She woke up to the sound of her phone ringing, the J-rock ringtone muffled, but the tremors against her wooden desk insistent, disturbing. Still half-asleep, she rummaged around the mess of papers and books and worksheets on the table for her mobile, knocking over a half-empty mug of coffee to the floor. As she scrambled for a rag, she cursed loudly and answered the phone.
“I thought the polite thing to say was ‘Hello.’” It was him. The sound of his voice, deep and gently mocking, jerked her awake.
“Oh. Sorry. I was kinda groggy and knocked my coffee over,” she said while wiping the spill on the floor. “Good thing the mug wasn’t broken or the dorm head’s gonna kill me. I just borrowed this from the kitchen.”
“Did I wake you up?”
“Well, yes. Do you know what time it is?” She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was half-past three.
“I’m sorry, I assumed you were awake since your bedroom light’s still on.”
“Don’t be, it’s a good thing you woke me up since I have this paper to– wait, what did you say? How do you know my light’s still on? Are you–” and she rushed to the window and saw him sitting on the hood of his car across her dorm. “What are you doing here?”
“Wanna get some ice-cream? I’m craving a vanilla cone.”
She bit her lip. Her term paper due the next day remained unwritten, and she had only scribbled notes on scratch papers and half-brained comments on margins to attest that work on it was being done. On a typical school night she would have said no, but there was something she had to tell him.
“Let me just get my jacket.”
They ambled around the mostly deserted streets of Mitaka-shi, content with their hoods up against the drizzle, licking their ice cream. He chose vanilla, and she chocolate, like they always did on these late-night little jaunts. Silence hung between them, familiar and comfortable; this silence she dispelled by humming a tune, soft and slow.
“What are you singing, my haru-dori?” he asked with his usual playful smile.
“’On My Own’ from Les Miserables,” she replied, as she weaved words into the tune. “On my own, pretending he’s beside me / All alone, I walk with him ’til morning…” she sang and he listened until her voice trailed off with the last note.
“It’s a sad song.”
“Pooh. You didn’t understand half of it, did you?” she said lightly, smiling.
“Nope,” he said, gazing straight at her. “But I saw loneliness in your eyes and heard it in your voice.”
“Getting poetic, aren’t we?” she said, poking him in the ribs.
He chuckled. “It’s the music and the night. And you.”
She laughed and gazed at the asphalt sparkling under the street lamps with the rain. “Look,” she said, pointing to the road. “We’re walking on stars.”
“Like a dream,” she said.
“This isn’t a dream.”
“That song–it’s about dreaming. It’s about a girl pretending that her love is beside her, walking with her, talking with her, maybe holding her hand. But in truth she’s all alone–they’re worlds apart and she can never hold him.” He clutched her hand and she looked at him. “It was my song for you,” she said.
“Don’t sing it anymore,” he murmured. “It’s a sad song. You’re here, I’m here, we’re together and this isn’t a dream. You don’t need to sing it anymore.”
“Oh, I think I’ll have to,” she said, looking away.
“What do you mean?”
“Term ends in September. I’m leaving the country next month.”
“But don’t you have another sem?”
“I’m afraid not. I’ve completed my 30 units. My scholarship’s over, and I have to go back,” she said, trying to look at him without crying. “I’m sorry for not telling you sooner. I thought–I thought I would be able to extend my stay. Shun–”
His ice cream cone fell to the pavement and he stared hard at it, trying to get back his smile for her, to assure her that he’d be okay, that they’d be okay, even while he contemplated the late-night little jaunts ahead, full of empty space, street noise, and single orders of vanilla ice cream.