Chapter 13:

54 Days Till the End of Summer (3)

The Last of Our Summers

The twins show up at the class as soon as the bell rings. “Senpai!”

Kazuha shoots one last pleading glance to Chizuru, who curves a smile back at her and lifts her eyes away. I don't want to go, she mouths, but Chizuru pretends not to notice that, either.

“Hinata, Momoko,” Chizuru says. “Which of you is which.”

The twins beam at her. “I’m Hinata! I have a mole under my right eye!”

“I’m Momoko! I have one too, but mine gets covered with foundation!”

“You shouldn’t be wearing makeup at all."

“Oooh, Senpai takes the rules seriously! That's so cool!"

Kazuha nods along with them. "You're so cool, Chizuru."

“It’s called the privilege of being pretty, Senpai! We could never.”

“Excuse you," Chizuru says, flustered, as they giggle at her. “You girls are being very rude. Aren't we the Saved by Kazuha club? Where's the solidarity?”

“Let’s go,” Kazuha says loudly right as they begin to open their mouths.

The twins exchange looks. Their identical grin makes them look like one big, moe Cheshire cat.

“Okay!” they sing.


Kazuha follows in their wake as they leave the school, walking alongside Chizuru. All four of them keep getting soggy leaves stuck on their shoes and making faces, but it gets funny after a while, especially with the twins cheerfully slushing into puddles.

“So,” says Chizuru. “How long have you been playing violin? Don’t give me that look,” she complains, when Kazuha says geh. “You’re so cool and mysterious, Kazuha, tell us your secrets.”

“What about you then,” Kazuha counters, indignant. “You just came down from a cloud one day, huh?”

Chizuru pouts. “I told you. I went to Catholic school. We didn’t get up to much back there, nothing to talk about.”

The twins pause, and lead them inside a brightly-lit café entrance. It's one that Kazuha's seen everyday as she cycled to school, and had vaguely thought about going once or twice. She felt too awkward to go in alone, though.

She looks around with great interest as they go inside. The interior reminds Kazuha of a dollhouse—it’s painted in pastel blues and pinks, with everything including the lighting fixtures to the furniture accented in white. Keeping with the aesthetic, the chairs look a little flimsy—if Kazuha falls down today, it’ll be in the name of cuteness.

She's never been in places that valued aesthetic over purpose before.

She tunes back into the conversation.

"Did you have a boyfriend in your Catholic school, Senpai?" one of the twins is asking Chizuru.

Chizuru goes very still.

"Or any kind of partner," the other twin amends. "We don't judge. In fact, that'd be better!"


The twins exchange looks. Over the table, their hands clasp together and they chirp, "We gave it a lot of thought, but we think Kajiura x Aonuma is the real ship."

Kazuha feels feverish. "The what now."

"Saving you from passing out from heatstroke isn't as romantic as, I don't know, saving you from a car crash, but we can work with it!"

"I did have a partner," Chizuru cuts in, in the vein of someone throwing themselves under a bus. "We had to break up before I moved here. So. No romantic overtures here, I'm afraid."

Kazuha studies her carefully, but Chizuru's looking right ahead.

The twins seem to wilt. "What happened?"

"My parents had to move, theirs didn't. Pretty simple, really."

"We're sorry," the twins chime.

"It's alright. First loves never work out, anyway."

First love, Kazuha thinks. She thinks of the girl on the roof, bereft and weeping.

Then, out of nowhere, she thinks of the last day of middle school. The giddy panic of it, knowing that she had made it into the same high school her brother went to, and high school stretched before her like a road paved with gold. Looking across the ground and catching Kirigiri's eye. He had shot her a grin across the crowd, blinding and brilliant, and it had felt like elements piling together, a ten-car-pileup.

Elated, grinning back, she remembers thinking hey, look at him. 

"Ai x Kazuha is a no go," the twins are saying. "So sad."

"Why not?" asks Chizuru.

"Well, it might mean Ai and Kirigiri-senpai, which already sailed." They pout. "It was such a shock to think Ai liked boys. How pedestrian."

"Already sailed?"

"Well, their relationship didn't work out, right?"

Kazuha blinks. Her fingers claw the table.

"What relationship," it's Chizuru who asks, her voice flat and toneless.

The twins look at each other. "You must not have heard because you're still new, Senpai. Ai and Kirigiri used to go out with each other."

Kazuha stands up. "Restroom," she says. She slips away from the table.

There are three unoccupied stalls in the ladies', and Kazuha hides in one of them. Her hands fumble on the lock.

She barely hears the door of the restroom open again. The thudding is too loud in her ears.

"I told them their precious Ai had a thing for Mr. Narumaki," comes Chizuru's voice. "Let's see Yoshioka try to deny that."

It's funny in a mean kind of way. Kazuha tries to laugh, but the air gets stuck in her throat.

“I wish I had you to back me up," is what comes out of her mouth. “Back in middle school.”

The sound of running water. She must have turned a tap on. She says, softly, “Kazuha?”

“There was a girl in my class,” Kazuha rattles off. “She really liked Kirigiri, so she asked me if he had a girlfriend. I don’t really know what I was thinking—maybe I was jealous? She was my best friend back then. But anyway, I said that he did. That we were dating.”

“Of course, they found out,” Kazuha says, a dry laugh falling out of her mouth like hard coins. “It was bad. Mostly because I couldn’t even explain to myself why I lied, and I think that no one really believed that I didn’t do it because I disliked her, or liked Kirigiri myself.” She exhales. “And the worst part is, I still don’t know what Kirigiri thought back then.”

“By any chance, was that girl Shinonome?”

Kazuha doesn't say anything.

“Thought so.”

"She's right, you know. I do get weird about him."

"Do you want to go now?" the sound of the hand dryer coming on. "I can get my frappe to go. I feel like we don't need to be here for this."

Relief floods Kazuha's heart, makes her knees go jittery. "Yeah," she says. She finally gets the courage to unlock the door, meeting Chizuru's eye. "I'd like that."


On the way home in Chizuru's scary famous-people car, she asks about the teachers.

“They're alright,” Kazuha says. “Ms. Sawatani’s got projection issues but she can articulate things really well. Mr. Narumaki’s the one you’ve go to watch out for.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, there’s only so many times you can talk about your university choices.”

"He encourages you to go to Kyoto?"

"Opposite, actually. He thinks I'm doing it to prove I'm as good as my brother." Kazuha pauses. She looks down at her nails. Though they're even now, she used to be a horrible nail-biter as a child. The urge comes back from time to time.

She says, "He might be right."

"You don't really want to go?"

"I think I just want to be at peace."

The car draws up to Kazuha's house. She hadn't even needed to give directions this time.

The house is empty, as usual. Natsuki must be at work. Kazuha digs out more popsicles from the fridge as Chizuru goes upstairs.

Kazuha finds Chizuru with her legs curled under her, leaning against the bed. She looks jarringly lovely, among all the utilitarian things in her room. She looks at home.

When she sits down across from her, Chizuru says, “My first choice is Nagoya. My mother doesn't approve."

“That’s where Kirigiri’s going as well.”

“How surprising.”

Silence. Kazuha unwraps her popsicle and finds that it's blue.

"What flavor is that supposed to be?"

"Blue, I suppose?" Then, without permission from her brain, her mouth says, "Kirigiri has a timer."

Chizuru stills.

"It's counting down till the end of summer break."

After a beat, Chizuru nods. Her expression has cycled from shock to sympathy to a grim sort of determination.

"That means you have time to stop it."

"But what do I do?" it falls out of her as a yelp, like she's been hurt. "I already asked his mom if he might have like a, I don't know, some kind of weird undetected disease, and I'm pretty sure that's not it. But if it's an accident does that mean I have to be at exactly the right place at the right time? How would I even guarantee that? I don't know anything about what he does. I didn't even know he and Yoshioka used to date."

“Here, let me,” Chizuru says, and shifts.

Kazuha moves out of her way in confusion, and then Chizuru’s hands come to her shoulders and press down.

“I’m good at this,” Chizuru says. “Massages.”

Kazuha stays still. There’s no noise in her room apart from both of their breathing. Chizuru’s hands are gentle and strong.

“Are we friends, Kazuha?”

Kazuha tenses. Her fingers curl on the hem of her skirt. “Would you like us to be?”

“Yes,” her hands move Kazuha’s hair aside, and press on the tops of her shoulders. “I’d like that very much.”

Kazuha lets out a long breath. “I’d like it too.”

"Then that means you have to listen to me. Especially when I say that you and Kirigiri are very bad friends." Chizuru cuts off Kazuha's surprised noise. "I know you have too much going on, and he seems to have a fair bit on his mind too. But maybe this is a sign that you both need to talk to each other."

She continues, softer now, "When you've known each other for a very long time, you stop noticing the cracks in your relationship, the things that are making you drift apart."

Kazuha's quiet. She thinks of the girl on the roof again.

The silence stretches. Kazuha loses track of time.

“Done,” Chizuru murmurs, and shifts back to her original sitting position. Kazuha murmurs her dazed thanks.

"And about your timer conundrum. Was I mistaken, or didn't Sugino's mother offer some insight?"

"Right," Kazuha says, remembering. "She gave me a research paper, but it wasn't very helpful. It was about people who could predict others' deaths, but it was passed off as some weird brain chemicals thing. It was done by a group of psychology doctoral students, anyway. The sample size was too small to draw any real conclusions."

"Was there anything else? Forget the sample size thing."

Kazuha opens her mouth to protest, but a look from Chizuru silences her. Grudgingly she admits, "They noticed that the more convincing cases had something in common. It was just two people, though, so can you really--"

"What was it?"

"Well, it looked like both of them had a near-death experience before they began to do these predictions or whatever. It sounds like some unscientific internet psychology--"

"And? Why did that stand out to you, Kazuha?"

Kazuha scowls. "Because I think I kind of had one too."

Chizuru's mouth opens in a perfect O. "What do you mean?"

Water in her lungs, sharp, unvarnished pain. The waves catching the sun, dappled and perfect. Kirigiri: desperation writ large on his familiar face.

"Right before midterms, before you moved here, I nearly drowned in the ocean. It wasn't a big deal, though. Kirigiri pulled me to shore basically immediately. But," she bites her lip. "I guess I did technically die for a few seconds."

"So that's it! That's why you're seeing those strange timers."

"Yeah, maybe."

"You sound unconvinced."

Kazuha shrugs. There's a forgotten fear rising in her throat. "I'm not worried about why it's happening. I don't even know if me seeing them is going to be any help to anyone. What if I see it, and I don't manage to stop whatever happens?"

Chizuru looks at her. Then she slowly reaches out, cups Kazuha's cheeks.

"It'll be alright," she says softly. "You can do anything you set your mind to, Kazuha. You're incredible."

The fear-soaked adrenaline fades from her bloodstream. Chizuru's eyes are lovely, gentle.

She doesn't trust herself but she trusts Chizuru. She's never trusted anyone more.

"Okay," Kazuha finds herself breathing. "Okay, then."

Haru Yumera
Steward McOy
Xan Ti
Kya Hon