if we hear anything. By we, I mostly mean you, because I sure as hell won’t hear shit.” Tome laughs.
“Tome, it’s 28 degrees. Isn’t the roof covered in snow?” Takenaka’s eyebrows knit together. For probably the fifth time today, he wonders what he’s gotten himself into.
“The maintenance guys shoveled it yesterday and it’s only dusted snow a little bit since then, it’ll be fine.” Tome assures, waving a hand nonchalantly.
“If I get sick, I’m suing you.” Takenaka threatens.
“Don’t worry, I hear idiots don’t catch colds.” Tome grins at him. He steps on the back of her shoe, causing her to stumble. She takes advantage of the near fall by grabbing a fist full of snowbank and chucking it at the taller boy. By the time they get to the entrance of Tome’s dorm, both of them are coated in snow, damp and cold.
“I’m going to grab some blankets from my room, so we don’t die.” Tome decides.
“I thought idiots didn’t catch colds?” Takenaka looks pointedly at her.
“Do you want a blanket or not?” She growls as they step into the elevator. She starts vigorously thinking about Bode memes again to spite him. Takenaka doesn’t understand why he puts up with her. As the elevator ascends Takenaka stiffens, the higher up they go the more sure he is that the Jock from a few weeks ago is in the lobby. Just as he opens his mouth to warn Tome, the elevator dings and the doors open. Tome is completely absorbed in her phone, and does not even see her annoying floormate. The floormate does see her though.
His eyes widen, his shoulders jump up to his ears; he radiates fear, memories of spiky blonde hair, a sharp unforgiving grin, and pain flood his thoughts. He immediately spins on his heels and takes the stairs. Tome is none the wiser, her converse slapping loudly on the metal floor strip in the doorway to the elevator as she starts striding to her dorm, eyes still glued to her phone. Takenaka closes his opened mouth with a clack of teeth and follows after her. She pockets her phone just in time to unlock her door. Takenaka decides against bringing up what Tome missed in the hallway, as apparently the man is no longer a threat to her. Neither of them say anything as Tome digs around in her closet, unearthing two haphazardly folded fleece blankets.
“Here, you can have the dinosaur one.” Tome decrees as she shoves it into his arms. She unfolds the space ship patterned blanket she designated for herself and ties it around her shoulders like a cape. Takenaka looks down at the blanket in his arms. It’s ancient, the color dull and the fabric pilled throughout.
“When did you get this? Fourth grade?”
“Nah, more like seventh.” Tome shrugs, closing her closet door with a clatter and making her way out of her room.
“That still makes it ancient.” Takenaka follows after her. He’s honestly a little surprised that the supply closet door isn’t locked, and less surprised by Tome’s lack of hesitation as she strides right in and starts climbing the ladder to the roof hatch. “How many times have you done this?” He asks, watching her pay no mind whatsoever to the ‘Authorized Personnel Only’ signs that line the wall.
“A few. You coming or what?” Tome looks down from the top of the ladder and sticks her tongue out at him. She unlatches the hatch and throws it open like a pro, a cold wind washes through the room immediately. Takenaka is so not looking forward to this, but he throws the dinosaur blanket over his shoulder and climbs up after her anyway.
By the time he gets to the top of the ladder Tome is already getting comfortable on a clear patch of concrete. She’s effectively burritoed in layers of coat and blanket and is moving from an upright burrito to a horizontal one, flopping on her back to effectively watch the sky. She’s getting a dusting of snow in her hair from the slight breeze, but Takenaka can tell by the sheer excitement radiating through her thoughts that she does not care one iota. He finishes climbing up and sits down next to her. He can feel the cold of the concrete on his legs through the layers.
“How are you not freezing?” Takenaka asks, burrowing his nose into the blanket. It smells like dust.
“The thought of potentially achieving my hopes and dreams keeps me warm.” Tome assures, eyes darting around the sky above them.
“What are you, some kind of anime protagonist?” Takenaka scoffs, “You’re not going to get all depressed if I don’t hear any aliens, right?”
“Nah, if you don’t hear any tonight, we’ll just have to keep trying!” Tome looks at him then and smiles, toothy and wide.
“I have other things to do, you know.” Takenaka warns.
“If I can convince you to come up to a roof top six stories high in the middle of winter, sopping wet from a snowball fight, I think I can wrangle you up here again at some point.” She’s confident, and Takenaka can’t really blame her. She’s right. He grumbles back at her anyway though, for good measure.
They fall into silence then, and it really is the closest to silence Takenaka has experienced in a long time. The thoughts of the students on the floors below them are thoroughly muffled, nothing more than a soft cotton static in the underlayer of Takenaka’s mind. Tome is quiet, both physically and mentally, her subconscious thoughts buzzing quietly in the back of her mind--forefront more or less empty, spaced out. Literally. Perhaps stargazing is like meditation to Tome, Takenaka wonders how long she’s been doing this. Thirty minutes pass by in an instant, Takenaka is pulled from his own thoughts only by the cold settling into his toes. He wiggles them, folds his legs. Tome hasn’t moved at all since they came up here.
“When did you get into aliens, anyway?” He asks. It takes a few seconds for Tome to register the question, she’s pulled back into herself slowly at first, then all at once. Her thoughts inexplicably flood with loneliness. It catches Takenaka off guard.
“The answer to that question isn’t particularly fun.” Tome says, fingers flexing in the blanket wrapped around her. Her thoughts are loud and clear enough that he knows she’s not averse to telling him, but is worried about dampening the mood.
You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. Takenaka looks away from her, his neck is stiff from looking up so he takes a page from Tome’s book and flops down next to her.
I don’t want you to pity me. Tome admits.
That would be difficult, I’m not one to pity people. Takenaka assures. Focused as he is on her thoughts, he can tell Tome knows he’s rolling his eyes without even looking at his face and pinpoint the exact moment she decides to give up the ghost.
I’m just going to give you an instant replay, so pay attention if you want to know.
Sounds good, I love a good picture show. Takenaka replies. Tome’s thoughts are quiet for a moment as she gathers them. Images fade into focus, projected to the forefront of her mind for ease of access. Her thoughts fill with a vivid impressionist memory from childhood, an overly saturated scene of what Takenaka assumes is Tome’s family living room. Takenaka closes his eyes, making it easier to focus on the memories Tome is projecting at him. The same signed Aliens poster from Tome’s dorm is mounted on the wall by the television. The small pudgy hands of a child--Tome’s hands--reach forward and push a VHS of ET into the television's built in player.
Hey squirt, I got the goods. There is a man next to her. She turns, and through Tome’s child eyes Takenaka can see him--her father--crouching next to her, bowl of popcorn in his hands. His face is blurred, framed by dark hair and a pair of glasses. His hands are detailed, and so are his teeth when he grins at her.
The scene changes. A hand grips child-Tome’s shoulder and rouses her from sleep. Her eyes flutter open, disoriented, for a moment the plastic glow in the dark stars on her ceiling look real.
Tome! Get up, lazy-bones, the meteorite shower is starting! The same toothy smile looks down at her, glasses with a blurred face.
Geeze Dad, alright, alright, I’m up! Her short legs kick to untangle from her Pokemon comforter.
Shh! Don’t wake up your mother. Tome’s dad whispers, dramatically sneaking from the room. Tome mimics his over the top sneaking method all the way to the balcony. Her feet are a bit too large for the rest of her, and bare on the cold cement underfoot.
I set up the telescope, Her dad gives Tome a cheesy thumbs up, maybe we’ll spot some aliens! How cool would that be, huh?
Pretty cool, Dad. Tome nods, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. When she looks up, the night sky is the most vivid thing Takenaka has seen through Tome’s child eyes--filled with color, deep and encompassing, speckled with galactic points of light.
The scene changes. Tome’s too-big feet flop down the carpeted stairs, morning light pours through the window on the landing. A broken, choking noise resonates in Tome’s ears. She stops for a moment in surprise, then cautiously takes the rest of the stairs down. Tome rounds the corner into the kitchen and spots mother sits at the kitchen table, head in her hands.
Mom? The older woman looks up. Her face is vivid, red and puffy from crying. When she sees her child fresh tears well in her eyes, another broken sound rips from her throat. Why are you crying? Tome looks down, small hand twisting anxiously in her polka dot pajama pants.
Come here, honey, come here. Tome’s mother looks away, voice thick, and beckons Tome to her with her hands. Tome steps hurriedly towards her mother. Her eyesight begins to blur, Takenaka realizes she must be beginning to cry out of empathy for her mother alone. Her mother's hands are too warm on her face, wiping away renegade tears, lips trembling. Her mother breathes in, deep and ragged.
Listen, Tome. It’s just going to be you and I from now on. Your father, he--your father… Her face twists painfully for a moment, she pauses and forces herself to breathe.
Where did he go, mom? Tome’s child voice is not much more than a whisper. Her mother jerks forward and feverishly gathers Tome into her arms. Her grip is vice-like, painful.
Mom? Tome cannot see her mother’s face, but one of her arms unwinds from Tome’s small body and, shaking, points upwards.
He’ll be watching us… from above now.
The memory stutters to a stop.
You didn’t understand. Takenaka opens his eyes, blinks, spots a satellite making it’s way through ursa minor.
No, I didn’t. I was seven. For a while I think she was glad that I didn’t, but it got old--I got too old. Tome sighs through her nose, tension draining from her body. By the time she told me what exactly happened, I’d already read the library’s whole collection on space and space travel and plowed through half the science fiction section.
That’s a lot of reading for a seven year old. Takenaka doesn’t try to conceal how impressed he is by that feat.
I didn’t do it all in one year, I was almost nine before she told me. I thought I could bring him back, it wasn’t exactly healthy. Tome snorts out a laugh, her breath fogging as soon as it hits the air. She thought I would tone it down--and I did--but I didn’t stop reading. By then I was hooked, sopping up any information I could about space and aliens and the universe as a whole. It was soothing, to learn how incredibly small we all are. Tome turns her head to look at her friend, Wouldn’t you agree? She grins toothily, like her father used to.
The heaviness of Tome's memories doesn't linger. They both continue to watch the sky, not talking much--verbally or otherwise--outside of the occasional whimsical musing from Tome. Takenaka admits that this is the quietest place he's been to on campus, and that it's kind of nice outside of the cold seeping into his bones. The sky stays completely silent, Takenaka’s telepathy picks up on nothing but emptiness in his limited range. By the time they make it back down the hatch, numb fingers fumbling on metal rungs, over two hours have passed.
Takenaka takes the stairs down to his room just to get some blood pumping in his legs. They both catch colds.