"Okay, first of all, we need to establish house rules." Katou's voice bursted light echoes around the no longer furnished apartment as he goes through his grand list of rules to his new roommates who sagged and squirmed on their seats over Katou's stringent rules.
His rules patterned the importance of employing human nature's golden rule.
"I have a question," Hoshino asked and Katou nodded his head.
"What will be our tasks for the second pledging week?"
"I'll get to it. And for the room assignments, there are three rooms so-"
Interrupting Katou, the doorbell released a break to freedom. All three turned their heads except for Kambe who took off from his seat and answered the door; their eyes followed him. Kambe and three blue-uniformed men exchanged talks where they later stepped inside the apartment, carrying huge cardboard boxes as Kambe returned to the kitchen island.
"What are they doing?" Katou asked, wrinkling his forehead.
"Don't worry, I hired them here to assemble the couch," Kambe replied.
"This place is almost emptied when your old roommates moved out except for that whiteboard." Kamei nodded his head to the messy whiteboard above the box cardboards stacked in the living room that contains some of his belongings. That whiteboard reminded Katou last summer where his hands didn't shove for his necessities from the store but shove his hands to the dumpsters during the dorm's move out days, and this allowed him to not break his not-so-heavy shell bank. At the dumpster, he found the dry-erase whiteboard in its perfect health, and he kept it with the hope that it could help him organize his life. Right now, its faint black lines and grey marker residues stay on the empty whiteboard proving Katou's inability to get his shit together.
Thuds and snaps played in the living rooms; the uniform men utilizing their rapid magic in assembling the furniture parts together part. The roommates were caught in these uniformed men's magic shows where they passed each other nails and wooden parts without halting at a single beat that puffed a complete segment of a couch. 15 minutes later, the completed couch twinkled in its final unassembled form. The roommates turned their heads to witness its divinity: a red velvet chesterfield couch adorned with golden precise carvings on its tiny four feet and an ottoman completed its elegant look
"Kambe, how much was this couch?" The awed Kameii asked.
"Around 5 thousand bucks." The uniformed men swiftly moved their ways out of the room, tipping their hats to Kambe while his roommates stared at him with bugged eyes and parted lips.
"Five thousand bucks?!" Kamei and Hoshino yelled in unison but Katou brought his hands to his temples, kneading it while shaking his head in distaste.
"That's it." Slapping his hands on his thighs, Kamei turned to his roommates.
"That fucking couch is worth a semester of my college tuition, and I'm sleeping on it."
Beside Katou, the stopping of the coffee maker's drips prompted him to pull out its glass coffee decanter and pour the black liquid to his mug. With no added creamer nor sugar, he brought the mug to his lips and his tongue seeping the coffee's bitterness that woke every part of his system. He likes it black.
Settling the mug, his left hand held a cold metal while in contrast, his right hand held a warm wood, and he continued to outstretch his arms like a flying bird, stood in the living room, and flapped his arms close to his chest.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
From the new luxurious velvet couch that only occupied the living room, Kamei twitches. Scratching his sandy blonde locks, he lifts his head and groggy eyes to the origin of the ungodly sound in the faint dark: a pot placed between an arm and waist while the other arm grasped a wooden spoon. The doer stood in his green pajamas and taupe locks.
"What the hell, Katou?! It's like in the middle of the night." Kamei blasted, but Katou proceeded to bang the kitchen utensils in harsh beats.
"WRONG! It's FOUR in the morning!"
Katou marches his way into the rooms, yelling:"Wake up, kids! Your second week of pledging has commenced!" He banged his utensils close to Kambe's face—wishing to hit him —who placed a pillow on his head. Meanwhile, next door, Hoshino flung his blanket over his head and refused to get up. Katou halts for a second, and he brings out the spray of a water bottle.
"This works much better."
Squirt. Squirt. Squirt. Squirt.
And 15 minutes later, the kitchen's ceiling light illuminated below the three pledges with their faces planted on the kitchen island. They were half awake even with the water sprayed all over their face.
"Are y'all taking this seriously or not? This is only the beginning." Katou stood in front of them.
"It's too early," Kambe grumbled as well as the others. Settling their belongings in the apartment exhausted them yesterday.
A sudden loud thud sizzled the roommates on their seats; the thud's vibrations electrified them to get up and to straighten their postures in unison, and puffy eyes stared into Katou's heavy bagged ones.
"You'll be reading this." On the table, Katou revealed a thick wide black book. "The history of Tau Theta Psi and I'll be testing you about it at the end of this week-" He paused. "But here's the catch, it's in Braille!"
Moans and slamming fist came out of the three pledges. Katou continues, "you'll be working from zero four hundred hours 'till zero seven hundred hours every day to learn about our history as well as learning to read Braille."
Kambe flips to the first page of the book, and they wobbled on their seats. The first page attacks them as if the incoherent raised dots were sharp knives stabbing their eyes to insult their ignorance of the language punched on the white cardboard page. To make it worse, this kind of page continues for the next 200 pages and so…
"Why does it have to be in..Braille?" Kamei asked where he considered Braille as his worst enemy when trying to read his bid invitation card.
"That will be answered once you finish reading the book." A sly smile forms in Katou's lips as the pledges' foreheads continue to gain creases when staring longer at the pages. "There are two rules: you'll be only allowed to touch this book at this time window, and no cheating—as in no phones or whatsoever—since I'll provide you with learning tools." A folder slides on the table.
Kambe froze. His plan to use an assistive phone to transcribe the Braille language on the whole book got ripped into pieces.
Hoshino dives into this head-on, and he holds the thick book upright, the book's thick spine lying flat on the table. "Here's my idea: Divide the book into three." Hoshino pinched some pages in the book's middle section while the side sections plopped down on the table. "Then, each of us will translate a section." As Katou drinks his coffee, his lips curve into a subtle smile.
For the next three hours, the three pledges hunched their backs, slaving themselves to the demands of decoding Braille—its system requires matching the dots to its corresponding letter. A notebook lay on their side to write down the letter that forms into words, sentences, and paragraphs as they decode. Every now and then, the usual Kamei would grumble on sitting too much on his ass.
"Oi Katou, could you at least give us water or something?"
"Get your own!" Twitching an eyebrow, Katou retorted. For Kamei, it's a permission that allowed him to shuffle on his feet to grab glasses of water and some trail mixes on the cupboard to provide refreshments to his pledge brothers.
As hours went by, the system of the Braille dots burned into their minds, and it helped them increase their speed on decoding. Their session ended with finishing fifteen percent—as Hoshino estimated—of the book's pages. They were mentally exhausted, and they still have to attend their classes at 0900 hours to which the real challenge begins.
With an established effective system, their three waking hours finished fifty percent of the book, and after that, they all sat together to make breakfast—a simple toast and a spread—except for Katou who immediately left the apartment.
"Hoshino, can you keep those textbooks away from the kitchen table for one second?" Kamei's head hurts from all the decoding they did, and he can't handle even thinking about another headache which is school that Hoshino's studious nature—a textbook, notebook, and pen always in his hand—triggers in Kamei.
"Freshman year isn't that bad," Kamei commented, looking at his two younger roommates.
"You were in community college in your freshman year, right?" Hoshino asked, and Kamei nodded in response.
"Just so you know, university is much harder than community college…" Hoshino's words made Kamei cringed in himself. In fact, as a transferee, he is feeling the incoming hefty workload he received this week from his university professors.
"Kambe, what's up with you and Katou?" Kamei turned his attention to the quiet Kambe who chews his toast with elegance. Remembering Katou's hostile stares to him, Kambe openly explained about his attempted bribery on Katou, and Kamei also spilled the beans of Katou's reaction towards Kambe's breakup at the cafe
"Your attempts at looking for the fraternity just resulted in a rocky relationship with your pledge master, missing the whole point of being in a fraternity," Kamei said, and Kambe succumbed into deep thoughts about it.
"And the plan we pulled last week, you awfully know so much about the fraternity especially Katou, Kambe." Hoshino kept his eyes on his textbooks, and Kamei bobbed his head in agreement.
When one of the pledges felt the overwhelming pile of school work on their shoulders, their system from 400 hours to 700 hours trembled on its knees. That day, Kamei's juggling of work, school, and pledging dropped like a hot potato. In school, he still manages to breeze through some work with his social butterflying in class, and some of Katou's help through the reading and writing assignments are really kicking his ass.
With a book between his fingers, Katou paced around the kitchen keeping on guard of the pledges who were busy flipping papers and sliding pens. The two younger pledges soaked their minds to the contents of the book as they jot down notes. However, for the older pledge, an essay bogs down his mind. His thoughts were running wild that he paused and stared stupidly at the tiny hills of dots on the paper before him, not making any progress.
'Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.'
His head swayed to Katou's direction then to the paper again and again. He cursed on his past self for sticking way too many metaphors and similes on his Humanities essay for Motoyama's class last night; the next thing he knew, he woke up to the 4 am shenanigans of Katou. Taking a deep breath, the chair rattles as Kamei falls to his knees, bowing his torso that his forehead pressed to the carpet floor near Katou's toes.
"I beg of you! Please! I need my phone for just a mere second!" cried Kamei, his voice breaking. The other pledges turned their backs and eyed him in surprise.
"You can get it after zero seven hundred hours." Katou squinted his eyes, looking down on the sorry state of Kamei.
"But it's due at that time‒the essay for Motoyama's class‒I fell asleep doing it last night, and I can't fail her class, not her's!" When he didn't finish an in-class essay yesterday, he begged his professor to extend its due date just for him, so he made sure to add extra effort on it. Moreover, Kamei wants to also curse the damned red velvet couch since its comfortableness caused him to doze off quickly. His arms wrap around Katou's leg, and Katou yelped for him to let it go, gently shaking out from Kamei's grips like there's a toddler hugging on his leg.
"You know the rules," Katou answered, turning his back and padding his steps to the bathroom door; Kamei caught a whiff of the rejection's silent aftermath wind.
He rose to his feet and firmly planted his foot to the ground, clenching and digging his fingers into his palm. Seeping in his thoughts, he reminisces his promise to Professor Motoyama, and he slowly relaxes his fists. In his mind, he formulates a plan: a plan that requires unbelievable speed.
Facing his pledge brothers, he placed his index finger on his lips and drew big steps. His steps conquering the living room's empire and fast in reaching its capital: the red velvet couch. He made his siege to the capital where he rummaged through the towns of his backpacks, grasping for that victory flag and raised it to its poles. Meanwhile, to the other pledges, Godzilla himself showed up in the living room, and Hoshino jumped up from his seat to stop him from causing greater havoc, but it's too late. Kamei whips his phone, pressing hard taps against it. Then in a single swipe on his phone, he turned in his essay right on time. Kamei can imagine the rising music of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony playing around him when he still hasn't completed his plan.
However, the clicking of the bathroom door drained all the imaginative music away, and Katou catches Kamei with a phone in his hands.
The ticks of the clocked kicked to zero six hundred hours and one more hour was left for their pledging session.
"I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Kamei whispers, his head gently banging his head on the table in repeat. A brand new set of learning tools were splade out of the table and they didn't fell back to zero one but merely had to switch new gears for a whole new different rocky path
"When a pledge disobeys me, his brothers will also take the fall with him." Katou crosses his arms to them.
A different version of Tau Theta Psi's history book lay on the table. Though it is thinner than the older book, this version required a more difficult reading of Braille—contracted/grade 2 Braille.
Hugging his shoulders, Kamei tries to shrink himself in his seat. Kambe puts his hands on Kamei's shoulder, a reassuring gesture, while Hoshino flipped over the new book's pages."It's fine. Let's just focus on doing this task." Their progression was at seventy-five percent so far before they had to receive a new version.
Meanwhile, Katou loomed in the background, scoffing over Kambe. "Kambe, you're doing the dishes today."
The pressure of tomorrow loomed behind their backs: their Tau Theta Psi History test, and they still didn't finish the book. On top of that, there's also schoolwork deadlines. Bags were forming in their eyes, and they weren't getting enough sleep.
"I did prior research on Contracted Braille," Hoshino yawns. Kamei swallows the guilt forming in his throat. Contracted Braille may seem easy since a group of dots could symbolize a single word or a syllable, but there are strict rules you have to apply to it, like overlapping syllables and things that could blow your brains into pieces.
'Look at what your carelessness got them into,' Kambe thought as he eyed the thin Braille book without blinking.
"Hey." Kambe tilts his head near Kamei's face who is bizarrely mute and so lost in his thoughts.
"Quit moping around already." Hoshino slaps Kamei's nape, and he jerks up. He scans at his younger pledge brothers focused and no hint of bitterness as they gaze at him. "You should be the one stepping up. You're supposed to be our senpai."
Kamei held his breath.
In the afternoon of the same day, Kamei lingered on the school campus and dragged his younger pledge brothers to the library.
"I thought you didn't like this," Hoshino said, gazing at the stacked flashcards in the middle of the table.
"If we can't finish the book in time, we might as well study what we know." It's true that Kamei hates talking about that headache of that Braille history book outside their pledging session, but he's trying to step up. "Kambe, you go first." Kamei grabs the flashcards and starts shuffling it.
Crawling from the pits of hell in learning braille, they scraped their brains and blood oozed out of it since they got truckloads of info dump this week. Sleep-deprived and drained out, they started searching for a faster way to finish the book in one hour, and to their discovery, the book's last pages could have saved their asses a long time ago.
"There's a goddamn summary in the last pages of the book," Kamei exclaimed, and he wanted to kick himself since he's the one in charge transcribing the book's last section. And so, they poured all their blood, sweat, and tears to that summary.
Before exiting hell, they shall face the pledge master who marched tall as the pledges fell in line with their arms behind their back. After an hour of finalizing the book, Katou shouts the text questions, and the pledges shout the answer in response.
The pledges answered all the basics: founding year, father, place, and its motive which was to simulate solving crimes for university students interested in criminal law. This info can all be read in the book's summary page.
"And for the final question, why do we use Braille as a communication method?"
"Themis, the Lady Justice was depicted to wear a blindfold, and blind people use Braille as their writing system," Kamei has a huge smile on his face; he feels that the question was meant for him. His always keen ear to Professor Motoyama's lecture on Greek Mythology, which has a heavy representation of human morality, benefited him well. Katou gave him a satisfied smile.
"There's one thing the history book didn't mention though," Kambe spoke. "A clear and true explanation of the disbandment." He had a major idea of the event though he wanted it to hear from the casualty himself to spill the beans from his lips, and all eyes were on Katou.
After finishing a successful and informative pledging test that ended at 600 hours, they went scrambling for their textbooks and laptops. Hands not failing to move each second that is either writing, flipping pages, or typing keyboards. All decided to gang up together helping each other with their assignments and readings. For breakfast, they bonded over every college student's most prized food—instant noodles.
"I'm taking seconds," Kambe declares, grabbing the pot of cooked noodles. An evil grin curved in Katou's lips as a memory popped in his mind, and it is worth sharing.
"Did you know that Kambe got so high once 'cause of weed noodles?" Katou spilled.
"No way! That Kambe!" Kamei laughed, pointing at the quiet and sometimes intimidating nature of Kambe, a rose-tinted color appearing on his cheek and trying to not meet any eye contact. Even Hoshino is amused who lets out a chuckle.
"Man, we should make weed noodles sometimes," Kamei exclaimed.