Disclaimer: I do not own The Girl who Leapt through Time.

x: fifty-five

Don't Cry

"Auntie!" cried Makoto, brown eyes blazing in excitement. "Auntie, look at me!"

No response came. With a frown, Makoto dug her heels into the ground and pushed off on the swing. As she swung forward, she craned her head over the other kids, searching for her aunt.

Aunt Majo sat on a park bench on the opposite side of the playground. She appeared to be chatting with one of her co-workers.

"Auntie!" she tried again. Makoto's voice was smothered by the clamoring of other children running amok on the playground. Disappointed, Makoto decided not to call out again. Her aunt was a busy woman, always working at the museum—even on her days off. She was babysitting Makoto at the moment, since both of her parents were still at work even though Makoto had gotten out of school early. They weren't far from the museum. In fact, if she craned her head in another direction, she could catch a glimpse of the building from her spot on the swing.

Makoto pumped her stumpy, little legs, urging the swing higher. The blue sky seemed to leap down, teasingly, like a yo-yo, every time she ascended. Makoto laughed, sticking her arms out into the warm, summer air.

Suddenly, there was sharp pain at the back of her head. Her arms whipped back to the swing chains, tiny fingers clenching fitfully around solid metal. Makoto scraped the heels of her red shoes into the ground, wincing as every movement jerked the nerves on her skull. "Owowowowowow!" Wincing and whining, Makoto tried to tug her tangled brown hair out of the chains were it had gotten pinched. But pulling and tugging did nothing to help. It only hurt worse.

Makoto brought her clumsy fingers up toward the back of her head, but she couldn't reach up high enough on the chains to yank the chunk free. No one seemed to be paying her attention. None of the other kids bothered to help her, if any of them even noticed. Makoto peered desperately over at her aunt, who was now obscured by several parents playing with their children on the slides. "Auntie, help!" The plea fell on deaf ears.

With an aggravated growl, Makoto tugged her head again, but the pain was so fiery and acute that tears immediately sprang to her eyes. She couldn't cry. She wouldn't. Babies, like Miyuki, cried. Makoto was a big girl now and she wasn't going to cry over something stupid. She was ugly when she cried.

"It's going to hurt if you try yanking it out like that."

Makoto turned to see who it was, but wasn't able to. Her eyes were too watery, and her stupid hair wouldn't let her.

"How'd you get yourself in this mess, huh?" came the voice again, teasing. She hated when adults teased her.

Makoto, forced to face forward, glowered at her lap. "I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."

He laughed, and the sound reminded her of a songbird, or one of her aunt's paintings, but she didn't know why. "Okay," he conceded, "okay, but I wouldn't consider myself a stranger. I'm just trying to help."

"Then, help!" she retorted with an imperious sniff, more to hide her runny nose than to seem bratty.

The stranger moved closer until he was standing right behind her. "Are you crying?"

"No!" she shouted, mortified.

"Don't cry," he said softly, sounding strangely heartbroken. "Don't cry."

"I'm not crying!" she yelled at him.

"Okay, okay—relax." He sounded panicked as a couple of people looked over at the commotion she was making. "You're going to embarrass yourself."

"Go away, weirdo!"

"Hey!" He sounded offended. Then, he chuckled. "You sound just like—" He stopped. "Never mind. Let's untangle that hair."

Makoto tensed as his fingers made contact with her hair. He gently eased the long stubborn strands out from between the chain links. Makoto tried to turn again before he was finished, but ended up ripping out several tendrils. With a yelp, she faced forward, docile once more, to let him resume his ministrations.

"And there's the last one," he announced. Before she could turn to thank him—albeit unenthusiastically—he placed a hand on her shoulder, and leaned down. Makoto froze. "I bet you this kind of thing doesn't happen with short hair," he whispered.

Makoto grimaced, about to reply when the weight on her shoulder abruptly disappeared, the shadow on the ground disappearing with it. "Huh? HEY!"

"Makoto?" Aunt Majo waved from her post by the bench across the playground. "Makoto, it's time to go!"

Makoto dismounted from the swing and swiftly turned on her heel, but no one was there. She scanned the playground, but it was impossible to tell who might have helped her. Frowning, she ran out of the playground.

"Did you have fun?" asked her aunt the second she reached her side.

"Auntie, can you cut my hair? I want it short."

Aunt Majo blinked in surprise. "Why?"

"Because," said Makoto, tugging on her aunt's pencil skirt petulantly. As a kid, that was all the excuse she needed.

She never grew it out since.

"Hey, what was your name again?" Makoto asked, replacing her indoor shoes with her outdoor shoes.

He seemed perplexed. Flicking his eyes down the narrow walkway, he noticed all the other students switching out their shoes. It didn't take long for him to follow suit. "Mamiya, Chiaki," he repeated.

"Sorry," she said, although she really wasn't, "didn't catch it the first time in class. Sounded a little, you know, foreign."

"I'm not from here."

"Right, right," spouted Makoto. "Where did you say you were from?"


She gave him a look. "That's really specific." Without warning, the doors opened with a bang as several students clambered in for after-school activities. A burst of gusty winter wind hurtled like a bullet down the hall after them. "Yikes! It's freezing out there!" Suppressing a shudder, Makoto pulled a sweater over on top of her school uniform.

A sharp pain in the back of her head caused to her stop mid-pull-over. "Ouch!" she hissed, arms half through the sleeves, head cocked at an awkward angle. "Damn button!" She stubbornly wiggled her head through the hole. Knotted strands of hair snapped off of the topmost button of her sweater.

"It's going to hurt if you yank it like that," he remarked.

The words gave her pause—or was it the tone? the voice? She felt like she'd heard it somewhere before, but she couldn't, for the life of her, place it.

Makoto ignored the split brown pieces that drifted to the floor as she successfully put her head and arms through. She frowned, scrutinizing him. "What'd you say?"

He shook his head. "Never mind."

Makoto's musing came to an end as Kousuke appeared at the end of the hall. "Hey, ready to go, Makoto?"

"Yeah." She turned to Chiaki. "That's Kousuke. He's in the same class, too. Want to grab something to eat with us?"

Chiaki averted his eyes, for the first time seeming shy as opposed to surly. "Maybe next time."

"Oh, alright then. See ya."

It's going to hurt if...

She pushed the niggling sense of familiarity aside. After all, they'd obviously never met before.

A/N: So I know I've been AWOL for months. Since my last update, I've received a number of messages and reviews, and I'd just like to say thanks and assure you all that I'm not, in fact, dead. I've been living life in the fast lane, recently, and it hasn't bothered to slow down. But I've been itching to write for weeks! That spark of inspiration never took wing. Then, I went back and found some half-formed ideas in my folder and decided to just bang one out.

It's well past 3 am at the time I'm writing this, though I'll probably post this at some not-ungodly hour. (Eep, I hope it's decent.)

Thank you for reading! Feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated.