Chapter 5:

A Small Amount of Time

White Wings Café

Above me was a red broken cuckoo clock, showing the incorrect time of nine-thirty in the morning as if to mock me. As if to pick a fight. It was just out of my reach and even if I got up on my tippy toes, getting it down just wasn't possible for me. Despite the chipping paint and this once beautiful house looking more like a small abandoned shack in the woods, there was still one part that was functioning just fine.

No matter what I did— the ticking wouldn't stop.

I leaned against my bedroom door, slumping lower and lower until I hit the ground. Yuu told me to wait outside. As footsteps thumped all over the place—scrambling to the right, struggling to left, only to come together in the center as if to rinse and repeat—muffled whispers echoed from inside. It wasn't until glass crashed to the ground that I decided to pipe up.

"Is everything alright in there?" I asked.

Yuu's voice cracked as she spoke. "W-why, yes! Everything is just fine. Please sit tight for just a little bit longer, alright little one? I'm still getting ready," she said, hesitating a little before lowering her tone. "Fetch me a broom please..."

"Okay, one broom coming up—"

"W-wait, not you! Keep waiting please."

She was oddly quick to change her mind. Then again, a little bit of glass should be nothing compared to her strength, all things considered. Yuu could handle herself.

After a bit more broken objects, fumbling about, and panic rising in her voice, Yuu cracked open a sliver of the door and peeked through it with one eye. The skin underneath it was sunken and discoloured. I opened my mouth to say something but found no words would come out— for when the door opened fully, sluggish yet with force, my room once filled to the brim with boxes had been redone from head to toe.

Now posters with dark spots hung on walls, figures with melted limbs posed on shelves alongside Blossom, and what was left of my old crimson carpet sat in the middle of it all, a fraction of its former size. The boxes themselves had all been stacked on top of each other and were kept off to the side where Yuu was standing. She scratched at her face with a nervous grin and aimlessly swayed about as if moving only for the sake of it.

I put my head in my hands before exhaling and standing back up. The ticking wouldn't stop. It rang in my ears. For each second I stayed silent, it grew louder. Everything in those boxes was scorched and yet she still decided to handle my belongings with care.

"But why go out of your way like that?" I asked. "With everything as they are...there's no reason to put them up."

"Well, I was just thinking that since we're living together, a tiny amount of cleaning would make this place feel a bit more like home. It gives off quite the cosy feeling if I say so myself."

Aya popped her head out from the left and grinned. I jumped back in surprise. "The fact that there was no reason was reason in itself! Gosh, Yuu, don't try to hog all the glory to yourself. It may have been your idea but I managed to get some of the boxes. You're just on a whole other level!"

Yuu twirled her hair around her finger. "I-I was doing nothing of the sort. Besides, you definitely were a huge help with the 'extra sweeping' we had to do."

"Ah yes. 'Extra sweeping.'"

The two of them gave each other a reaffirming nod as if I didn't understand what they were talking about. Idiots. Whatever possessed them to do something like that for me was beyond me but still, I couldn't be any more thankful.

But something wasn't right.

Peeking downstairs for a second, a concern that arose from the little scare I had when I first met Yuu reared its little head. The only thing between the front door and my room was no one other than myself and I distinctly remembered locking both doors the moment I had got home from school— a habit that was both useful yet spooked into me. That being said, I only had one question for the extra person in the room.

"Aya-senpai, how did you get in?" I asked, and her eyes went wide.

She stepped out from behind the door and stuck her hands out, gesturing to the bright-colored harness that hugged her waist. It jingled with each step she took. The ticking wouldn't stop.

"Rock Climbing Club was today! Managed to get this one first-year to join today, she's a real genius, you know? Although she hadn't done anything like that before, she was able to get all the way to the top while the rest of us clocked out halfway." She placed a hand on her neck and glanced beyond me—or rather, up at the fight-picking cuckoo clock. "Though...that's kinda expected from a Miyafuji student. Looks like she found something she excels at. I should be able to hand off the club to her by tomorrow if things go well."

"Fail to see how that matters...I'm calling the police."

As fast as I whipped my phone out, Aya grabbed my hand and pushed it back down. "Wait, wait, wait! I saw Yuu from outside and it looked like she needed a hand, right? So since I already had my harness on me, I decided to climb up here and help out."

"Are you a romance novel love interest?" I asked. "Knock like a normal person, gosh. You could scare someone half to death."

"Hey now, that's not nice to call someone! I'm offended." She shook her head. "Besides, that's not the only reason why I'm here."

Aya pulled the clock down and handed it over to me before stepping backward. I put it aside.

"Thanks," I said, staring at the ground, embarrassed. " have the time?"

She smiled but it didn't reach her eyes. For once, Aya actually sounded serious. "I don't have possession of the time but on the off chance that I did, I'd make sure that it would stand absolutely still. That much I can guarantee."

I didn't pay it any mind.

"There you go saying weird things again. You know that's not what I meant."

She fished around in her pocket before pulling out a small brightly colored piece of paper and unfolding it. It was an advertisement for a local festival. Boring stands, boring attractions, boring fireworks— the whole event was so seeped in grey that the only thing that even had a semblance of colour and fun was the poster.

"Why are you showing me this? I already told you so many times that I won't—"

Aya put a finger to my mouth.

"Hey now, hey now. I already get it. There's no point in trying that again, I know. What I wanted to do is warn you."

"About what? Let me guess, there's a new event I just have to try, right?"

"Have a little more faith in your beloved upperclassmen. This is about the café."

"I'm listening."

"Time will continue to move forward whether you want it to or not. Blink even once and a whole year will go by. It's annoying, it's scary. But you don't seem to want to stay stagnant for too long, right? I wouldn't clock you as that type."

Yuu tensed up and stared at Aya, quickly putting her foggy glasses back on. She muttered something under her breath. Aya pushed past me and gestured toward the empty cafe.

"Little by little things have been set up and I can't see a more perfect opportunity than the one that's been placed in front of us. Two months from now. If you truly want this cafè to get off the ground, I think that should be our opening date."

"You have to be kidding me."

"Not at all, Shi. What? Are you telling me that you haven't been preparing for a while now?"

"That doesn't matter. We still need the equipment and other goods. A cafè without coffee or baked goods is no cafè at all."

I bit my thumb. As much as a crunch this idea put us under, a better opportunity to open up may not pop up any time soon—it was unfortunate but she was right. In terms of erasing everything left over from the past, the majority of it was done in the week before school started. I made sure of it. If we could gather the necessary equipment and put together a halfway decent menu, it wouldn't be exactly impossible to finish everything in time.

Yuu coughed and readjusted her glasses. "A festival? That's quite the grand opening. I personally have no objections, so let's work hard to have everything done by then." She exhaled sharply and scratched at her face. "Perhaps, once things die down we can all go out and have fun together. I've never been to a festival before."

Aya's eyes flickered to Yuu then to me. "Oh my, did you not..?"

I looked away and didn't answer. The ticking wouldn't stop. With how much was going on, I wasn't sure if dumping so much on a person I barely knew would be a good idea. You really never know when to keep your mouth shut, do you Aya? This was why telling you about Yuu would only end in disaster.

"I, uh, well-" Aya said, a nervous chuckle leaving her lips, "The Guiding Star Festival happens once every year. It's kinda the main attraction of our little town. Uh..think that we might have to sit out on the festival activities this year though. With the cafè opening and all."

Yuu's expression dropped. "Is that so? Well, I am looking forward to working with you both nonetheless."

"Yeah," I said, "let's give it our all then."

Aya clapped her hands together and nodded. Stepping back into our room and crouching a bit, she made a mess of my hair. Uneven strands fell onto my face. I quickly brushed them away along with Aya's doting hand.

"I don't mean to rush you. There's nothing wrong with waiting until everything is up, running and prepared. It's just that if you wait too long...well, unlike me or you, time will leave you behind."


She opened the window and stood in front of it, hands behind her back. "Well, it looks like things are settled then. Thank God, I thought we were gonna have a problem," she said with a sigh of relief. "For a second there I thought I would have to tell all the second years to cancel their plans. Didn't want to do that."

Second years?

The entirety of the Miyafuji Academy second years?

I grabbed my face and chuckled. She couldn't rally that many people in such a small amount of time. Even though she was popular. Even though she was friends with Prez. The very thought was enough to keep me entertained for an entire afternoon.

It wasn't possible.

"Whoa, you're staring pretty hard there, Shi. It's kinda spooky. Something happen?"

"No way."

"You didn't," I said, slowly inching toward her. Aya backed away with every step I took. The closer I got, the more and more tremulous her smile became until she found herself against the window. "Oh, dearly beloved upperclassmen of mine, you didn't do something as wonderful as—I don't know, recommending this brand new cafe that's opening up during the Guiding Star Festival, right?"

She put up her hands. "I may have said something similar to about a handful? Or...three. A-anyways! Rumours spread so fast nowadays, so I'm not quite sure anymore. It's fine though, isn't it? We all agreed in the end."

"You and I both know that's not the point. There was no choice in the matter."

"Haha, guess not." Aya quickly stepped outside in the worst way possible. Hooking her harness up to the window sill, she made her descent from the two-story building. She cupped her hands together and called out to us once at the bottom. "I still got a form to hand in so I'll see you guys later! Good luck with your studying! Oh, and Yuu? We'll talk some more another time."

Yuu didn't say anything back.

I poked my head out and—calmly might I add—said, "Idiot! Dumbass! I hope Prez really lets you have it this time, you make her do way too much work!"

"Love you to bits too, Shi! Let's work super hard together, ok?"

I stuck my tongue out as she ran off with a wave goodbye. With her gone, I hung my head out the window and stared at the pavement below.

"Gosh. There's always something new with her," I said.

"Prez?" Yuu asked, "who's that?"

“Student Council President, two years my senior.” I pulled my head back in and sighed. “She's been a president of some sort for as long as I've known about her. In the end, I guess Prez stuck. Don't remember her name anymore."

The clock's battery had died shortly after Aya had gotten it down for me. Which meant the ticking had long since stopped, bringing the fight to a screeching halt and declaring me the victor. Even though this was still true before I had realised that, the following still had to be said: I wasn't at ease.

Two months. A hard deadline. It didn't even feel right thinking about it let alone saying it out loud.

"Shiro." Yuu put a hand on my shoulder once I finally closed the window with a huff. "Remind me of this once some time has passed: I must keep an eye on Aya as well.” She looked at me seriously. “I've taken quite a liking to her. I'll make sense of it. This is of utmost importance, do you understand?"

"Huh? Uh, sure. Don't see why exactly though."

She shook her head before sitting down at my desk. "Your upperclassmen is very wise."

"Are...we talking about the same person here?"

"Nevermind that, dear. Let us get to studying. We have a lot to go over."