Ayumu couldn't help but notice Kagura being particularly depressed one day. What could she say? She was good at noticing people's emotions. But helping them with them was another matter entirely, and her peculiar way of speaking didn't help. She found people had trouble taking her seriously, even if she was dead serious. It rather annoyed her, honestly, but what could she do? She just resolved to do what she felt was right, and if people didn't take her seriously, then that was their problem. She meant the things she said. She rarely said things she didn't mean.

So Kagura was depressed. What could she do? Well, she could talk to her. Kagura was nice. Maybe she could trust Ayumu enough to open up to her? It was worth a try.

So after school, she caught her on the way out.

"Heya, Kagura."

"Oh. Hey, Osaka."

"Down in the dumps today?"

"Oh? Yeah. Yeah, I guess I am."

"Wanna talk about it?"

Kagura looked at her. She seemed sincere. At least, sincere enough. But could she really talk to her about what was bothering her? It was rather personal. Extremely personal, in fact. And kinda embarrassing. And not something she'd told anyone else. But if anyone in the class could possibly understand her, it might be Osaka.

"I guess." She took a deep breath. "Someone I love has started dating someone else."

"Oh." Ayumu's stomach turned a little.

"Yeah, and I feel awful. Like...I'm happy for her. She's with the person she loves the most. But...I dunno, it just hurts a lot. And I don't have anyone to blame but myself, really. For not pulling the trigger."

Don't I know how that feels, Ayumu thought. "I, I get that."

"Do you? Sorry, I never took you for..."

"A romantic type? I don't let on very much."

"You don't let it on at all."

"Yeah, anyway. You were sayin'...?"

"Right." Kagura sighed. "I dunno, it's like...I didn't do anything wrong. But it feels like I did. It's weird. At once I'm like, 'Oh, yeah, I guess this was to be expected, they were always meant to be together', and also like, 'I feel like I failed, because if I didn't fail, I'd be with her right now'."

This conversation was starting to hurt. Ayumu tried desperately to mask the emotions that were rapidly spiraling out of control. "Didn't you ask her out or somethin'?"

"Yeah. We went on a date, but..."

"But...?"

"It went well, I just...didn't ask her again. I don't know why. Maybe I just chickened out. I dunno. I've liked girls my whole life, you wouldn't think I'd be nervous about this sort of thing..."

I relate all too well. "I see."

"And by the time I got around to asking again, she..." Kagura looked away, her face clenched tightly, trying to suppress the crying, hiding her face with her hands. "She'd already started dating the person she belongs with. I don't know what I was thinking, disturbing fate."

"Ya weren't disturbin' fate, Kagura, you were just followin' your heart."

She made a face at her. "Come on, Osaka, you're telling me it's not fate Kaori was meant to be with Sakaki? I feel like I should be grateful I got even one date with her."

She asked Kaorin out? "Kaorin isn't the type to pity others," Ayumu responded gently. "If she said yes to a date, she probably meant it."

"I guess. I just..." She sighed. "I have to go work out now. Nyamo's probably been expecting me..."

"Oh, yeah, I guess so, huh?" Come on, Ayumu. Don't let her go that easily. "Hey, uh, Kagura?"

She turned. "Hm?"

"Uhh...wanna come by my place later? And uh...do school stuff?"

Seriously? That's the best you can do?

Kagura raised an eyebrow. "School stuff, eh? Even though we're both the worst in the class? Why don't we rope Tomo into this, too, at that rate?"

RED ALERT! "I don't want to see Tomo. For...for a bit."

*What's going on there?* Kagura thought. "Well, okay, sure. I'll see you in a couple of hours, then."

"Okay. See ya."


She thought Osaka was just giving her an excuse to hang out. After all, why else would she be in the Knuckleheads? Besides, it was Tomo's go-to excuse. But, somewhat surprisingly, Osaka actually wanted to do schoolwork, and equally surprising, their two brain cells put together were able to thump their way through the English and math homework for the day. They were halfway through science when Kagura decided to change the subject.

"So, what happened between you and Tomo?"

Ayumu stopped doing her molar calculations. "I don't wanna talk about it."

"So you literally brought me here to do schoolwork?"

"What in tarnation did you think I was gonna do?"

"I dunno, I'm just used to it being an excuse for something else?"

"Fair." She paused. "Tell you what, if we get this done, we can talk."

"Okay by me. Now, help me with this."

A few minutes later, chemistry done for the day, Ayumu flopped onto the floor. Kagura followed soon after.

"Sooooo..."

Sigh. "Okay, fine. Tomo and I went on a date, too."

"Wait...what?"

"Yeah."

"When? She and Yomi have been dating since-"

"Since a week ago, yeah," Ayumu replied tersely.

"Oh."

"It didn't go well."

"I'm sorry, Osaka."

"She just wanted to use me as a practice dummy!"

"Practice dummy?"

"Apparently, Tomo wanted a girl to practice goin' on a date with so she'd be ready for Yomi. And she chose me. And didn't tell me that it was a mock date. I thought it was the real thing...so she may have thought she was doing a mock date, but all she did was to make a mockery out of a girl who actually had feelings for her."

Kagura was kinda shocked. "That's...pretty callous. Even for Tomo."

Ayumu curled into a ball. "Apparently, she 'forgot' to tell me about it. She apologized, but...hoaaaah, it still hurts a lot."

"Yeah, I bet."

"Makes me feel like a joke. Well, more so than I already am."

"You're not a-"

"Oh, c'mon Kagura, you think I don't know how others talk about me?"

"I...yeah. I figured you were...I dunno, I was just trying to...ugh, I'm sorry. I'm just making things worse."

"No, it's okay." She rolled over to face the dark-skinned girl. "I know you're trying. I just feel...unloveable."

"That is so not true!"

"Then why are people so mean to me, Kagura?"

She thought for a minute. "Because you're different. Noticeably different. Everyone in our circle is different, but you're the most visably different, and people..." She chose her words carefully here. "People like you aren't expected to fit in with the labor system we have. So you're seen as expendable, and our society treats you as such."

"I feel expendable. I feel like I could disappear and nobody would notice."

"Same."

"But people would notice."

"Yeah, once the class started losing at sports. What do I have beyond that?"

"Maybe we aren't too different."

"Mm. Yeah."

"It's nice."

"What is?"

"Just lyin' here with you."

Kagura felt herself get warm in the face. "Oh, yeah."

"You, uh, doin' okay?"

"Me? Yeah. Why?"

"You've just been staring at me for the last five minutes."

"Oh." So she had. "Sorry."

"No, no, it's...it's okay, I kinda..." The smaller girl started fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. "I kinda like it."

"Me staring at you? I can do that more. In fact, I'd like to."

Ayumu blushed. Kagura had never seen her blush. "Do you think I'm pretty?"

"I, uh," she stuttered, flushing more, "Yes. I do. Very much. A lot." Okay, Gura, stop talking. "And, um, do you think I'm pretty?"

"Extremely."

The girls looked at each other for a hot minute in silence. "Hey, um," Kagura said quietly, "maybe...maybe you'd like to go on a date with me?"

"Me?"

"Yes, you, silly. Nobody else is here."

"But...me?"

"Yeah, you, what's so surprising about that?"

"Well...everything, really."

"Fair."

"Can we...can we treat this like our first date?"

Kagura nodded. "Does tomorrow evening work for you?"

"Yeah, that should."

"It's a date, then." Kagura smiled. "I can't wait."

"I...yeah, I can't either, wow..."

"I need to be getting home, Ayumu." She gave the girl a small peck on the forehead. "See you at school tomorrow."

Ayumu laid there for what felt like forever afterwards, unsure of what had just happened. But she knew that it was good.