The Last of Our Summers
Kazuha wakes up before her alarm goes off. It's nearly dusk. Tuesday, maybe.
Her room is a mess. She's been sleeping a lot lately, not doing much else. She needs to do something, fix something. This isn't her.
Her phone lights up with a call. She flips it over and gets out of bed; immediately trips over a pile of clothes. It's the dress she wore to the date that wasn't a date.
She sits back down, and tries her hardest to rip it. The material doesn't give easily: her hands strain and strain until the smallest tear forms under the stitching. She tears the rest methodically, then pushes the mangled dress into a bag and hides it in her cupboard.
There's more clothes on the floor. She swoops them all up and throws them into another bag.
The hallway is dark when she steps out of her room. The whole house is quiet.
She pads downstairs, then outside. It's a purplish dusk, the shadows of the trees that line the street melting into her own. She forgot to check what she looked like. What was she even wearing?
Why was she outside?
She looks down at her hands, and finds the bag of clothes. Right.
The laundromat isn't far from their house. The sidewalk is speckled with flecks of cool-toned sunset that filters through the gaps between buildings, and she makes a game of stepping around them. Her bag swings in her hand.
She passes Sugino's house. The lights inside are cheerful, a backdrop of warmth that the figures of her friend and her parents move through. As she watches, a Pomeranian leaps into Sugino's arms.
She moves on.
The sound of the ocean in her ears. Then, the taste of salt in her mouth. She rounds the corner and goes into the laundromat, not particularly looking around at anything, but she sees it anyway: a figure slumped near one of the machines, a timer over their head.
Kazuha looks away.
She unpacks her clothes. It's mostly baggy T shirts she stole from Natsuki's cupboards when he moved away. They fit her okay.
"You look like shit."
Kazuha has a good ear for voices. She recognizes this one.
"Pot, kettle. No knife today?" she asks, still unloading her bag.
The girl from the roof sits up. She's prettier than Kazuha remembers: the streak at the front of her hair is purple now, but she's wearing the same bomber jacket she'd been wearing over their uniform. As she moves, her joints creak, like a rusted machine.
"I could kill you without a knife," she says. "You do anything weird to Chizuru?"
The timer over her head says 00:00:11.
Kazuha snorts and turns back to her laundry. She picks a washing machine and begins to stuff her clothes in.
The girl scoffs. "Of course not. You're too chickenshit. Proper little straight girl."
"Mixed signals. Did you want me to make a move on her or not?"
"Aah." She slumps backwards. "I've had so many nightmares about that day. You're exactly this bitchy in all of them."
Kazuha snorts again. "Funny. You showed up with a knife but I forgot about you immediately."
"The knife wasn't a just a knife. It was my desperation."
"Ah. An artist."
"Shut the fuck up. What would you know."
"I know that showing up with a knife on the first day of school wouldn't make Chizuru love me." Kazuha puts her clothes down to count off, one by one. "I know that if you really had the guts to go through with it it wouldn't have been so easy to knock you down."
"I could try again, you know. Shove your head into one of these machines, let it spin."
Kazuha laughs out loud. She's tiny. Hikari-sized.
"Don't test me," says the girl, her fists curled.
"Don't test me. You think you're the only one here who knows how to turn on a washing machine?"
The air in the laundromat grows cooler. The girl narrows her eyes. "You're different." She cocks her head. "You're acting like me. Oh."
"What a shitty compliment."
"You fell in love for real, didn't you."
"As if some girl with a knife would know what love was."
"I keep telling you. That knife was my love." She stands up. Kazuha looks her in the eye as she approaches. "You should get it. Love is being able to pick a knife up when the alternative is letting go. Love is threatening to push someone's head in a washing machine."
"You're not in love, you're just afraid of letting go," Kazuha says. "Wasn't Chizuru just your childhood friend? Don't you know that friends drift apart?"
The girl laughs. It rings out sharply. "If you really believe that, then you're dumber than you look."
"The thing about falling in love with someone you grew up with is that you can't cut them out, ever, without cutting out a part of you. They were right there when you were learning about the world, and the world you learned about had to have them in it."
The dullness has left her eyes. Bright and cute, she clasps her hands together.
The timer over her head flickers. It resets: 00:00:10.
"Plenty of childhood friends drift apart."
"Yeah, and plenty of them get married. I think," the girl taps her chin, and Kazuha is briefly reminded of Chizuru doing the very same thing. "I think that someone's been projecting their own fears on you."
"You're more gullible than you look."
"I didn't think Chizuru would associate with someone stupid enough to think that you don't fight for love."
Kazuha raises an eyebrow. "You're telling me to find a knife?"
"Let's make one thing clear, I don't give a shit what you do. But I also think you're the type to roll over way too easily."
"Maybe I don't feel as intensely as you do. Maybe what I feel isn't a knife. Maybe it's a, I don't know. A firework. Bright, but gone the next second."
"Oh my god, you really are stupid."
"It's either of those things, dumbass. If you feel it, you know."
Kazuha swallows. She nods.
The girl goes back to her seat. The laundry machines rumble. It's almost night now.
The timer resets again: 00:00:10.
"Are you just gonna stay here forever, dumbass?"
Kazuha gestures at her clothes. She says, "What were you doing here, anyway. Aren't you from Setagaya, or wherever? Are you stalking Chizuru again?"
"I did, at first," the girl says, unabashed. "Then I went to the mall for a change and I kept seeing people our age. Couples and friends in groups. They were so loud."
Kazuha shifts. Something twinges in the back of her mind.
"Why did I hate them so much? I wanted to go up to them and say, I'm in love too. I wanted to look cool in front of them so I kept buying expensive things, but none of them were paying attention to me. In the end I pretended to get a phone call that was asking me to come somewhere, and I left."
Kazuha stays quiet. 00:00:10, reads the timer. It's been frozen for at least five minutes now.
"You think I'm crazy? That's not even the worst of it. I want to go home and sleep for a thousand years. Maybe I'll stop feeling so fucking tired even though I literally never do anything."
"I want to tear up my notebooks and make my father watch as I set them on fire. I want to be a shut-in and show my mother how bad it could really be. I want to stop wanting things, so I can stop trying to do things I can't do."
"Me too," Kazuha says, quiet.
The girl scoffs. "As if. I can smell an elite university kid a mile away."
"I don't think there's such a thing as elite university kids." Kazuha spreads her fingers and looks at the water-stained ceiling between them. "I think there's just kids who are hungrier for acceptance than others."
"Huh. Weird that you admitted that you're kind of pathetic. I thought you'd be above mortal emotion."
Kazuha gives her an ironic smile. "Below. My childhood friend calls me an android."
The girl hisses in a breath through her teeth, and then she's quiet for a beat. "What's their name?"
"You know that my childhood friend is Chizuru. What's yours called?"
Kazuha smiles to herself. "His name's Kazuha."
The girl nods. She stands up and stretches, her arms going up and then limply back down to her sides.
Her timer, stuck at ten minutes for a while now, flickers once, twice, and then blinks out.
"What are you going to do after this?" Kazuha finds herself asking.
She shrugs. "Probably going to take the train back. Slog through the rest of the year, get into a dinky little technical school, maybe. I'm good with my hands."
She leers at Kazuha. Kazuha leers back.
"And I guess I'll keep thinking about how even girls like you don't have their shit together either."
"Stop stalking Chizuru," Kazuha says, as the girl heads to the exit.
She laughs. "Maybe I will. Now that I know that I did all I could. And maybe I'll stop hanging around tall buildings so much."
"And by the way," she adds, her hands tucked into her jacket pockets, "there's been this weird light over your head for a while. Might want to get that checked out."
The door chimes cheerfully as she steps out into the night.
Kazuha nods to herself. The dryer beeps. The glass oval on the door reflects her tired eyes, her messy bangs and pallid skin, and a timer that glitches out and refuses to take shape.
She gathers all her clothes, and goes home.
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