When he'd received his acceptance letter to the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro had not worried about laundry.
Instead, his anxieties of getting in, and of disappointing his aunt if he didn't, had exchanged themselves nigh immediately after reading his letter (for which Aunt Cass had hovered over him, fizzing excitedly) for fears of failing to keep himself at it, of not sticking out his course, and of becoming a target to other students due to his age and stature and brilliance.
Laundry had never crossed his mind, nor had he experienced any nervousness before moving into his assigned room in a students' residence. The digs were near enough to home for him to spend weekends with his aunt, should he so desire, and he could order hot meals at his own convenience from the cafeteria a short walk away, shared between the other student housing blocks.
He hadn't even considered laundry, in fact, until his aunt (tearfully smiling after helping her "little college man" move in) announced that they should go and ask the building supervisor where the laundry room could be found.
"I've put away powder in your closet, because I know you've got to supply your own in a place like this," Cass offered, her hand on his back as she propelled him along the blue-carpeted corridor. He mused over how good of an idea carpets were when paired with college students of drinking age, be it legal or otherwise.
The supervisor directed them to a smaller, bricked building, out back behind the res, inside which there were various brands and sizes of washing machines and dryers. They lined three of the cream-coloured walls in a U shape. Where he and Cass had walked in were steel sinks, fold-out ironing boards, and a few clothes lines strung up on which to hang damp garments. Golden afternoon light seeped in through frosted glass windows. They softened the outline of a tree planted right outside the small, stuffy room, its leaves blurred into dark, drooping smudges.
Cass nodded approvingly. "Well, sweetie, now you know where to go to do your laundry."
He tried not to balk visibly at her words. At 16, he didn't know the first thing about laundry, because Aunt Cass had always done his for him. The thought brought warm shame to his chest.
"Remember, though, kiddo, it's easy for someone to take your things from a dryer or the line, even if it's just accidental. Keep an eye on your loaded washing."
She tousled his wayward hair. "But don't worry too much about your underwear, I think. The state of them will ward off any underwear thieves."
"Ha, ha," Hiro drawled, trying to ignore his feelings of trepidation in favour of adding to his aunt's playful banter. She flitted about the room, checking out the machine options, and probably giving her nephew advice he'd soon be needing, but his thoughts drifted away from her voice.
Was he really ready to be this responsible? To rely on himself to wake up and get out of bed on time? To remember to eat and shower? What if he got bored of class and stopped attending? Aunt Cass had always been the one to make him do things, which, while sometimes overbearing, he'd recognised as being helpful.
Could he, of all things, do his laundry without destroying his clothing or his dignity?
As they climbed the stairs back to his room on the third floor (the elevator was otherwise occupied with a slightly hysterical mother, her tall, broad shouldered, flustered son, and a gargantuan fridge), Hiro pushed any negative thoughts out of his mind and focused on comforting his aunt, who had fallen quiet. He needed her to trust that he would be okay, even if he didn't quite believe it himself.
They reached his door, which had a white and blue plastic plaque reading 301. Hiro pushed it open and turned to face his aunt, reassurances about to fall off his tongue, only to have her arms wind tightly around his shoulders and pull him into a clinging hug.
"You're going to be just fine, my brave little man," she gushed into his dark hair. "Or, not-so-little man, now."
Hiro squeezed his guardian tightly before they disentangled themselves. The smells of her café followed her everywhere, tea accents sunk into the threads of her clothing, and he felt a lump in his throat at the thought of how he'd miss her and her bustle.
His aunt spoke her next words softly, with care. "You know your parents would be so proud of you, right?"
Hiro nodded. He knew they would.
He walked her to her pickup truck in the parking lot, where the late afternoon sun cast long shadows and yellow light. He checked that she was ready to make the drive back home, then his aunt swept Hiro back into her arms again before she climbed in the driver's side.
"Last hug," she smiled.
Hiro put away his stationery - spiral notebooks and pencils sharp with newness - in a desk drawer and slid it shut. Heaving a sigh, the first year robotics and engineering student turned to his bed and collapsed onto it, face landing in his pillow. He inhaled deeply. The clean linen, brought from, and smelling of, home, was the only familiar thing in his new room. Even the gaudy orange curtains were a far cry from his usual, dark, wooden blinds.
He sniffed at the clean duvet again, and wondered how long he could get by without changing his sheets. What was the socially accepted protocol for bed hygiene? How often was he expected to strip his mattress, and did it really even matter, if he would be the only one to sleep in it? Who knew.
'Probably lots of people,' his mind supplied, unhelpfully.
Hiro sat up and took in the sight of his room. If he didn't screw this up, he'd hopefully be seeing it until the end of his first year.
He pushed out of his head thoughts of Aunt Cass, his old room, and a strange longing for even Mochi's company.
For now, he had bigger things on which to focus. Orientation lectures began the next morning, and for once, he'd show up on time and prepared. He'd spend the evening reading through the program and schedules, and noting venue details. He refused to be lost, in any way.
Moving to his desk, Hiro spared a fleeting glance at the hamper for dirty clothes at the foot of his bed, then turned back to the college pamphlets spread across the workplace surface. Never mind that. He had, at least, enough clothes to last him the whole of orientation week. He'd make do.
Laundry woes could wait.
Hiro got lost, anyway. Map in hand, annoyed and vaguely dismayed, he slowly turned on the spot. Around him milled hundreds of students, bypassing him to get to their next venue, while he remained stuck. Stuck and lost.
The campus had street names on posts, and he thought this would be unimaginably helpful, if he could only match the names on the tall, green pole sign under which he stood to any of those on his map. The guide was starting to look a little grubby and creased from being unfolded over and again with increasing degrees of frustration.
He'd already attended the welcoming address and two talks on what to expect from classes and coping with the adjustment to student life. As he'd suspected, the first day of orientation week "lectures" had turned out to be nothing more than information-giving sessions, similar to video game "how-to" demonstrations. Useful, but not necessary - at least, not in Hiro's opinion. Certainly nothing over which to get particularly enthusiastic.
All the excitement of the day had belonged to, and worn off after, the welcoming ceremony. The rest was there to reassure parents and guardians that their progeny would receive all the guidance they might need.
Hiro looked half heartedly at session three's title:
'Managing Your Finances: Putting the Fun in Fund Security.'
He grimaced. He didn't see the point in sticking around to attend these talks. It wouldn't matter if he ditched the rest, right?
As if prompted by the idle thought of truancy, Aunt Cass' face floated into view before him, her big eyes reproachful. Hiro groaned internally. Even imagined, his aunt needed no words to get him to do what he should.
He couldn't go back to the residence. It was barely the first day, and here he was already considering bunking. If he really wanted to make this year count, and ultimately get his degree, he had to go to his classes. Even the duds.
He wouldn't let himself give up.
Sighing, the dark haired teenager stuffed his map into his backpack and grudgingly made his way over to a young, peppy, volunteer helper with long, caramel-coloured hair and long legs. She wore large, pink glasses frames, a standard SFIT shirt and a safety-pinned name tag that read 'Genesis.'
The family she'd been assisting dispersed in the direction of her shiny, manicured finger, and her gaze swivelled down to Hiro. A smile broke wide and genuine across her freckled face. Its effect coupled with her big, shining, green eyes, was, quite frankly, disarming.
"HI there! My name is Genesis, but please, call me Honey! With what can I help you, sir?"
Hiro felt thrown for a loop at being called "sir." He was much more accustomed to "kid."
"Uh." He cleared his throat. "Hey. I'm looking for the, uh, chancellor's building? There's this, this finances thing-"
"Not to worry! It's really close by. In fact, I could walk you there."
Hiro looked down at her impossibly high heeled feet. Could she?
He politely declined, and followed her directions, setting off down the main street (creatively named "University Road."). He couldn't chance looking like anymore of a kid out of his depth by being walked around campus.
He'd also bet on Honey being a handholder.
The inside of the lecture hall was brightly lit, almost uncomfortably so, and Hiro took umbrage in one of the topmost back rows of seats, where he could sit and see rather than be seen. He chanced a glance to his left. Next to him sat the student he recognised from the day before, the tall and broad shouldered guy in the lift with a fridge. His harrowed mother was conspicuously absent.
To Hiro's dismay, the student caught him looking. He stuck out his hand enthusiastically.
"Hello. My name's Damon. I think we're in the same residence."
Hiro shook hands hesitantly and managed a fumbled introduction. "Hiro. Uh, yeah, I'm in 301."
"Really? I'm right across from you, then. Room 300. I'm your corridor supervisor, but you'll get briefed on that later, I'm certain."
Hiro couldn't contain his surprise at this information. Eyebrow raised, he asked curiously if first years were often made corridor reps.
The young man laughed and shook his head. "I'm in my third year, actually."
"Third? What are you doing here, then?" Nonplussed, Hiro gestured at the hall, fast filling up with the first years for whom the presentation was meant.
Damon puffed out his chest and said with an air of importance, "It never hurts to get as much information as possible. I like to be prepared."
Hiro laughed incredulously and ran a hand through his hair. Then he frowned. "That woman you were with yesterday. That was your mom?"
"I thought she was a parent leaving her kid for the first time. Isn't she used to this by now?"
Clearing his throat, Damon looked away, embarrassed. "She's very attached. She always gets emotional at the start of semester."
Hiro grinned and settled back in his seat as the lights finally dimmed and the huge screen flickered to life. He wondered if Aunt Cass would turn out to be that kind of guardian.
Hiro found his first week of lectures to be far more enjoyable than school classes ever were. With each day, he migrated closer to the lecturers, until he found himself sat right up front. Surprisingly, he felt uncaring that this made him more visible to his classmates. He even asked the occasional question, at the risk of drawing attention to himself; something he'd never done in high school.
The material wasn't anything new, not to him, but he could appreciate the novelty of having it taught to him, for once, instead of reading it to teach himself.
So far, he didn't have many complaints about communal living, aside from sometimes having to queue for the showers, and enduring lukewarm - if not icy cold - water if he left it too late. Mornings were so busy with other students clamouring for the bathroom that Hiro preferred to wash up late at night, anyway; if most people were asleep, he was guaranteed the privacy of an empty bathroom and the luxury of taking his sweet time.
He was unaccustomed to wearing shower slops, but his skin crawled at the thought of what evils had touched the white tiles beneath him, so he endured nearly slipping each time he clambered over the ledge, along with squeaky footsteps to and from his room.
While his personal hygiene remained up to standard in this regard, Hiro's panic over his dwindling supply of clean clothes escalated as the week passed him by. When Sunday came, and he was down to his last pair of briefs (and seriously considering going commando the next day), he accepted that he couldn't put off doing his laundry forever. Moreover, he'd feel too guilty about bringing home his dirty clothes to dump on Cass each Friday.
He swivelled in his chair to face the clothing hamper, now heavy and almost totally filled with worn clothes. He drummed his fingers on the surface of his desk and pursed his lips.
Really, contrasted with robotics and engineering, how hard could it be?
It was time to suck it up and learn something new for the first time since he'd arrived.