Chapter 7:

0 Minutes Till She Says Something Honest, Maybe

The Last of Our Summers

Chizuru's car rests on their driveway like a sleeping dragon while Kazuha leads them to her room and finds snacks for them to eat. She finds popsicles too, rare for her house. Natsuki must have stocked them. 

When she comes back, Yoshioka is peering around her room while Sugino and Chizuru dutifully sit at her table. 

"Your room's weirdly clean," Yoshioka says. "Strict parents?"

Kazuha doesn't know where her parents fall on the strictness scale, so she says, "My brother always used to say a tidy environment was a sign of a tidy mind."

Yoshioka makes a little aah sound. "Right. Brother complex."

"Ignore her," Sugino says, as Kazuha frowns. "Are you going for a minimalist thing, Kajiura? You don't have a lot of stuff."


Kazuha looks around her room: she has all the essentials, doesn't she? A chair in front of her laptop, a few shelves for her books. Her bed is neatly made with two pillows. What exactly was missing?

"…Never mind, pretend I didn't ask."

Yoshioka's peering at the photos on her wall. "This Kyoto? Looks quaint."

"It's my university of choice."

"Makes sense, you've got the grades for it."

Not really, Kazuha thinks, but doesn't say out loud. Swallowed down, it churns in her stomach. 

Chizuru's staring at the only other photo in the room. She picks up the frame from Kazuha's desk. It's a picture of Kirigiri, Natori, Kazuha and Hikari.

"Is this from middle school? All of you look very cute."

Kazuha welcomes the distraction. A smile curls her lips: so Natori's crush isn't one-sided after all?

But then she turns around and says, “You know, Kazuha, I'm awfully curious. You and Kirigiri are childhood friends, yes?”


She's interested in Kirigiri?

Robotically, Kazuha says, "Yes. We've lived close by since we were very young."

“Why don’t you call him by his name?” she sounds genuinely curious. “It's rare to see two friends who've known each other since childhood call each other by their family names. Of course, if it’s a matter of preference, then I understand, but…” she shakes her head. “Perhaps I’m being obtuse. It’s just something I’ve never seen before.”

"Yeah, it is kind of weird," Sugino taps her nose with her pen.

Yoshioka just crunches on her popsicle. The tails of her eyes are curled in a smile.

Is calling your childhood friend by his last name that weird? Kazuha doesn’t think so, but she doesn’t really have a point of reference.

“It’s not. It’s not a preference thing.”  Kazuha takes a deep breath, and admits, reddening, “We have the same name.”


“That’s why he keeps looking when you say my name. His name’s Kazuha too. Kazuha Kirigiri.”

For the first time since they met, Chizuru looks flabbergasted. She looks back and forth between the photo in her hands and at Kazuha, her mouth slightly open. Even Sugino freezes.

Yoshioka bursts out laughing.

“The chances of that happening—”

“I know,” Kazuha says, defensive. “We used to fight over it all the time as kids. The family name thing was a compromise our elementary school teacher had to negotiate.”

"Man," says Yoshioka. "Kirigiri gets all touchy about it too. Both of you are so cute."

Kazuha bristles. Yoshioka shoots her a wink, then yelps when Sugino elbows her.

"Ignore her," Sugino says. "I think it's kind of special, Kajiura."

"…thanks, I guess?"

"It does seem like it's some star-crossed lovers shit," Yoshioka says, as draws a stick of gum out of her bag and offers it around. "You're smart and he's a jock. You grew up together. Both of you have the same name. It's, I don't know. Romantic."


"Ignore her," Sugino says again, with a weary tone that suggests she says it often. "She's just jealous because the only man in her life teaches her Math."

Yoshioka goes red. She starts pummeling her friend's shoulder and Sugino ducks, giggling.

Kazuha's ears have pricked like a rabbit's. "Mr. Narumaki?"

Chizuru's eyes are as wide as saucers.

Yoshioka looks at them, her chin tipped up, her arms crossed over her chest. "So what? He's a fine man."

"Ew ew ew," Kazuha manages.

Chizuru squeaks, "Our Math teacher?"

Yoshioka fidgets. She hits Sugino's shoulder again. "Why'd you tell 'em? They're princesses, they've never even heard of stuff like this before."

Sugino shrugs. She's watching them with a little grin on her face. "You're the one who wanted to make stuff up about Kajiura and Kirigiri. As if there weren't enough rumors already."

She sneaks a glance at Kazuha as she says it. Kazuha sits very straight and pretends not to hear.

In that split second of silence, Chizuru leans forward instead.

"Hm," she says, quirking them a grin. "Mr. Narumaki, huh."

Sugino gives Kazuha one final, searching glance. Kazuha continues to hold still.

"Yeah. I hear his first name's Koutarou."

Chizuru raises a hand to her mouth that does nothing to muffle her giggle.

"Shut up shut up shut up," Yoshioka whines. "He's nowhere near as old as any of the other teachers. And he's better-looking than all the boys in our grade."

Sugino clears her throat and raises an eyebrow.

Yoshioka groans. "Fine, aside from Natori. Whatever."

"Damn straight."

They laugh. Their whole conversation only bounces between the two of them, but it feels performative, almost, as if they're inviting Kazuha and Chizuru to join in. Kazuha feels a smile tugging at her own lips. She wants to jump in and say something too, but she doesn't know what.

Then she remembers: "You're right, Mr. Narumaki isn't that old. He was my brother's senior in high school."

"Huh. Really?"

"Got any pictures?"

Sugino groans and pulls Yoshioka away from Kazuha. "Oh my god. Calm down."

As they're wrestling, Chizuru says, lightly, "Is Natori really that handsome?"

Sugino's petite frame lights on fire. Her eyes are very intense and scary and she leans very close to Chizuru.

"Aonuma, I don't know what kind of hunks you had in that Catholic school of yours–"

"It was a girl's school, actually."

"–but if you can't tell me that Natori is objectively, subjectively, dazzlingly the most good-looking boy in the school–wait. You said it was a girl's school?"

Chizuru shrugs. "I've only gone to girl's schools. This whole experience is very new for me."

Kazuha, Yoshioka and Sugino share baffled looks.

"Never? You've never been in a co-ed school?"

"My mother has a strict set of beliefs."

"Huh." Sugino leans back. "Well, I guess I see why you don't notice Natori flirting with you now."

"Oh, I do notice," Chizuru says. "I'm simply not interested. He seems…flighty."

Yoshioka makes a noise that's almost too high-pitched for human ears. Then she starts laughing so hard she falls sideways off the cushion she's sitting on.

"More power to you, I guess?" Sugino says faintly. "Man, pretty girls really are built different."

"It's not a pretty thing, it's--"

"Natori's kind," says Kazuha.

All three of them direct their gazes to her. Kazuha shrugs.

"He doesn't have that layer. You know. The one that some people have, that makes it feel like no matter how much you talk to them, you might never get to know the real them. He doesn't have that."

Sugino's eyes go distant. Even Yoshioka wipes tears from her eyes, and rests her chin on her hand in thought.

"Damn," Yoshioka says, at length. "Don't say stuff like that. Kirigiri will get jealous."

This time Kazuha knows she's just teasing. She rolls her eyes.

"Shut up, Yoshioka," Sugino says, clearly on autopilot. She's still vague, her mind somewhere far away. "You know, that's exactly it. When I fall in love-when I really fall in love- it's going to be with someone like Natori. Kajiura's right. He really doesn't feel like he's holding anything back."

"Aren't you already in love with Natori, though."

"Shut up, Yoshioka."

"I don't quite agree," Chizuru says.

Sugino rolls her eyes good-naturedly. "Surprise, surprise, the number one Natori hater speaks."

"That layer means that there's someone beneath the platitudes. Someone real, who has formed that layer through years of experiences and interactions. That's more interesting to me."

"In other words, a bad boy."

Chizuru makes a face. "I feel like you're intentionally misinterpreting what I'm saying."

"Called a joke, princess," Yoshioka says, crossing her arms behind her head. "I think you guys are being way too picky. Who cares about layers and stuff? It's hard enough to find someone decent to like. What 'bout you, Kajiura?"

Kazuha taps her fingers on the desk. She looks at all their expectant faces.

"I just want to be loved," she says. The words burn in her throat from being unsaid for so long. "I think I could love anyone at all that loved me. I want someone's whole happiness to be tied to mine. I want someone to think of me as soon as they wake up. I want them to send me photos of what they did during the day, not because they want to brag, but because they want to tell me everything."

Their eyes are wide.

Chizuru says, "A tad self-centered, Kazuha." She sounds warm, though, and she pokes her pinkie finger to Kazuha's hand and smiles.

Sugino shakes her head. "Isn't that what being young is supposed to be all about? Being selfish assholes?" She scrambles to her feet. Crumbs shower from her skirt to the floor. "All everyone ever talks about is how I'm being selfish for trying to be myself. So what if we just be selfish?"

"This summer, coming to theaters near you: Selfish Teens," intones Yoshioka.

"I'm serious. I'm going to be loved this summer, I don't care by who. All those things Kajiura talked about, I want them, too."

She looks so determined. Kazuha feels a buzzing in the very tips of her fingers, as if a spark is alight.

"Me too, then," Kazuha says.

Chizuru laughs. "Sounds interesting."

Yoshioka looks between all of them. She pops her gum once, and lets out a small laugh.

"What could it hurt? I'll try it too."