Tomo was heaving as she tore through the park towards the forest. She wasn't thinking about anything but survival. Her back stung so bad. Her vision was blurring, which she wasn't sure was from pain or blood loss, or both. The hiking pack filled with most of her stuff was pressing against the wounds, making the pain worse. The forest was dark, but for now, the forest would be safe. She could hear the screams of her dad still in her head, and her adrenaline was so heightened that she half-suspected him around any corner now.

Then she ran right into something.


"Who's...who's there?" she said, pulling out a kitchen knife she had stolen. A small creature lay huddled on the ground, a small person. They were sobbing.

"Who are you?"

"It's Kaorin."

"Kao-oh God. Oh, God, they found out, didn't they?"

"Yeah, yeah they did. Tomo, they, they threatened to kill me, I-"

"Shhh, sh sh sh," Tomo said, holding the small girl as best she could. She wanted to scream for mercy as the pack dragged against her wounds.

"Wh-where are you going?" Kaorin asked, noticing Tomo's pack.

"Yomi's. Only place I know. Where are you going?"

"Away. Far away. I don't know."

"Come with me for now."

"Th-thank you, Tomo."

"You're going to university up north, yeah?"

"Y-yeah, I mean, I was going to, I don't know now."

"You should."

"I don't want to leave-" She stopped mid-sentence.


Kaorin put on a resolute face. "An old high-school crush."

Tomo had a dark look. "Mm. You're not fooling me."

Kaorin turned beet red with embarrassment and frustration. "My parents just threatened to kill me because I-"

"They know about Sakaki?" Tomo said sternly.

"N-no, thank God."

"How did they find out?"

"I told them. Stupidly."

"You just told them 'I like girls'?"

"No, dumbass, they prodded me about it, and instead of lying I told them the truth. What happened to you?"

"Dad got drunk again. For the last time with me around, for all I care."

"It looks like you got into a fight with an Iriomote cat."

"It feels like it too. My back feels like Satan himself flayed me alive."

"Jesus Christ, Tomo, that's...that's a lot of blood!" exclaimed Kaorin as Tomo took off her pack.

"Yeah, it is. Broken glass 'ain't nothin' to sneeze at', as Osaka would say. Anyway, Sakaki is just an old crush, eh?"

Kaorin seemed...slightly more willing to talk about it now that she knew Tomo was a safe person to talk to. She sighed and then said, "I don't know, Tomo. I mean, it feels like the answer I should say."

"Because you're not supposed to like girls."


"How do you actually feel about her?"

"I...I love her. So much. All those chances I had to tell her..."

"You'll have more. Not for a while, but you'll have more. The summer reunion, remember?"

"We graduated a month ago, Tomo. That won't be for another year."

"I didn't say soon."

"You can't tell her."

"Tell her what?"

"That I love her."

Tomo looked at her through the tears and sweat, and said firmly, "Not a word."

Suddenly they heard a *crunch*.

"Let's get out of here," Tomo suggested.

"Yeah, let's."

They got out of the forest and found the nearest road, walking the very short distance to Yomi's house.

Who in the hell could be knocking at this hour? Yomi thought, interrupted by seeing the two girls on her doorstep.

"Oh my God," she said. "So this is what you meant when you said you were going to run only one more time."

"Just, Yomi, I'm about to faint," Tomo drawled.

"Yeah, okay, let's get you laying down and rehydrated," she said. She moved like it was the end of the world. Futons came out for the both of them. Yomi didn't even question Kaorin being there. She was singularly focused on Tomo.

"Hey," Tomo said to Kaorin, "I'm about to pass out."


"Before I forget..." She scrawled something that looked like numbers on her arm. "Write that down. It''s Sakaki's number. I care about you two too much to see you drift apart." She grabbed Kaorin's shoulder, squinted through her stinging eyes, and said, "Run. Go north. I'll help you when I'm...when I'm better." And then she stumbled inside the house, heading straight for Yomi's room before collapsing.

Kaorin took a deep breath, then stepped over the threshold towards a new life.