The Last of Our Summers
During lunch, she runs into Kirigiri at the canteen.
54 days, 2 hours, 16 minutes left. She has time. She has time.
Kirigiri reappears with bread. "Buy me juice," he says.
Kazuha can't stop looking at the numbers over his head. 54:02:11 now. She lost five minutes.
She jolts back to herself. "Hm?"
"Juice for Kirigiri?"
She scowls. "No."
He holds her lunch over her head. She swears at him and buys him his stupid juice.
“Wanna go up to the roof?” he asks, holding both their bread –yakisoba for Kirigiri, melon for Kazuha—while Kazuha stabs their juice boxes with the straws. “I bet it’s not too sunny.”
“Can’t,” Kazuha doesn’t look at him, so she can’t tell what expression he makes when she says, “Chizuru’s waiting for me.”
“Did you break up with the team? The broskis ditched you?"
"The vibe's kind of weird now," he admits. He rubs the back of his neck. "We're all retiring after Interhigh, and no one's really ready to go."
It’s not Kirigiri’s usual, over the top woe-is-me routine. Kazuha frowns.
She's been so focused on the numbers over his head that she hasn't really looked at his face in a while. There are dark circles under his eyes like he hasn’t been sleeping, and his shoulders are slumped with exhaustion.
His lips are drawn in a tired frown. For a crazy moment Kazuha thinks of reaching out, and curving them upwards.
“Hey,” she says hesitantly. “Maybe Chizuru can join us?”
Kirigiri’s lip quirks up. “You got super close to her pretty fast, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kazuha says, not really focused. Worrying about Kirigiri isn’t new or unfamiliar, but he’s never been this—withdrawn before. Kirigiri is usually very vocal about his smallest discomfort. “I’ll go get her. Hey, Kirigiri,” she says, as they begin walking towards their classes. He stops and makes an inquisitive face.
“Did something happen?”
His eyes jump to the side, above her shoulder. Kazuha’s heart sinks.
He’s never been able to look her straight in the eye and tell a lie.
“Not really,” he says. “With exams and stuff, it’s been kind of—well. And I didn’t sleep that well last night.”
She could pursue this. She should, but what good would it do? Kirigiri was like a mule when he wanted to hide something, stubbornly insisting on lying even when the secret he was hiding was as loud as a bee stuck in a room. For a humiliating second she wishes Natsuki, or a teacher, or someone a little more equipped would look at Kirigiri and solve his problems for him.
“Do you want my juice?” she offers, feeling inadequate.
A tiny spark enters his eyes as he laughs. “No, Kajiura, I don’t want your juice,” he pushes her lightly on the shoulder. “Go get your friend. I’ll be on the roof.”
Should she tell Chizuru how weird Kirigiri's acting? But how would she even explain it?
She rounds the corner into their classroom, and–
Her heart spikes up to her throat.
The numbers don’t go away. They hover above Chizuru, stark in the drape of sunlight. But then Chizuru moves her head, but the numbers don't move with her: instead they stick to the person talking to her. And it's Hikari Shinonome.
Are you and Kirigiri…you know?
Kazuha thinks about running away. Her feet are rooted to the floor.
"Ah, it's Kajiura."
She's spotted her. It's too late.
Hikari's mouth crooks into a sneer. She's leaning towards Chizuru, a conspiratorial lilt to her head.
"Did you have fun with Kirigiri, Kajiura?"
Everyone around them pretends not to listen, but all the conversations die down.
"Isn't it embarrassing for him if you keep playing pretend around him? I know you're not the best at taking a hint, but it's way past time you moved on from your pathetic little fantasies, Kajiura."
Kazuha's breath falls and releases. Fast, panicky. The whole world has narrowed down to the heart shape of Hikari's face.
"You might not have heard, Aonuma, but you can't trust Kajiura over here. She used to go around telling everyone that Kirigiri was her boyfriend just so she could keep him to herself."
Hikari giggles. "Isn't that the saddest thing you've ever heard? Poor Kajiura. I heard she's lying about going to Kyoto University as well. She doesn't even have the grades for it!"
A strangled noise wants to climb out of her throat but it keeps getting choked down. She can't look at Chizuru.
"So, you'd better be careful, Aonuma." Hikari giggles again. "Don't go near Kirigiri, Kajiura will bite your face off. With you being pretty and everything, I'm sure she's already just burning with–"
"Yo, Shinonome. Move. You're in the way."
Hikari's smile slips. She scowls at Yoshioka, who raises an eyebrow at her. Hikari turns back to wink at them Kazuha and Chizuru, and slips away.
"Was that true, Kazuha?"
All of Kazuha's frozen blood goes burning-hot in her veins.
Around them, the class has resumed their chatter. Kazuha's the only one who hasn't moved yet: anchored by her heavy limbs, and the gentle grip of Chizuru's hand around her wrist.
"Yeah," she says, to the middle distance. She tips her chin up, makes her voice resonate. "Guess it is."
Yoshioka snorts. Kazuha wishes she would leave.
"All of it?" Chizuru's voice is soft.
"Most of it."
"Hm." Chizuru taps her chin in thought. "She was awfully concerned about you, for someone who was so adamant that you were the jealous one."
Behind them, Yoshioka chokes out a laugh.
"Come on, robot girl," she says, as Kazuha stares at Chizuru in wonder. She yanks on Kazuha's arm. "Weren't we going up to the roof?"
She doesn't look back as Chizuru and Yoshioka lead her out of the classroom. She doesn't have to: the image of Hikari, her cute face and poisonous smile, the string of numbers over her head, are plastered in her memory.
“How unprepossessing,” Chizuru says, in what for her is a yell. She snaps her chopsticks and stabs at her bento. “To try and turn friends against each other. How juvenile. And she pretended she wanted to be friends! Hello, Kirigiri.”
“Yo,” Kirigiri says easily. He looks even more exhausted in the direct sun, his dark circles outlined against his tan. From Kazuha, he asks, “What are you talking about?”
“Eat your bread, hotshot.”
“Girl fight," Yoshioka tells him. "You wouldn't get it."
"Hm. Sounds hot.”
"I wasn't aware that she was such a snake in the grass. I wouldn't have spoken to her if I knew," says Chizuru.
Kazuha sighs. Might as well get this out of the way, even if it's like pulling teeth. She doesn’t know who she wants to be here less: Kirigiri, Chizuru, or Yoshioka. At least Yoshioka looks like she's having fun.
“Aaah,” Kirigiri goes back to his bread with a nod. “She’s still holding that grudge, huh. Girls sure are scary.”
"You're being weirdly chill about this, Kirigiri. Aren't you going to defend her honor? Beat up that little pint-sized chick?"
"What are you even doing here, Yoshioka."
"Eating your food. Gimme."
Kazuha blinks as Yoshioka lunges for Kirigiri. She hadn't known–were they close? They were in the same class after all, and they were both dumb jocks, and–
“I hope the roof doesn't bring up too many bad memories, Kazuha.”
Kazuha blinks at Chizuru. "Huh?"
It comes rushing back to Kazuha. The girl on the roof, her wistful smile. We built our world together, brick by brick.
Kazuha looks down at her hands. Then she looks at Kirigiri's timer.
"How's our school been so far, Aonuma?"
Kirigiri's voice startles her. Her eyes drop back down to his face. “I assume the studybot has been no help.”
“Kazuha's trying her best," Chizuru says, teasing.
Kirigiri finally releases Yoshioka from her chokehold. Kazuha's fists unclench around her skirt.
"Yeah, I'll bet," Kirigiri says. "You're sunstroke buddies, after all."
"That's not even remotely a thing."
"Have you decided if you're joining a club?" Yoshioka sits, cross-legged, across from them. "Don't let this boring study droid fool you, we have some good programs. Mostly for sports, though."
Chizuru shakes her head. "I feel it might not be worth trying to insert myself as a third-year into a club. Especially so late in the year."
She shrugs. "Fair. Though, speaking of joining clubs, those twins haven't shut up about wanting you to join ours, Kajiura."
"Why would I join track club."
"Well, I hear that you're running in the relay for sports day. You could just train with us in an unofficial kind of way. We can be cool about it. Come onnnn, Kajiura," she wheedles, when Kazuha makes a face. "We've all fallen for your cool and fleet-footed self. Throw us a bone."
"Clubs aren't really Kajiura's thing," Kirigiri says. "She thinks teamwork is a disease."
He finishes his bread and moves on to the extra melon bread that Kazuha had bought, carefully breaking it in two and handing the other half to Yoshioka.
"I was going to eat that," Kazuha snaps before she can catch herself.
Kirigiri's eyes flash with surprise.
A shrug from Yoshioka. "I'll tradesies you then."
Kazuha finds herself holding another piece of bread she has no intention of eating. She doesn't know what to do with it. Doesn't know why she's being weird.
Hikari's laughing voice, echoing, so loud it held the whole class in its tracks: she's a bit pathetic when it comes to Kirigiri, you know.
Kazuha digs her fingers into her palms. She feels a little crazy.
She leans over and bites off a chunk of bread that Kirigiri had raised to his mouth. Sitting back, she says, "You know what, Yoshioka. I might just take you up on that."
Yoshioka whoops. Chizuru is laughing. The fact that she's signed away her mornings is worth the expression on Kirigiri's face: dazed, lips parted, as if he was just kissed.
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