Chapter 36:

"All Along the School Rooftop"

Vibrancy x Vibrancy

I 100% want to see the fireworks with Shizuko, so we skip the festival, skip the target shooting and the goldfish and the bonfire and the stalls, but a moment at the Taiko drums catches my attention. Up on the stage where Shizuko was once struck down, a roving band of men play the huge bands of taiko drums, sweat dripping down their faces. And who else is among them but a heavily tanned Johnson, no doubt propped up on sake, his shirt off, pounding a drum like there’s no tomorrow. The crowd cheers for him and I can’t help but cheer for him, too.

We leave Johnson to the time of his life and head down a maze of side streets, into darkness. Shizuko pulls me by the hand as we arrive at Soga Regional High School. Even though it’s no different than the copy-pasted schools elsewhere in Japan, it still looks foreboding, deep in the heart of industrial country.

After making sure the coast is clear, Shizuko slips over the school fence and lands on the inside. I didn’t know we’d be breaking into a school tonight, but with everyone distracted by the festival (and by what happened right before), I think we’ll be okay. I slip in after her, landing on the asphalt courtyard inside. I follow her up an emergency set of stairs, the metal lightly groaning beneath our steps, as we ascend upwards towards the roof.

“This is the first time I’ve been back here since I graduated,” Shizuko whispers, the spiral staircase twirling above me. “I swore I’d never come back. But something inspired me. Once I got to Soga, I remembered a bunch of good memories. Ume and I once watched the fireworks up here during our second year.”

I chuckle. “Ume said something along similar lines. About a little thing suddenly making a memory appear in her mind.”

Shizuko runs a hand along the railing. “I guess the past is good and bad. You can’t have one without the other.”

At the top, we climb over one more fence, and we’re on the school roof. I’m instantly taken into a memory myself - one of Suga and I standing up on our school roof, the sunset at our backs, the Class Prez calling for us from down below. But I push that memory away, another tomorrow problem, because right now I’m drunk on pure Shizuko. We stand at the edge of the roof, hands on the railing, looking out into Soga. Down below, we can see the lights of the festival, the distant beating of Johnson on the taiko drum. It’s a quiet, methodical rhythm, and perhaps our heartbeats slow to match it.

Heartbeats. Heart to heart, one to one. I slip my hand over hers on the railing. Her hip is against my hip, her shoulder against my shoulder, and she’s leaning into me now, her weight against mine, and the city lights offer us a sea of stars down below.

Everything swirls. Because she’s here, because we’re here, because everything right now is undeniably real and intoxicating. I’m here in Yoshiaki, I’m here on the Soga school rooftop, she’s next to me, her soft touch is real, the pleasant look on her face is real, the warmth of her fingertips is real.

"I'm glad I made it back to Soga," Shizuko says into the night sky. "Thank you, Shunsuke."

"You made the decision to come here. I was just along for the ride."

"But you're the one who got me started."

Shizuko turns to face me right as the fireworks start. Their glow illuminates her face in a technicolor rainbow; my god, she’s beautiful. You don’t need words for a moment like this. I must be giving her a goofy smile, because she leans in to shut me up, so I of course have to match her, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. One to one, heart to heart, lips to lips.

Against that backdrop of fireworks, we kiss.

And I could tell you a whole lot about that kiss. About the way the light danced on her face, about the way I held the back of her yukata, about the way she utterly inspires me, about how everything about her is beautiful, from the nape of her neck to the small of her back, about her summer scent, about tongues and fingers intertwined, but truth be told, there was only one single thought on my mind at that moment. One single thought that braved the current of an emotional firestorm, one single thought that made it through all the physical sensations and internal and external fireworks.

It went a little something like-



Steward McOy