One of the impressions Hajime had already gotten about Sano without actually having it confirmed for certain was that he didn’t rise early by choice. Therefore, when the exorcist’s phone rang at around eight o’clock on Thursday morning and displayed Sano’s number, Hajime could only consider it a good sign. And when Sano’s greeting was a somewhat breathless, “She left me a message,” it was as if he’d had a divination confirmed.
“She called at, like, three in the morning,” Sano went on. “It woke me up, but I didn’t get to the phone in time, but it’s fine ’cause she left a message.” He sounded almost giddy, and once again Hajime had to sympathize a little; given the current situation, it was no wonder this progress in their attempt at getting rid of the ghost pleased the young man so much.
“What did she say?”
“She wants us to meet her at Isei Park at noon. That’s not too far from my apartment — actually I used to hang out there all the time when I was a kid; do you know where it is?”
“I’m sure I can find it.” Hajime was grinning somewhat, almost in spite of himself, at Sano’s tone: it was so unusually happy, but without having lost any of its customary underlying anger, which made for an odd sound.
“Well, I’m going to head over there right away.”
“Four hours early?”
“I straight-up called in sick to work, so I’ve got the whole day. I’ll take my books and see if I can get some studying done, and probably grab some breakfast on the way over at that place next to…” Suddenly seeming to decide that Hajime probably didn’t really care what his exact plans were — which assumption, though logical, was not entirely true — Sano finished abruptly, “So anyway, I’ll see you there around noon, right?”
The answer Hajime had planned on giving was overridden by Misao making her insistent way around his neck to the hand that held the phone and yowling into it as best she could while trying, at a bad angle, to keep her balance.
“Hi, Misao,” Sano was chuckling from the other end even as Hajime lifted her off his shoulder and set her on the floor.
“She has nothing real to say,” Hajime translated. “She just likes phones.”
Sano was still laughing. “Yeah, I got that.”
“Did you?” Without allowing Sano to reiterate the fact that he had, Hajime continued, “Anyway, I’ll meet you at the park later.”
“Right. See you then.”
Hajime set the phone on the floor for Misao to yell into until she realized there was no one on the other end, and stood a few moments in silent thought. Although the upcoming meeting with Kaoru Himura might be significant and productive, there was no guarantee that it would be. He didn’t for an instant believe that the ghost’s anger would just suddenly dispel and the ghost himself fly off to the afterlife the moment they encountered his wife; Kenshin undoubtedly had something he wanted to say — probably a maudlin goodbye that wasn’t worth nearly the amount of trouble he’d been giving Sano — and of course he couldn’t communicate with her while all channels were blocked by the shade. So today’s talk with his widow was little more than an exploration of another possible avenue to getting rid of that shade, and might prove disappointing for nearly everyone involved.
Well aware of this, Hajime felt it would be wise to talk to Sano about it before Mrs. Himura showed up — to give him a cautionary reminder that this was just one step in a longer process and he shouldn’t expect too much. Sano, it seemed, was good at emotions in general; of course his constant anger had amused Hajime all along, and just now his happiness and excitement over the phone had been almost infectious… but, interesting as it might be, the exorcist didn’t really feel any desire to see Sano in a state of despair.
Actually, Hajime had the most unaccountable inclination to go to Isei Park right now to annoy Sano for the next few hours. It had nothing to do with the ghost; he just wanted, essentially, to poke Sano and see what he did. He’d never had such an entertaining client before. Of course, he’d never had a client with a disembodied soul floating around him; Sano couldn’t help being unusual.
Well, there wasn’t really anything keeping him from it. He had no other cases on — he’d lined up a meeting for next Monday with what sounded like a blue shade victim (though it might turn out to be perfectly natural clinical depression; those situations often did), but at the moment it was all Sano — and he’d cleaned his entire house yesterday. He’d even already had breakfast. And there was surprisingly little noise from his conscience in response to this desire deliberately to bother another human being for no better reason than his own pleasure.
As it happened, he didn’t set out right away. He spent a good twenty minutes wearing Misao out with the laser pointer while Tokio watched with a put-on disdain that couldn’t hide her desire to join in, then about the same amount of time answering an email and paying a couple of bills. But it was barely nine o’clock when he did leave the house, and not even nine thirty when he arrived at the park near the center of the Asian district and started looking around for Sano.
Even this early in the day, the convoluted concrete skating area was alive with mobile, shouting kids — it must be Spring Break for more than just Sano. The latter, with his blue-gelled hair, enormous backpack, and glowing undead friend, was easy to spot on a bench nearby. Perhaps this had been where Sano used to hang out; his current look might even partake somewhat of the skater style, but Hajime was unclear on fine subcultural distinctions and couldn’t be sure.
To test the young man’s mood, Hajime greeted him with, “Trying to reconnect with your fellow childish idiots?”
“Wow, that was harsh even for–” Sano was attempting simultaneously to turn toward Hajime (who’d approached him from behind), look at his cell phone to see the time, check that the ghost wasn’t making any trouble, and give an angry gesture — all without dislodging the messy arrangement of textbooks and notebooks across his lap and the bench beside him. And in keeping with this, he was attempting to say several things at once. “What time– why are you already– are you trying to say skaters are– I’m not even–” And at last, inevitably, he dumped his things all over the ground, and, swearing, jumped up to recover them.
Hajime leaned against the bench and looked down. He might have considered lending a hand, since the spill had to a certain extent been his fault, but it was more amusing just to watch. He got the feeling Sano hadn’t really been terribly deep in study in any case. Anger, perhaps — the usual anger — had been keeping him from it, but there was also, Hajime thought, a certain measure of that same excitement and happiness he’d heard over the phone evident in Sano’s somewhat jerky movements gathering up his stuff from the grass. Yes, they would definitely need to have a talk about today’s prospects; Sano’s optimism was a pleasant thing, but he needed to be prepared for its inevitable dispelling.
It turned out, however, that Hajime was in for a bit of a surprise. For by the time Sano had gotten himself resettled on the bench and was stowing his school things away in his backpack in a clear indication that he didn’t plan on attempting to make any further use of them right now, he was already well into a dissertation that revealed the cause of his current mood to have far less to do with Mrs. Himura than Hajime had assumed.
“So after you bugged me about it yesterday,” he was saying, “I went online and looked up stuff about geologists and the kinds of jobs available for them and shit… and you were totally right…” Admitting to this didn’t seem to be the slightest problem, so pleased was Sano. “I really needed to look before I decided about that!”
“Of course you did, you idiot.” Hajime was a little surprised at the friendliness of his own tone, but having thus started, he decided he might as well continue; so, with no real concept, himself, of the career options of an aspiring geologist, he went on in some legitimate interest, “Good news?”
Sano twisted to face him, pulling one leg up entirely onto the bench and placing both arms on its back as he gave Hajime a grin that was almost childlike in its enthusiasm. “So you know oil, that thing everyone’s fighting over all the time? Guess who those companies hire.”
“And that fact never occurred to you before?” Of course, it hadn’t occurred to Hajime either, but he wasn’t the one with an apparently long-standing fascination with weird underground activity.
Sano’s brows twitched a little at the sarcasm, but he wasn’t sidetracked. “I’m not really all that interested in finding oil, because that sounds boring and stupid; I’d rather be taking readings inside live volcanoes or something… but there are jobs like that too, and the point is, I can tell my dad about the oil thing, and he’ll totally go for it.”
“So you’ve decided on this?” For the brevity of this statement, the skepticism of its delivery compensated by adding a heavy, unspoken, “Already?”
This time Sano did emit some anger in his response. “I make fast decisions, OK? Nothing wrong with that.”
“Somehow I’m not surprised,” murmured Hajime. And he really wasn’t. He really wasn’t terribly condemnatory, either; to his understanding, most people changed their majors several times before any permanent fixation, so the distance of the conclusion to which Sano had jumped wasn’t likely to make much difference in the long run.
“Besides, I’ve kinda wanted to do this for years.” While still defensive, Sano’s tone was creeping back toward the excitement of only moments before, which seemed to be the resilient sort. “It wasn’t just the stuff in Paso… you can’t live by the San Andreas most of your life without getting interested in earthquakes!”
“I think most normal people can,” Hajime said easily.
Sano made one of those frustrated noises he was so good at, but even this held a note of interest and enthusiasm. “Well, normal people are stupid,” he stated defiantly.
Hajime had to agree.
“Seriously, though, online yesterday, I found all sorts of interesting shit about volcanologists and stratigraphists and people who specialize in just one specific geological era, and…”
And as Hajime settled in to listen to Sano’s ongoing raving, he reflected in mild surprise that, though this wasn’t exactly what he’d planned on doing, he didn’t at all regret his decision to come to Isei Park two and a half hours early.