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“Kurata-chan, the class was worried for you.” We thought you were dead, everyone on the staff. I wasn’t even keeping homework for you until your mom called the school to say you were found alive.

“I am alive.” Tome grunts. She takes the month’s work of assignments in hand.

“Ah, of course.” Barely, barely. It echoes on the linoleum floors, on the cheerfully painted walls, and most importantly it echoes in Tome’s head until it feels like a mantra. Barely, barely.

“So, when is this due?” Tome closes her eyes, trying to quiet everything down. The janitor down the hallway is listening to pop music on his CD player. The tick of the disc spinning in the tray annoys him, he should invest in an mp3 player or something.

“A month from now, since you’ll have to keep up with your regular schoolwork as well. I will personally check up with you every week though to make sure you’re not overwhelmed.” Kurata-chan’s grades are painfully average, with this set-back there’s no way she’ll get into a good high school. So sad, to see a student fail.

Tome leaves, she can’t take this anymore.

“Bye, Kurata-chan.” How rude. Well, she is having a tough time. It must be very hard to be back in school after all…. Of that.

Class isn’t any better. Tome didn’t expect it to get better, maybe just a little more bearable? Girls touch her shoulder softly, my mom doesn’t let me go anywhere without three friends because of what happened to Tome-chan. Some girls just offer a smile, there’s Tome-chan, and you know she was kidnapped. I better be extra nice to her now. The boys aren’t as bad, its half hidden admiration for surviving and less pity. I walk my sister everywhere, you forget that sort of thing happens to everyone, says the boy sitting in front of Tome in class.

Tome doesn’t understand the material at all. Everyone is shouting the answers at her and her head aches and throbs and there’s nothing else to be done. The teacher doesn’t call on her. Tome knows the answers though. Maybe if she answered one right then the talking would just stop.

She eats in the girls bathrooms, feet swinging over the tile floor. It’s quiet. Sometimes a girl or two comes in and speaks a little. The girls say quiet, private things. Wondering if that person will confess, wondering when they’ll start to really look like a woman. Tome wishes she still had soft personal thoughts. Most of the time though, it’s just the sound of Tome chewing. Tome doesn’t think anymore, not if she can help it. There’s too much clutter already.

“President!” We thought you died! We cried already, we couldn’t stop coming to club though. It’s weird to have you back, we have already mourned you know.

Tome says she’s got to go home for a doctor’s appointment. Oh, oh. Of course. I hope you feel better. Can you feel better?

Nothing is quiet anymore. The girls on the hill are chattering about boys and schoolwork and their little insecurities. The bus stop is full of complaints and irritation and makes Tome feel a tick developing in her eye. It feels like Tome doesn’t even need to open her eyes, she knows just where she is by the sounds.

Home is quiet. Tome can tell the neighbors are home, but not what they’re saying. Mom works late shifts, it’s always been Tome’s job to feed herself. Tome hates it when Mom is home now. It’s only guilt, maybe if I had a higher paying job and could work regular hours my daughter…. She would be okay.

The plate breaks. Tome didn’t notice that she dropped it. Even though it would be safer to sweep up the ceramic shards, Tome picks them up methodically. She doesn’t cut her fingers.

When she gets another plate, she heats up ramen with beef. Tome does homework while she eats slowly. It’s hard to eat. Hard isn’t the right word. It’s different to eat, maybe.

Her schoolwork is pretty easy considering her entire day of school was the next topic in the sequence. Her assignments from today are a different story, considering Tome doesn’t understand the previous topic yet. It’s dark when she finishes, and Tome takes a shower before going to sleep.

My daughter, she’s alright, my Tome-kun. Tome can hear her mom come home, and rolls over. She doesn’t want to be awake, but is now. Tome’s mom is tinkering around in the kitchen making her own dinner.

Tome doesn’t go to school in the morning. She puts a change of clothes in her pack instead of books, and gets off the bus early. She changes in a department store bathroom. Tome already has her lie picked out, if anyone asks she goes to a private school that has today off. It’s a very plausible real excuse, and Tome doubts anyone will call her out on it.

She walks and walks until she gets to an abandoned park. There’s no noise. Tome closes her eyes. It’s very nice. The school might call her mom, but Tome knows the school has her home phone. She can delete the message.

“Oh, hello.” Tome opens her eyes. It’s a boy. He’s not saying anything else.

“Hi.” Tome manages, everyone always has more to say.

“Are you skipping?” His hair is spiked.

“No. I have a break today.” Tome lies, sitting up a little straighter on the park bench. Who is this boy? Why isn’t he saying anything else?

“Nice lie.” He sits next to Tome.

“Are you skipping?” She quips before she can stop herself. He smiles.

“Maybe.” The way he reclines reminds Tome of some kind of big cat. Which is ridiculous because this boy is her age maybe, probably younger. He just looks very relaxed.

“Why are you so tense? There’s no cops around.” The boy says, closing his eyes. Tome isn’t sure how truthfully she wants to respond.

“I’ve never skipped before.” Tome admits. The boy sits straight up and stares at her.

“Really? Never?”

“No, I’ve never wanted too before. I guess.”

“What changed?”

“Um,” Tome thinks again. This boy obviously doesn’t know who she is. “I got sick and missed a lot of school. Everyone there is just pitying me.”

“Oh, that sucks.” The boy doesn’t say anything extra, but Tome is hit with an intense wave of understanding and camaraderie. She doesn’t know what to do, so she sits in silence. No, they sit in silence.

Maybe, Tome thinks, maybe I just don’t hear it anymore. Maybe it was just a passing deal.

“Wanna get ice cream or something? If we buy something people don’t even ask if you’re playing hooky.” The boy offers, apparently he’s bored. Tome wishes a little she could hear what he is saying better.

“Wait, I’m Kurata Tome.” She extends a hand cordially.

“Suzuki Shou.” They shake hands. It’s comfortable.  

Suzuki knows a place to get good ice cream on a school day, he says. The park is so quiet Tome can hear her own thoughts, her own breath, her own heartbeat. It’s wonderful. It seems like it’s been an eternity since she could be with another human and be in silence. Sweet, comfortable silence.

I wonder if those kids are skipping, someone says. Tome freezes in spite of herself. There’s a man walking a dog nearby. It’s no skin off my back, I suppose. Kids will skip. They look a little too young to be skipping to make out, though.

Suzuki says nothing. He turns when he notices Tome stops though. She smiles and waves her hands, jogging slightly to catch up.

“I got distracted by the dog, sorry Suzuki-san.” Tome explains.

“Come on, don’t Suzuki-san me.” Suzuki looks a little pained, “Shou-kun is fine. Honestly.”

“Alright, Su- Shou-kun. You can call me Tome-chan!” Tome poses a little. If she was on her A game she would have introduced herself as the President of the telepathy club. She really doesn’t want to think about that stuff right now though.

Shou-kun laughs. It’s nice. He says nothing else. There’s no undercurrent of words, just a quiet unobtrusive stream of emotion Tome can ignore or indulge in.

Shou-kun turns out to an anomaly. He’s quiet, but the ice cream shop is in a small shopping plaza. Apparently a fair amount of people like to shop right now. It’s the most people Tome has been around, ever. Well, as long as she’s been able to hear more.

Someone asks if she’s alright, but Tome can’t tell. I wonder if my husband is slacking off again. He’s impossible. Sometimes I worry about her, she would be so easily scammed. Are those kids skipping? This sale is atrocious I thought for sure there would be something on clearance. When will people stop sticking their faces in their phones and learn to enjoy the day? Someone touches Tome’s shoulder. Maybe I’ll win the lottery one day and I can buy each one of my coworkers this purse and still have enough for a really nice car. Oh, that’s her calling me back. Remember to pick up that package at the post office on the way home.

“What’s your name?”

I’m Trish. Oh that’s Kujo-san again. Hello, yes this is Hanaza speaking. Well-

“What’s your name?” Shou places his hands on her ears. It doesn’t help, but reminds Tome that she exists. Shou-kun looks worried.

“Why don’t you say anything else?” Tome asks, grabbing Shou’s hands. “Everyone else is talking, except for you!” Is that girl over their alright. She looks sick. I wonder if that boy is bothering her. If she throws up, I’m leaving. Kids shouldn’t skip and ruin everyone else’s good day like this.

Tome can’t really tell what is happening. A lot of people are speaking. Your change will be… Why do ATM machines even have… Did I step in dog poop over… Someone is holding Tome’s hand.

“Tome-chan, can you hear me now?” Shou asks, clasping both of Tome’s hands in his. Tome can’t. He isn’t saying anything. Someone has a song stuck in her head, it’s playing on the radio. Everyone is thinking about it. The melody pulses in Tome’s brain, taking over her heartbeat, taking over- it’s stopped.

“Can you hear me now?” Is she okay? Is she an esper? What’s wrong with Tome-chan?

There is no one else speaking besides Shou-kun.

“I can only hear you.” Tome says.

You can hear me?

“Crystal clear.”

But only when I’m not doing this.

“Doing what?”

“I’m… sorry it’s weird to think but say nothing Tome-chan.” You’re not weird, I’m just not used to it please don’t take offense I think you’re, “I’m an esper. I have this, uh, force field all the time. I pushed it outside to pull you inside too.”

“I couldn’t hear you before you did, uh, that.” Tome says. Esper, like Mob-kun?

Can you hear anyone else?

Tome listens, closes her eyes to concentrate harder.

“Not really, it’s just kind of emotions. That’s what I could hear from you earlier.” Tome explains to Shou.

“Um, Tome, it seems like you’re an esper?” Shou half-states, half-asks.

“I’m not though. Mob-kun and his brother are the espers.” You know Ritsu-kun and his brother? How do you know them?

“I go to school with them.” Tome says, and Shou looks shocked for a moment before he remembers that Tome can hear what he’s thinking.

“Tome-kun, this might be a scary thing for me to ask, but has anything happened to you recently?” Shou asks, his hands feel a little sweaty. Tome wishes she could ask him to let go but then maybe his shield think would retract and Tome would have to listen to all those people talking again.

Tome clears her throat, to explain.