Chapter 8:

-10 Minutes Till Homeroom

The Last of Our Summers

“Ah,” says Chizuru, with a very badly feigned look of surprise. “It’s you two.”

She closes her book –she was reading a book at the bus stop?—and makes an attempt at tucking her hair behind her ears, only to be foiled by how neat her plait is.

She pushes her glasses back instead and says, “What a coincidence.”

She looks like something out of a shoujo manga, framed by the woods on one side and the rush of traffic on the other. Her skirt flutters gently in the wind.

Kazuha spots a leaf stuck in her hair and her heart surges with temptation for a second, before the leaf blows away.

When the daydream passes, Kirigiri is laughing at her.

Kazuha steps on his foot and says, “Yeah! Um, what a coincidence. Chizuru, are you heading to school as well?”

“I thought you might be taking the bus. Cycling would be too much pressure on your ankle, and. And, well, yesterday gave me the impression that you might not be overly fond of being dropped at school by car.”

Kazuha freezes, but Kirigiri picks up the slack: “What about you, Aonuma? Don’t you have a driver to drop you to school?”

“I think I would prefer to go with you both, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course we don’t! Chizuru, do you live close– oh, here comes the bus.”

They board just as the first drop of rain hits Kazuha's cheek. The door of the bus shuts out the smallest patter of rain as it begins to fall.

Kazuha and Chizuru follow Kirigiri to the very back and all three of them to sit next to each other. Kirigiri's and Chizuru's shoulders knocking against hers puts something warm and glowing in Kazuha's chest.

Outside, umbrellas have started going up. The rain grows from a light patter to a no-nonsense deluge that turns the view through the windows greyscaled and blurry. In the distance, she can almost make out the shape of the ocean: a mass of gunmetal-grey, wrinkled and vast and breathing like a restless animal.

"Do you have an umbrella?"

She jolts of her reverie and begins rooting around her bag as Chizuru takes her own out. She has all her books neatly sorted in her bag, and her umbrella slots into a corner. 

“Your bag is such a mess. You're a disgrace."

Kazuha hits the back of Kirigiri's head.

“What about you? It clearly looked like it was going to rain. It takes two seconds to check your bag when Auntie asks you if you have your umbrella.”

Kirigiri ignores her. “Androids are afraid of water," he tells Chizuru confidentially, even as Kazuha hits him with her umbrella. "It messes up the equipment, you know. She goes all szzzzzz, does. Not. Compute. Szzzzz-"

Kazuha hits the back of his head again.

"Kazuha is not an android," Chizuru says. Another pair of students bump into her as they sit next to her on the seat, and her mouth thins before she moves closer to Kazuha.

She smells of something cool and crisp, flowers in a field and the sunlight beaming down, and–

Kazuha's mouth floods with the taste of salt.


Her eyes do a manic circuit of the bus. Nothing.

She pushes her bag and umbrella at Kirigiri.

"Kajiura, what-"

Kazuha takes off. She slips past a middle-aged woman getting into the bus and leaps outside. The rain washes over her in an instant and she's soaking wet, shivering on the pavement and squinting her eyes.

Her adrenaline thumps through her ears. She's tall, but not tall enough–she can't see those numbers anywhere.

She starts running. Her shoes are drenched and the ground is slippery. Her eyes scan the tops of everyone's heads desperately, feverishly–

"Kazuha, what are you–"


Two girls, their ponytails bobbing as they run. They're holding their bags over their heads and laughing, hopping over puddles.


Kazuha turns, breathlessly, to find Kirigiri frowning at her. "Stop the traffic," she says. The words barely move past her frozen lips.

Kirigiri's frozen. The strangest expression is on his face.

She tugs his jacket. "Kirigiri! Stop the traffic, those girls–ugh!"

Chizuru puts a hand on her shoulder. "Go," she says. She's also looking at the girls, her eyes wide in realization. "Quickly."

Kazuha nods, and starts running.

Her feet fly across the slippery pavement, surefooted. She's never run so fast before. The pavement's crowded with people from their school, and she ducks and weaves and elbows, her body moving in perfect, streamlined concentration.

She's still too late– she's going to be too late. She yells--something, but the sound of the rain and the traffic drowns her, and she's two meters away from them when one of them slips, and,

–starts skidding on a twisted ankle, and,

–the other goes crashing towards the road, propelled by their joined hands.

Right in front of a car that's driving towards them.


Kazuha leaps. She slams into one, but the other one's too far away. Her hand barely catches on her collar, and she tugs—just an inch, just enough to help, to save—

Her grip on the collar is useless. The girl's momentum is too strong.

Kazuha's going to get yanked into the road too.

The taste of salt in her mouth is stronger than ever. The ocean roars in her ears. She's underwater, she's drowning. She can't breathe.

She's so, so scared.

The next thing she feels is arms going around her waist.

She goes flying backward, dragging the two girls part of the way with her.

She lies in a panting heap, the rain hammering her face in full force and static in her ears. Time has slowed in a way that feels half-familiar: she doesn’t feel like she’s in her body anymore, watching her limp body lie on the side of the road from far, far away. The distant roar of the sea is still in her ears.

She turns her head and catches sight of her reflection on the side of the car, inches away from her face.

She stares at her reflection. Her hair is in thin trickles that stick wetly to her skin. Her eyes are wide and shellshocked.

Right above her head, flickering and refusing to take shape, is a timer.

Around her, movement: someone is belatedly screaming, and someone opens the door of their car. “Oh good lord,” says an elderly gentleman. “Are you girls alright?”

"Oh, us? We're fine, mister!"

A jerk from somewhere near her stomach, as two girls scramble to their feet. Their clothes are askew, but they both do look perfectly fine. And...perfectly identical.


Coming on the heels of this unnecessary revelation is the realization that she’s lying on somebody. She rips her gaze away from her reflection and pushes herself sideways. It’s Kirigiri.

His eyes are darkly furious. “Kazuha,” he says, in a low, brittle voice. He’s so close that Kazuha can feel him panting, his heart drumming in his chest. His grip on her shoulders is crushing. “What was that.”

Kazuha looks around. She barely processes anything beyond her own rabbitting heart.

From the cluster of students gaping at them open-mouthed, Chizuru kneels down and holds two umbrellas over their heads.

“Are you alright, Kazuha?” she asks softly.

Kazuha doesn’t know.

She thinks she saw--


Two girls fly at her, the force of their hugs dislodging her from Kirigiri completely. He yanks her back so that they're partially dislodged from her, all of them kneeling across the pavement.

“Kajiura-senpai, you were so cool!”


"Exactly like Ai!"


She finds her hands snatched up by both of the twins.

In the middle of the confusion, Chizuru stands up. She leaves the umbrellas on the ground covering Kirigiri and Kazuha, and standing directly in the shower of rain she raises her voice. 

“Thank you for your concern. As you can see, everyone’s fine. Let’s not cause a disturbance that would reduce the reputation of our excellent school, yes?”

The sight of Chizuru standing so straight and speaking so authoritatively seems to cow a lot of the students. The crowd begins to shuffle around the scene and continue to the school.

Kazuha shifts her attention back to the twins, who are clutching one of her hands each.

“That was like half a kilometer in a minute,” one of them is saying. “Imagine how fast you’d be if you trained. Even Ai only started training in her second year of middle school!”

“You were fast enough,” the other pats her hand. “You saved us. But you could be so much more!”


The twins exchange glances. “You're a splendid runner, senpai!”

Kazuha blinks through the rainwater at them. "But who's--"

The twins aren't paying attention. They're looking at Chizuru, who's nudging at them to stand up.

“You should move along,” she says. "You're being a nuisance."


Kazuha stares at her bare knees for a minute, before a jacket lands on them. “Are you going to sit there all day?"

Kirigiri's hands are balled to fists. He pulls Kazuha to her feet roughly and she goes up, stumbling.

“Let’s get you dry. You too,” he adds to the two girls, who are still clinging on to Kazuha’s shirt.

“Yay!” one of them cheers.

“Kirigiri-senpai is as kind as Ai,” says the other.

Who the hell was--

Now that Kazuha isn't dazed anymore, it’s obvious that they’re twins. They're leaning into the concept pretty hard: their faces are identical ovals, down to the placement of the moles beneath their eyes. Even their eyes are similar: full of stars, shimmering at Kazuha, Chizuru and Kirigiri.

The traffic has dispersed. The crowd has moved on as well, still giving them a wide berth.

“I asked for the driver’s personal details and noted his car plate,” Chizuru says, when she notices Kazuha checking the road. “If the young ladies—”

“Hinata!” one of them singsongs, in tune with the other’s, “Momoko!” Then: “We’re from Class 1-C!”

Chizuru nods, unfazed. “If either of you are injured at all, we should contact this person.”

They squeal. Were first years always this energetic? Kazuha thinks she was even more of a bummer two years ago, but these twins don't seem to have that problem. Even looking at them makes Kazuha feel a thousand years old.

“We’re fine! Thanks to our seniors!”

“Let’s get out of this rain first,” says Chizuru.

One of the twins pout. “That’s what we were trying.” She gestures at her bag. 

Kirigiri heaves a sigh, and hands them an umbrella he digs out of his bag.

“Next time, stick to one of these.”

He's still not looking at Kazuha. She’s never seen him this angry.

She picks her umbrella from the ground, gives it a little shake, and snaps it shut. 

"We're running late," she says, mechanical. 

"God forbid," Kirigiri says with venom, "that we're late for anything."

Kazuha flinches. 

Chizuru's hand is on her back. "Shush. Now is not the time. Let's go."

She takes Kirigiri's jacket from Kazuha's dazed hands and throws it over both their shoulders. Under the jacket, she squeezes Kazuha's hand.

Chizuru's body, as it presses against Kazuha's, runs hotter than she does. She holds on to that warmth even as a chill builds at the base of her spine, like fear, like a warning. 

Steward McOy
Haru Yumera
Kya Hon