#22 – Ep
Epilogue — Summer Memories, Remaining after the Fireworks
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It was the nineteenth of August, the day of the evening fireworks festival at Enoshima. Sakuta arrived at the meeting place, Kugenumakaigan Station, and found Yuuma already waiting there.
They greeted each other.
Yuuma was clad in a yukata. Sakuta too was wearing a yukata too, both of them having been coerced by Rio saying that it would be embarrassing if she was the only one wearing one.
Sakuta’s was all-together reasonable, at eight-thousand yen. While he was at it he had bought Kaede one as well, and that had cost more so he would have to work more shifts for a while.
“Oh yeah, Koga-san really did switch shifts with you then,” said Yuuma, knowing that Sakuta had originally been scheduled to have a shift today.
“I’ll have to treat her to some parfait though,” he answered, deciding to tell her that they were eight-hundred Calories at the time.
“You’ve got a good friendship.”
While they were talking, a train came in to the platform from down the rails. The time for their scheduled meeting had already passed.
There were several passengers also wearing Yukata amongst the crowds coming from the ticket gates. Sakuta then spotted a familiar face bringing up the rear.
“Hey, Futaba!” Yuuma waved to tell her where they were.
She met their eyes and then looked right back down again. Even as far away as she was, they could see she’d gone red to her ears.
Rio approached with small steps, her eyes still downcast.
Her yukata was a plain yellow with a madder-red flower pattern. The sash was a soft yellow and cutely pulled the entire outfit together. She had her hair up, but was wearing her glasses, the navy-blue pouch in her hand tying the hues together.
“Futaba, you went back to glasses,” Yuma commented.
“D-does it look weird?” She asked, touching her finger to their frame and worrying about them.
“They go with your yukata, right, Sakuta?”
“It’s kinda sexy, right, Kunimi?”
“Well, you’re right there.”
“This is why I don’t like them,” Rio said disgustedly, but not as displeased as she’d have them believe.
They took a slow, ten-minute walk from the station and arrived on the beach just as the first fireworks were launched.
A beautiful flower bloomed in the sky, accompanied by a loud sound. As that vanished, the next firework light up the skies above Enoshima with vivid colours.
There were fireworks which arced over like the branches of a willow, fireworks that exploded into countless rings on top of each other, and as soon as each vanished, the next shone in its place…
Sakuta, Rio, and Yuuma all watched the fireworks in the skies, barely exchanging a word.
As the finale approached, a large spherical firework dyed the sky. Lighting the sea, Enoshima itself, and the Benten bridge.
The series of fireworks were impressive, and the sound passed through the sky as tremors.
“Kunimi,” Rio said quietly, her voice mixing with the sound.
Rio’s voice was then drowned out by the sound of the fireworks.
“What?” He asked, apparently, Yuuma couldn’t hear her either, so Rio moved next to his ear and spoke again.
She cupped both of her hands around her mouth and stretched up, whispering something into his ear. It was a short sentence, and Rio moved away in the time it took a set of fireworks to go off and fade away.
Rio immediately looked down and chewed at her lips in embarrassment. Her face was red, and clearly not from the light given off by the fireworks.
“Futaba, I-” Kunimi started, only to be interrupted by Rio.
“You don’t need to give me a reply, I already know.”
“If you said anything, I think I’d cry,” she admitted.
“Sakuta can lend you his sleeve if you do.”
“You can blow your nose if you want to,” said Sakuta.
“Morons,” she said, looking at Sakuta and laughing, then looking at Yuuma and doing the same. She then grabbed Sakuta’s arm in her right hand and Yuuma’s in her left and pulled them tightly to herself as she looked up at the fireworks.
Both of them let out simultaneous noises of surprise at her unexpected action.
“I’m sure I’m the only one,” she said.
“The only one that can watch the fireworks between you two.”
There were tears gathering in the corners of her eyes, but she was smiling, so Sakuta didn’t say a word and returned his gaze to the sky, Yuuma doing the same.
A large flower burst into being in the night sky over Enoshima, the light burning itself into their eyes, as a memory that would never fade… as a memory the three would one day look back on fondly as their second summer at high school…
Then ten or so days after that which remained of the summer holidays passed by peacefully.
The dating ban was still in effect, so Sakuta couldn’t go out with Mai, and the amount of work she had meant that they couldn’t meet anyway.
With nothing else to do, Sakuta buried himself in his own work, sometimes going to school and visiting the physics lab to chat with Rio. She had said he was getting in the way of her club activities and not to come, but he just ignored that.
The summer holiday, which should have been long, soon ended like this. It was the thirty-first of August, and Shouko came to visit with her parents that morning. Shouko’s condition had improved so she was discharged two days prior, and they had come to collect Hayate.
Nasuno saw them to the entrance and gave a lonely meow. Kaede was much the same as she peeked out from the living room, but still waved and gave a final farewell.
This was a good thing, so they had to be happy.
As they left, Sakuta saw them down to the bottom of the building.
“Um, Sakuta-san?” Shouko spoke somewhat nervously.
“U-uhmm…” Their eyes met, and Shouko looked away, which was rather unlike her. She looked down slightly and her cheeks grew slightly red. “Could I come over again sometime?”
Regardless of her embarrassment, she still looked up at Sakuta and asked straightforwardly.
“Sure, you can bring Hayate too, Kaede and Nasuno will be happy too.”
“Will you be happy too?”
Sakuta gave no answer.
“Sorry, I asked something weird…”
Sakuta put his hand on to her head as she shrunk in on herself and went red.
“Come again,” he said.
“I will!” She answered energetically as she looked up, even as embarrassed as she was. She then smiled and waved and left with her parents.
“Well, it’s fine,” said Sakuta to himself as he thought on how he still didn’t know about the Shouko he met two years ago, but still watched her as she left happily.
The next day was the first of September, and the start of the long-dreaded second school term.
The summer heat was awful, but Sakuta headed to school regardless. He would be able to see Mai there, so that had become his driving force.
Yuuma and Rio were both on the Enoden Fujisawa platform. It was rare for them to all be there at the same time.
They all greeted. Rio had her glasses on and her hair up, giving an intellectual, adult image, and seeming slightly refined.
“What are you staring at?” She asked to stop him, but she had probably realised why, so he decided not to mention it.
“Did you do your homework?” He asked instead.
“That’s just like you to ask when the holidays are already over.”
As they talked, the retro-styled train pulled into the station, and Sakuta enjoyed the nostalgic trip into school as the second term started.
Rio boarded by the back door, Sakuta and Yuuma following her. As they did, Sakuta felt a gaze on him from Yuuma’s girlfriend at the next door. Their eyes met and she turned away immediately.
“You still fighting?” Asked Sakuta.
“It’s a cold war,” Yuuma answered, a troubled expression on his face.
“You go that way then,” said Rio, using her small body to push Yuuma’s larger one.
“You haven’t given us a reason, so it’s because of one of us, right?”
“Ahh, well,” Yuuma said, not replying immediately but looking chagrined. Sakuta realised as well.
“What happened?” He asked.
“Well, she sort of… deleted you from my contacts.”
“Me and Futaba?”
“Nah, just you.”
“You should hurry up and make up,” said Rio, despite her own lack of involvement.
“But, you know.”
“If you stay like that, my resolve will weaken,” she warned him.
“Man, I can’t stand against that,” Yuuma replied, seeming to make up his mind and leaving from the door, getting on at the next one before the train left and moving next to Saki and started talking to Saki. Saki seemed somewhat confused, but after a while smiled happily, looking relieved.
Rio didn’t seem to want to see their happy conversation and used Sakuta as a wall as she leaned against the door to hide herself.
“You could have just let it be,” Sakuta told her.
“This is fine. If we became boyfriend and girlfriend, that only lasts until we break up.”
Sakuta waited for her to continue.
“I want something that lasts longer.”
“Wow, you’re an awful loser.”
“Shut it,” she said, pouting childishly. It was the first time Sakuta had seen such an expression from her. It would probably take her a while longer to sort out her feelings, but this was fine for now, because that was how she felt…
The short four-carriage train trundled slowly off today as well.
The opening ceremony attended by all of the roughly thousand students at the school spoke of the heat itself with the sheer number of students carrying fans.
Even the headmaster’s greeting was accompanied by the fluttering of the tanned students fanning themselves. The teachers didn’t stop them either, someone collapsing because of heatstroke would be an issue.
Sakuta’s gaze wandered as the head’s speech entered its fifth minute with no sign of stopping, focusing on the third-years, where Mai’s class was.
However, he couldn’t spot Mai at all.
Yesterday evening had seen a call from her where she had said they would be able to see each other today so he had been looking forward to it, but she didn’t seem to have arrived yet.
When the opening address finished, each class had homeroom. Sakuta’s teacher started with, “Well, just ease in.”, which Sakuta didn’t really get. It was probably just to match with the lack of motivation the students would have just after the holiday.
Sakuta picked up his bag and left the classroom, heading up to the third floor, the third-year’s floor.
He looked in on the class that was still going through homeroom.
Mai definitely wasn’t there, her seat was open and her bag wasn’t there, so she wasn’t at school.
Sakuta went down to the first floor to use the payphones to check, moving to the office in a corner of the school.
Sakuta put a ten yen coin into the phone that was probably only used by him and dialled the number.
It didn’t connect, and the voicemail answered it after ten rings.
“Uh, it’s Sakuta. I called because it didn’t look like you’re at school, I’m going to go home for now.” Sakuta left a message and put the phone down, letting out a breath.
Having been sure he could see her today, his disappointment was huge.
“Well, I can get just as big a reward in return,” he told himself, thinking optimistically as he headed home.
He rode the train from Shichirigahama Station for about fifteen minutes and alighted at Fujisawa station before walking for about ten minutes and arriving outside his building.
He stopped in front of the building and looked up at the opposite one, where Mai lived.
As he worried about whether he should call her on the intercom, the auto-locking doors opened and someone walked out.
It was Mai.
Sakuta met her eyes and she blinked twice, but she looked away unconcernedly and went to walk past.
“Mai-san?” He called, putting a hand on her shoulder.
When he did, she shook off his hand and whirled around to look at him guardedly as she observed him.
“Eh, what?” He asked, with a disquiet within him at this strangeness. This was definitely Mai, but she seemed like a different person.
“Who are you?” She asked.
“Huh?” He answered, not having realised what she had asked at first.
“I asked who are you?” She said bluntly. Not at all like her usual relaxed demeanour. Her gaze was quizzical and didn’t hide her distrust. She really did seem like a different person.
They’d only just dealt with Rio’s incident, had another doppelgänger appeared?
“As you are aware, I am Azusagawa Sakuta, in a pure and loving relationship with your good self, Mai-san,” he said, his voice full of sarcasm.
“Huh? There’s no way a dead-eyed guy like you would be Onee-chan’s boyfriend,” she said as if talking to a fool.
“Huh?” He replied unintentionally. Mai had just said ‘Onee-chan’, maybe she was a younger twin? No, when they had spoken about siblings, he had asked Mai before and she had said that she had a younger sister she had a slightly complicated relationship with. Mai’s father had divorced her mother and left them before remarrying another woman and having a daughter with her. A younger sister from another mother, they weren’t twins and they shouldn’t even be the same age, it was nearly impossible they would look identical.
However, then what other possibility was there? He didn’t have the slightest idea.
But because of that, “Who are you?” was the only thing that he could ask…