Chapter 3: You Can't Hold your Liquor
Two weeks later, San Fransokyo Institute of Techonology, Hall of the Speakers.
“…So you see, even though we’re not quite there yet, we’re just one step away from the achieving the greatest medical advance in the decade, thanks to the young people spearheading the march in Robotics. I believe that this is the great proof that once we put our heart and mind into something, nothing is impossible. Thank you.”
The audience hall positively exploded. There was a thunderclap of applause, people whistled and shouted Robert Callaghan’s name until their voices went hoarse. The sound resonated so loudly it felt as if it’d shoot through the roof of the lecture hall.
Half of the audience that day was surprisingly not the regular SFIT students. Attending the professor’s speech were guests from business companies as well as other brilliant minds from the realm of science. It was hard to imagine how such shy creatures like adult engineers computer programmers, whose heads couldn’t be turned by the latest hit nor bothered by the funkiest rock band could be capable of producing so much vibe and noise.
Tadashi, of course eagerly joined in with the ovation with his own moderate clapping and a proud, glowing smile next to his friends from their department.
“GO PROFESSOR!” – cheered Honey Lemon at the top of her lungs.
“The professor is amazing. How’s he able to speak like that?” - Wasabi squealed in adoration.
Go Go smirked. “You’re thinking of your own graduation speech, aren’t you? Well, if you compared how you almost fainted...”
“Whoa whoa whoa, never mind what I said.” Wasabi quickly interrupted, waving his hands frantically in front of Go Go as if he could block out what she was saying. “Professor Callaghan’s coming down.”
They were now pouring towards where the professor is to hail the man as he stepped down, their faces shining like a beacon of delight. Professor Callaghan was small against the impending shower of congratulations on his latest research and pats on the back for his wondrous speech.
“Alright everybody. Step aside. Excuse me. Coming through,” - Fred wove through the crowd with ease, although it was mainly down to people avoiding his bizarre costume.
“Professor Callaghan!” - Tadashi’s voice fought against the hubbub. They found him shaking his hands amiably with a former colleague when he glanced up and beamed at them.
“Doctor Kolinsky, may I present to you my students.” - He introduced with a glow of delight.
Like Tadashi’s own mentor, Dr. Kolinsky had sparse tuffs of greying hair at the temple. The top of his head boasted fewer of that, giving him a look as though time has worn his hair away but decided to leave the job half-finished. Otherwise, he was bubbly looking man.
“Ah, you’re the excellent youths Robert has been telling me about. Such an honor.” - Dr. K beamed greedily at his friend. - “You should have seen him talking about you - one would thought he was talking about a babe.” He relentlessly teased.
“Be quiet Keith.” - Their professor murmured indignantly.
“Anyway, I got to hand it to you, you make some pretty big speeches. The Modern Robotics is going to be ranting over you for a month! You know what, this calls for? Celebration!” - The less hairy man threw a hearty arm around Callaghan’s shoulder and gave him a good friendly shake. - “Why don’t your students come along? Why not, right? We’ll have a couple of cold drinks, s’long you kids are old enough,” - He gave them a serious nod. - “And maybe find something to fill our bellies with. I’m dying to eat at one of those nice restaurants you showed me last time again, aren’t you Robert?”
“That sounds wonderful, Keith.” - Callaghan smiled serenely, turning to his students - “What do you say, fellas?”
“HELL YAAA!” - Fred and Go Go’s spontaneous shouts resounded the whole place.
“This is so exciting!” - Honey Lemon looked like she could barely refrain from asking Dr. Kolinsky to sign her purse. - “I’ve heard so much about you and your work in Chemistry, sir. Doctor...I mean. Sir! Prof. Callaghan said you’d be here today. It would be such an honor!” She went on to profess her profound love for his work on chemical engineering and the properties of tungsten carbide.
“I’m sure you’ll like my latest research into superhydrophobic materials then.” - Dr. Kolinsky brightened even more, if that was possible.
“I’m sure it’s a splash!” They laughed like they just shared a private joke - one that only Chemistry and Material Science majors can. “What are we waiting for? Lead the way, Robert!” - He then quickly dove into a fast-talking conversation with the blond chemical whiz.
“Aren’t you coming, San?” - Wasabi questioned as he noticed the new student made no attempt to follow her professor and lab mates as they slowly spirited away.
“No. I plan to sign up for some club activities, and there are so many it’ll take all afternoon.” - She shook her head and smiled after him encouragingly. - “Just go with the others. I’ll catch up with you guys later.”
“You sure?” - He seemed to hesitate.
“Oh God, go already!” - She laughed inquisitively, giving him a shove.
Wasabi nodded and quickly sprinted after the others, who had disappeared behind a back door. As he too passed from sight, the girl let out a smile as she watched the lecture hall emptied.
“Think you got rid of everyone did you?” A smirking voice rang to her right. She turned at full tilt to see Tadashi Hamada, fingering his favorite cap and grinning at her.
“You sound as though I was going to bomb the whole place,” She said, and raised a brow when he chuckled.
“Well, if you’re going to sign up for some of the college clubs, let me give you a tour.” His friendly offer to show her around wasn’t the first attempt. He had tried before, partly to compensate his mistake of crashing them both the first time they met. But San had proven to be as elusive as a cat - all but uninterested to accept his offers.
“Thanks, but I think I can find my way around,” She gave him a nod and began striding over to the west exit.
To her surprise, he followed her with persistence, which only made her wary for other motives.
“’right then. Can I join you?” At the incredulous look she shot him, he quickly defended. “I’m a member the Karate club myself. I thought it’d be a good idea to show you.”
“No, it’s a very dumb idea unless you’re the captain of the club yourself. And what made you think I’d like to join your thump-and-punch club anyway?”
San said, not altogether very nicely. If Tadashi was surprised by her biting remark, he didn’t show it in the slightest. Neither did his smile drop.
“Everyone likes the Karate club,” He said with a certain glowing dignity. “We Karate club members pride ourselves for being the most badass club in the entire school. You’ll be blown away. I guarantee it.”
“I’m sure that’s what the other clubs would say too.” San pulled out an activity brochure from her bag and immediately began to scan it up and down. “Archery.” She replied when he asked which was their first stop.
An average-height guy with a dimpled smile and chocolate-brown skin greeted them with exuberance. Then again, he wasn’t sure he was the best person to ask about height, seeing how his own department was full of walking beanstalks.
“Hey, man.” Tadashi took the guy’s proffered hand and good-naturedly shook it.
“Came by to check on your old club?” He quickly asked, hope alight.
“Actually, I’m here to introduce a potential member. San, this is Shawn, captain of the Archery club. Shawn, meet San. She just transferred.” The robotics prodigy gestured between them.
“Our names sound alike. I like you already,” Shawn beamed. “Physics.”
“Robotics. Pleased to make your acquaintance,” San smiled and they exchanged a friendly handshake.
“Well, San.” Shawn said after he showed Tadashi and her to the clubroom. “Our club is always looking for a prospective comrade with a passion for the bow. Tell me, do you any experience shooting?”
“It depends. I have been taught to shoot with a traditional Japanese long bow since I was twelve. I’ve also been a member in the club of my previous school.” She answered evenly.
“That’s better than most of our resumes.” Shawn commented thoughtfully. “But you’ll find we only have the modern bow here in SFIT, so it’ll probably take some fine-tuning to get used to.”
San then explained to him that although she was less familiar with the modern variation, it shouldn’t be a problem. The captain brightened after that and quickly gave her one of the bows. Patiently, he gave her instructions as to how to string it, test it and finally use it in theory. After he made sure she understood, he offered her a trial run to see how she liked it.
Gingerly lifting the bow and gliding into the correct stance, San carefully nocked an arrow against the string. She aimed. Her stare was so intense it would have withered any opponent. Shawn immediately ceased his instructions and both boys stood mesmerized as she concentrated on her mark, holding their breath.
The arrow soared through air and pierced the target before the eyes could blink. Shawn and Tadashi let out a sigh of relief, the former sprang to retrieve the arrow.
As it turned out, it didn’t hit the bulls-eye, but no one expected it to. Shawn congratulated San on her first try and asked her if she’d like to practice there regularly. When they left the Archery club facility, Shawn had all but shoved the club application form into San’s hands, making her promise to return as soon as possible.
“So you’ve been shooting arrows since you were... ten?” Tadashi asked her in amusement.
“Twelve. Someone had to,” She shrugged, already zooming in on the next club she circled in the brochure which spelt ‘Debate’.
“Good thing I’m on your good side.” And not the receiving end of one of your arrows, he thought as he broke his gaze to look ahead at the buildings.
“I never said you were,” San looked up as well, smiling slightly. “And I’m not considering it after you accidentally left out the fact that you once practiced Archery.”
Tadashi ran a hand through his hair sheepishly. “I did, but I was so rubbish at it even after a month. I resigned the next term.” He stared at her thoughtfully. “Unlike when I joined, Shawn seems eager enough to have you on his team. And I don’t blame him.”
“Is he? I can’t imagine, after that first shot.” She looked at him sharply, as if she thought he was rubbing salt in her wound.
“Hey, I may not be good at Kyuudo, but even I recognize a good shot when I see one. Yours is as good as it gets.” He assured her.
“You’re making fun of me.” She glared at him unappreciatively.
Tadashi had to hide his laugh. “I’m not!”
“Whatever. It’s done.” She concluded dismissively and focused back on her brochure, which was a little more crumbled than Tadashi remembered from her clenched fist.
They slipped into an uneasy silence. Tadashi wondered if the shot was truly as terrible as San claimed. Maybe it was, but only because she was used to a much higher accuracy. San was Japanese, perhaps like many other of her countrymen she simply liked to display their perfectionist attitude.
After all, if she had been shooting since she was twelve…
Tadashi secretly stole a glance at her from the corner of his eyes and watched as she absent-mindedly tugged a strand of hair behind her ear.
San didn’t look Japanese, he thought. Sure, her thick black hair and somewhat tan skin eyes spoke of oriental descent. But she looked a little paler than he was used to, maybe a result of spending too much time in labs. And more importantly, her eyes were a piercing blue-grey. Not orient-typical at all.
She also didn’t wear her hair with accessories the way he often saw Japanese girls do (according to the magazines he saw in the aisle). It wasn’t styled in the latest fashion, not curled or dyed. Her face had very refined features, a distinct chin and elegant, feminine jaws. Pretty. She had no make-up, not even a bit of powder or lip gloss. She wasn’t like the rumours described at all. In his mind he couldn’t help but wonder if she was-
He didn’t get to finish that thought as San suddenly whipped around and caught him quite frankly staring at her. She tilted a brow quizzically. Tadashi was embarrassed, but luckily didn’t flinch. He had to find some excuse.
“Er, so why didn’t you go with Professor Callaghan?” He asked casually, taking a step to stand beside her.
She blinked at him, as if she thought his saving line was very poor. “Like I said, I need to sign up for-” She replied automatically.
“If you had already decided which club you’re going to join, it won’t take all afternoon.” He pointed out. “You could have gone with the others and come back later.”
Her face relaxed into an unreadable look. That surprised him. For with the many reactions he expected she’d take (something like fervent denial or irritation), relaxing wasn’t one of them.
When she remained quiet he thought she’d refuse to answer altogether, but San answered, albeit reluctantly. And her answer frankly surprised him too.
“I can’t take alcohol.”
In return, Tadashi gave her a dumbfounded stare. “Really?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “What else did you expect?”
Something other than that he supposed, judging from this nonplussed feeling.“You could have told us,” Tadashi resisted the urge to laugh now. “I thought you had trouble fitting in or something.”
“Oh, forgive me.” San rolled her eyes. “It’s only been two weeks. I need Google map my way to the way to the bathroom, for heaven’s sake. It’ll be some time before we can print ‘Best Buddies’ on our shirt.”
At her outburst Tadashi’s laughter spilled over his throat and began to double up. “Oh, sure, laugh at the girl because she can’t hold her liquor!” San said sarcastically.
“Is it really so embarrassing?” Tadashi asked, yet to shake off his laughing fit. People who don’t drink aren’t unheard of.
“When half of your work culture involves it, yes.” She muttered.
“You know,” Tadashi tried desperately to force his laughter down. “It’s not like you couldn’t order something without alcohol in it.”
She snorted, as if she had experience of exactly this kind of situation before. Maybe she did - “I’ll pass. You guys’d have pressured me into it anyway. Trust me, it never ended well. Last time, the last thing I remembered was someone crying on the floor.”
Tadashi made a pointed effort not to shudder.
She straightened and sighed, in a way that made Tadashi felt like a child who had asked too many questions. “Look, no offence, okay. I like my space. And I happen to don’t like alcohol. That’s just it.” She looked behind him like something interesting could be found over the Humanities building. “Besides, it looks like all they’re going to talk about is Chemistry...and it’s my worst subject.” She mumbled.
Tadashi found that difficult to believe. No one was bad at Science studies at the freaking Department of Science!
“That’s not true, is it? Professor was telling me the other day of just how impressed he was that you caught up so quickly to our syllabus. In only the first week too.”
“Well, even if that’s true,” She shifted her weight to her other leg. “It doesn’t mean I stick the periodic table on my bedroom wall.”
Tadashi thought vaguely of Honey Lemon. If anyone would glue a table of the elements on his or her bedroom wall, Honey would be the most likely of all. It was her intended major. Perhaps San’s thoughts were bordering on the same line.
So the transferred student was a bit of a recluse. But he found that he liked her odd personality, despite not having any apparent reason to.
“How about I take you to a café after we’re all done. On my honor, no liquor.” He asked warmly, with eyes so open and kind Go Go used to say he could use them to hypnotise people into liking him and his perpetually messy hair.
And really, it so often did. Tadashi was such a likeable ‘nice guy’ that people usually find it hard to refuse him anything. He had a way of charming even the most irritable of people on the spot. In this world there does not exist a single person who can dislike Tadashi, his friends always say.
San looked at him thoughtfully, seeming to consider offer. Little did she know just how many girls would have thrown themselves on a highway to be asked out on a friendly date by Tadashi Hamada, the guy topped the ‘No. 1 Guy in SFIT I’d Like to Date’ poll conducted by the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology’s Girl Magazine.
Finally, San grinned at him and outright replied. “Nope. Sorry. Not a chance.”