Geoff slept fitfully on the flight to Japan. Claire was supposed to be on this flight. They were supposed to be studying together in Japan this semester. Claire, however, had too many academic commitments, so she deferred her study abroad program to the summer instead of spring as they had planned.
They had planned it the year before. They would fly to Japan together. They would arrive in early January and celebrate Geoff's 21st birthday in March. It all seemed so exciting and so safe with Claire there to help him if they ever got into trouble. Now he was alone on his furthest trip from home and he was a little scared, even though he was 2 years ahead of her in Japanese. Serendipity had smiled on Geoff, however, and as the plane was beginning its final descent into Osaka's Kansai International, a fellow passenger noticed that he had the same type of visa and guessed they were heading for the same program.
"Hey there... Are you headed to Hikone, too?" she said, awkwardly.
"Yes! Sou desu, yo!" said Geoff, excited to have found someone
"Yokatta, ne! I thought I'd have to figure out how to get there all by myself!"
"I hadn't even thought that far ahead yet," Geoff admitted sheepishly.
They headed for the luggage claim together when the flight landed, and after they gathered all their luggage, they managed to find a handful of other students who were also headed for the Shiga University study abroad program as well.
The hour and a half long train ride to Hikone was quiet as it cut through the darkness. Most of the other students slept, their jet lag already having kicked in, but Geoff was too enthralled with all the foreign signs and symbols lit up in neon all around him. The director of the study abroad program was on the train and awake too, and from time to time they would quietly point out the more interesting signs or Geoff would ask him questions about some sign or symbol he had seen but hadn't understood.
After the traveling through Kyoto and it's major suburbs, the train passed into compact farmland surrounding dark little villages. The train drifted and leaned as if it was a swift yacht cutting through the ocean of black surrounding it in all directions. He was in the oceans of infinite space, and the vacuum pulled at the silver gilded train, trying to get at the precious air inside.
Gossamer threads began tracing lines across the faces of the windows as they began to give up their fight with the merciless and greedy darkness. The cracking noises in his carriage and the explosion of shattering glass in front of him heralded the end of his journey. He turned in a panic to Claire, who was next to him.
"I am not ready for this to happen, yet!" he screamed at her. The other passengers did not stir.
"I, too, will die alone here when I come this June," she replied.
Geoff opened his eyes and saw the falling rain transition gracefully into luscious and heavy flakes of snow as train arrived at the Minami Hikone train station. One more stop to go, and he would begin facing the unknown world outside the train without her.
The snow had already formed a white shroud over the whole city by the time they had exited the train station. Would she notice the invisible footprints he left for her as he walked through the city?