Epilogue: Bleak Horizons and Kitchen Surprises

Two miserable weeks passed by, slow and painful. The house was hauntingly empty without the Akatsuki's presence. Jaye, like her mother, incorporated her sorrow into her work, and spent several days shut up in her room finishing various summer projects that she had to complete. Clari wandered through the halls of her empty home, practically stifling a sob every time she walked by a place that reminded her of the Akatsuki. She did this a lot. Lily tried her best to cheer the girls up, but soon saw that only time (or a call from the Akatsuki) would heal them. She went back into work.

Eventually the girls started their junior year of high school. This did little to ease the pain of their loss. Clari kept her cell phone with her at all times. September passed in a meaningless gray blur.

There was no sign of the Akatsuki.

As they headed into October, the girls faced the fact that they would have to move on. They did their best, but they couldn't seem to completely erase the depression that overtook the house. Without a phone call, what assurance did they have that it wasn't all a dream?

One Saturday morning, Jaye heard her cell phone beep. She had a habit of never answering her texts or voice mail, so no one ever really contacted her. As you can imagine, this tone from her cell phone surprised her. She lunged for it frantically, knocking down several things from her dresser. Including two baseballs. She still hadn't picked those up.

"Hello?" she said breathlessly. Only to realize that it was a text she'd received. She checked her inbox. The message was from Ryan. Mall l8r?

Jaye sighed. She'd blown Ryan off frequently since the Akatsuki left. Ryan had surely realized that something was up and would probably do something about it soon. But Jaye couldn't bring herself to go to the mall today. She doubted Clari would want to either. Can't, Ry. Busy.

Ryan replied several minutes later. Ooof course u r.


Whatev. I'll just ask Seth. Jaye knew not to reply. Ryan had been "asking Seth" a lot lately. She wouldn't be surprised if they started dating soon. Perhaps they already were. Not like she would know. She laid back down, clutching the phone in her hand. Bear looked at her with concern. Everyone looked at her with concern, except Clari.

"I know," Jaye said, petting his head. "Next time I'll go. Okay?"

She could almost see Bear rolling his eyes. Right. That's what you said last time, and the time before that, and the time before that...

Clari walked in. She'd changed a lot in a month in a half. Lost some weight. Gotten paler. But what bothered Jaye most was that she hadn't dyed her hair. It was still red streaks, as it was when the Akatsuki left. It was the longest she'd ever kept a color the same. She was somehow...off. Not haggard, exactly, but close to it. Jaye knew she looked similarly.

Behind Clari came Lily. She'd been sad for the first week or so, but she got on with her life. Lily steered Clari into Jaye's catastrophic room and sat her down on the bed.

"Girls," Lily said sternly. "You've been moping long enough. It's been a month. They'll contact you soon, or they won't contact you at all. You can't behave like this any more."

They nodded.

But Lily wasn't through. "Do you think they're wallowing around like widows? No! They're starting new missions and things. Continuing on with their lives. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes," the girls said.

"Good. I want to start seeing some life around this house again. Go to the movies with Ryan. Get your jobs back. Do something or I will get you a therapist."

Jaye scoffed at this. "And tell them what? We're depressed because our friends from another world left us? We'll be locked in a rubber room."

"Well, if that's what it takes to get you back, then so be it," Lily declared. She wheeled around and marched out of the room. Clari winced as the front door slammed several minutes later.

"Did Ryan text you?" she asked.

"Yes," Jaye replied.

"Give her the busy excuse?"

"Yeah. You?"

Clari nodded. "Should we text her back?"

"No. Not today. Next time."

"Okay." The sat there for several long minutes. Jaye's stomach growled as the smell of coffee wafted through the house. They walked downstairs and entered the kitchen to get some breakfast.

Konan was there, pouring herself a cup of coffee. She turned and smiled. "Hello, girls."

They gaped at her for a moment. Someone tapped on Clari's shoulder. With a lingering look at Konan, she wheeled around to see none other than the Akatsuki leader himself. "Excuse me, but I would like to get some coffee."

"PEIN!" she squealed, barreling into him. Jaye soon joined their group hug. "What are you doing here?"

"Didn't we tell you? Itachi found the thread without a time difference. Now we can come whenever we want," Konan explained. Clari and Jaye gave her a hug too. It was like a weight had been taken off their shoulders, being able to see someone from the Akatsuki again. It was as if this solidified their stories, made them concrete. They were here, they were real, and they weren't a figment of the girls' imagination. Everything, it had actually happened.

"Of course you didn't tell us! We haven't heard from you since you left!" Jaye accused.

"That's because you didn't show us how to work the phone properly," Pein said. He handed them the silver device. "Perhaps you should teach us while we're here."

"How long are you staying? Where's everyone else?"

"We plan to stay for a day or two. It's only us for now. Don't worry, I'm sure you'll get someone else here soon," Pein said, rolling his eyes.

Clari and Jaye just looked at each other and smiled.