Chapter 2:

3 Hours Till ???

The Last of Our Summers

The prettiest girl in the world stands in front of Kazuha's class.

“Pleased to meet you,” she says. Her hands are clasped in front of her, the straps of her bag knotted between her fingers. “I’m Chizuru Aonuma. I used to go to a Catholic school in Setagaya. I transferred here because of my father’s job. Please take care of me.”

Kazuha is stabbed with jealousy: she remembers all too vividly the two months in middle school where she tried to make herself have a deeper voice. Chizuru Aonuma proves her point. Her slightly husky tone sounds mature, elegant, sexy. The voice of a grownup.

Ms. Sawatani blinks a little. “Well, Aonuma, looks like we have an open desk in front of Kajiura. Why don’t you take a seat?”

Kazuha watches as those numbers as they approach. She can’t look away from them. No one else seems to have noticed, because surely they would have commented on it?

Just to make sure, she glances at Natori.

Natori’s watching her alright. The way his gaze is lingering on Aonuma jolts through Kazuha like a shock, makes her avert her eyes for a second.


Natori’s a boy, after all. And Aonuma was very pretty. She'd just never seen him look like…she'd never seen him look like that.

She looks back up at the front of the class, determined not to let Natori's reddened ears get in the way of her focus. So what if it lowered her opinion of him a little? It wasn't as if Natori was her friend. 

Ms. Sawatani’s writing something on the blackboard, too small to be readable, as usual. The two rows behind Kazuha had given up paying attention and started chatting in low whispers.

As much as Kazuha tries to focus, it's hard not to notice what the subject of their gossip is. Aonuma sits on her chair straight, shoulders back, chin tipped up. Her braid falls in a single neat line down between her shoulder blades.

Kazuha can't imagine how hard they must contrast with each other, her with her own hunch over her books and her unremarkable everything.

Inadvertently, almost against her will, Kazuha's eyes drift back to Aonuma's head.

She frowns.

The light above her head reads 00:03:25.

It changed?

In that instant, as if sensing her confusion, the light flickers. Blinks out once, twice, and then:


What was going on?


“Only two weeks to go,” Ms. Sawatani is saying, her hands pumping up and down like an excited child. “Your last sports day! I hope everyone makes sure to participate!”

A voice behind her groans, “Oh god, when’s she gonna stop? I wanna talk to the new girl. It’s been like twenty minutes already.”

Kazuha looks at the clock above the blackboard. The guy behind her is right, it has been twenty minutes.

Completely still, she watches till the minute hand of the clock twitches forward, then quickly looks back just as the light above Chizuru Aonuma’s head flickers, and changes.


The momentary thrill of having found out this little connection fizzles out as soon as she wonders what to do with the information. So it was time…

But time till what?


As soon as the first period ends, a group of five girls flock to Aonuma. They’re led by Hikari, as cute as always in her oversized cardigan and her cute little bob, decorated with hairclips that glitter when she moves.

Kazuha is terrified of her.

She shrinks in her seat, pulling her sleeves up, and tries her best not to listen in on what they’re saying. Nothing too strange, she guesses. Normal stuff like why Aonuma picked this school (it was closest) whether she liked Setagaya (it was quiet, but she preferred it) and whether she’d seen the local sights yet (a polite, but definite no).

The answers are clearly unsatisfactory. Hikari and her friends disperse as the second period’s History teacher comes in, and by the end of the period the girls don’t come back. They flock around Hikari’s table instead, chirping with disappointment among themselves.

Kazuha breathes a sigh.

“Excuse me.”

Kazuha tenses again.

Aonuma has turned in her seat, facing Kazuha directly. Her eyes are as dark as her hair that’s falling over her shoulder in her neat braid, so dark it almost has a tinge of green. She’s wearing a little mascara and eyeliner that’s almost invisible behind her glasses, but it makes her eyes look even bigger, lovelier.

“Kajiura, was it?”

Kazuha inclines her head. She feels like a small animal trapped under a hunter’s gaze. She holds still.

Aonuma smooths her skirt and gives her a small, businesslike smile. She could be an actress. A model. If only her smile wasn’t so cold. “Do you mind if I borrow your notes? The lesson was further on than we were at my old school.”

Kazuha thinks of a hundred ways she could say no. 

“Um. Sure,” is what comes out of her mouth instead. Her hands aren't perfectly steady as she reaches for her notes; she hides them under the desk as soon as Aonuma takes her exercise book from her.

“Thank you,” and she brushes her hair behind her ear. Kazuha watches the gesture, feeling entranced. “I appreciate it, Kajiura.”

Stop talking to me, Kazuha thinks. Turn around turn around turn around–

Aonuma nods, and Kazuha thinks that’s going to be it—that she’s going to turn back to her desk—when she ventures, hesitantly, “I noticed that P.E. is one of the subjects today. I haven’t been to the gymnasium yet, so I don’t really know where it is. Would you be able to—”

“Um," Kazuha says. Her mind whirs. "Actually–"

Aonuma watches her. The proud tilt of her chin doesn't quite disguise how she's clearly waiting for a rejection.


Aonuma inclines her head again. “Thank you again, Kajiura.”

She turns back to her desk. Kazuha is still staring stupidly at her braid falling straight down her back when a heavy arm lands on her shoulder, and she jumps.

“Yo,” says Kirigiri, also looking at Aonuma curiously.

She can guess why he’s here: Kirigiri had lost his English textbook a month ago, and instead of finding a new one he’s been subletting hers, leech-like.

There’s a brief scuffle as someone throws a wad of paper at Kirigiri’s head, and he laughs and throws it back. “Hey Kirigiri,” one of the boys calls. “You doing anything for sports day?”

“What do you think,” Kirigiri calls back. He wanders off a few steps to chat about basketball. His laughter rings through the room, and Kazuha watches him blankly as he roughhouses with the classmates Kazuha had never spoken to.

He comes back to her desk and grins down at her. "Your class is so much more fun than mine, Kajiura. Bleh."

Kazuha doesn't know what to say to that. She hands him her English textbook.

As he takes it, he nods at the desk in front and raises an eyebrow.

Transfer, she mouths, rolling her eyes a little because that's the Kirigiri she knows: nosy to a fault. 

Kirigiri makes a considering face, shifting a little to get a better look. He’s painfully obvious; Kazuha’s braced for when Aonuma turns around to punch both of them when he thins his lips a little and whispers, "Not my type."

What horseradish. Kirigiri picked the strangest times to try to look cool. “What is it they say about beggars and choosers, Kirigiri?” she asks him, and he scowls.

And then, instead of leaving in a cloud of complaints as usual, he bends his head close to hers.

Immediately, Kazuha leans away. Her heart rate triples. She can feel the gazes of everyone, all the girls who’d been so ready to talk about her behind her back— Hikari–

Kirigiri looks surprised, then chastened. “Sorry,” he mutters, too low for anyone to overhear. “I just wanted to see what bit you in the ass this morning. You were acting weird.”

Kazuha hesitates. Her eyes fall on the display above Aonuma’s head, invisible to everyone but her. 00:01:13.

Should she tell Kirigiri? Every instinct in her says no. It's not as if Kirigiri could add anything, give her any insight that would settle the uneasy churning in her stomach.

Then she sees Hikari watching them, and that decides it.

“Nothing, bird brain,” Kazuha says, forcing a grin. “You’re being paranoid.”


Maths period ticks by. Kazuha can barely pay attention, her eyes falling onto Aonuma’s display every time she tries to look at the teacher.


36 minutes? Was that how long it took for whatever it was to happen? And what if nothing happened—what if Kazuha had gone crazy, and started hallucinating numbers on top of the transfer student’s head? Would she need to see a doctor for it? Her mother won’t be happy—she’s been different since Natsuki moved back in, frustrated, snapping at the smallest thing. And what would she even tell her? She felt fine except for this one weird thing. She wasn’t sick. She was fine.



Kazuha started in her chair at the teacher’s voice. Looking around, she realizes that he’s waiting for her to pass her homework to the front.

“Seeing as she’s so attentive, I’m sure everyone’s homework will be in good hands if we ask Kajiura to take these to the teacher’s room." He taps his finger on the stack of papers on the desk.

He looks around. "Who can help her carry them?"

Kazuha goes perfectly still. Her heart starts hammering in her ears.

She has thirty-six classmates and not a single one of them says anything. Their gazes are so cold. Someone giggles in the deafening silence.

Don't let them see you like this.

"I'll do it myself."

Her voice is rough with effort. She makes her useless legs move to the front of the class and grabs the papers out of Mr. Narumaki's hands without meeting his eyes.

"Yeah," he says faintly. "I suppose they're not that heavy."

The bell rings and the tension breaks. The class breaks into chatter, turning their attention away from Kazuha.

The pain in her lungs dissipates when she starts breathing again, slow, jerky breaths.

Mr. Narumaki parts ways with her at the door. “Well, I’m off to my next class. See that you don’t space out next time, hm, Kajiura?”

The pity in his eyes is unbearable.

Staring at the ground, Kazuha nods. The sheets rustle in her hands. She thinks of her phantom friend again: they'd reach out, say hey, sorry for not volunteering earlier. Are those heavy? Let me take half.

Involuntarily, she looks back at Natori. He isn’t looking at her. Not even close: his whole body’s angled completely away.

His eyes are on Aonuma again.

Spinning around, Kazuha charges towards the teacher’s room. 

Who needs them, who needed any of them. It was just some sheets. It was just some sheets, and a room full of silence. None of it mattered. She would be far, far away from all this one day. Soon. She would wander down the streets of Kyoto and nothing would bother her, no one would stare, no one would spread rumors—

Hikari had been the one who giggled, back then. She'd recognize that giggle anywhere. Hikari was even cuter in middle school, her cheeks like dumplings that Kazuha loved to pinch, and she clearly thought Kazuha hung the moon, trailing behind her and Kirigiri from class to class like a beloved pet kitten.

But then—

Are you and Kirigiri…you know?

She runs down the stairs two at a time. The hum of static gets louder in her ears, growing into a dull roar. She nearly trips over the last few steps, not seeing over the pile of sheets in her hands, but she catches herself with a slight twist of her ankle that twinges as she keeps walking.

The teacher’s room is on the far end of the corridor of the first floor, and thankfully none of the teachers that are chatting in the stuffy humidity of the closed room seem to recognize her. She asks for Mr. Narumaki’s desk and deposits the homework on it, putting one of his paper weights on top.

She looks around uncertainly until one of the older teachers calls out in a kind voice, “That’s fine, I’ll tell him you put those there. You can go. Don’t you have a class?”

Kazuha checks the clock. “Yes, sensei, we have PE—”

And then it hits her.

“Thank you very much!” she cries, and takes off at a run. Her twisted ankle throbs.

How could she have forgotten? She’d been focusing on the timer for almost the entire morning, and now that it’s almost time, she forgot?

She’s turning the corner to sprint up the stairs when she suddenly jerks to a halt.

Waiting at the top of the staircase, expression rigidly blank, is Aonuma.

The timer on her head blinks. 00:00:10.

"Aonuma, what–"

"Will you come with me for a second?"

"We have PE," Kazuha says.

Aonuma nods. Her knuckles are white around her phone. "Just for a second. Please. I have to go to the roof."

The tilt of her chin is proud, but she can't hide how she's braced for rejection. Can't hide the tremble in her hands either.

"Please," she says again. "I don't know who else to ask."

"Sure," Kazuha says, soft, and watches Aonuma's tense expression clear for a moment, like a glimpse of the sun behind clouds.


There is a curdling in her stomach. Kazuha's dazed, distracted from the sensation of Aonuma slipping her hand into hers, but she recognizes it as foreboding.

"Why are we going to the roof, Aonuma?"

Aonuma's pale. Beads of sweat cling to her forehead. "I have to meet someone."


A shake of her head.

She can't shake the dreamlike feeling as she walks. When the timer reads 00:00:07, she realizes that Aonuma doesn't actually know where she's going. Kazuha starts leading her to the roof instead. Her hand is cold and clammy in hers. Aonuma's terrified. She won't answer any questions, either.

They go past the out of order sign and up the stairs. Someone has moved the padlock from the doors. They push open at the slightest pressure.

Aonuma is shaking.

It's beautiful up here. For a moment, blue is all Kazuha can see, and it overwhelms her senses. She's never been up here before.

Then a lone figure stands up from the far corner. Smaller than them both. Approaching them in a slow, swaying walk.

The short skirt and the prim, buttoned-up shirt belong to their school uniform, but this is a girl Kazuha has never seen.

Another transfer?

But the uniform doesn't fit her quite right: it's baggy in unexpected places, billowing sleeves and loose collars.

There is a long, discordant note echoing in Kazuha's ears.

"Huh," the girl says. She's got a cute voice that melts like cotton candy in the air, and a knife in her left hand. "Looks like you didn't miss me at all, Chizuru."