Kagura opened her eyes. With steely determination, she forced herself to look at the numbers. She didn't want to think about what she would do if she couldn't find her number on the list.
Thankfully, she didn't have to. There, about halfway down, was her number.
Sheer relief flooded through Kagura, to the point where she almost collapsed then and there. She had made it. She was going to school. She was swimming. Two of things she was most worried about where now checked off, secured. She sprinted off, ready to share the news with anyone and everyone she came in contact with.
The first place she went was the pool. It was the natural choice, since she knew Nyamo would be there. Without a doubt, the swimming coach stood on the pool deck, watching as the team did laps. She heard the gate swing open and slam close, and she saw a very excited Kagura sprinting up to her. Bracing herself, Nyamo caught Kagura as the athlete pulled her into a bear hug.
With a laugh, Nyamo said, "I take it you got in."
"Coach! I did it! I'm going to college, and I get to swim too!"
"Congratulations, Kagura. I'm proud of you."
"Thank you so much, Coach. I honestly don't think I could have done it without you."
"Don't thank just me. Who helped you get your grades up?"
"Oh! Right! I've got someone else to thank. Catch you later, Coach!"
Kagura waved as she ran out of the pool area, leaving a smiling Nyamo behind. She ran towards Sakaki's house, but stopped a few blocks before her street.
Hmm...showing up unannounced might not be such a great idea. Maybe...let's see...
The gears whirling in her head, Kagura devised a quick strategy. She'd invite the whole gang to lunch, then when they all left, she'd take Sakaki somewhere special, just the two of them. Proud of her genius, she proceeded to call the rest of her friends. All of them answered and agreed to meet up at noon at the cafe Sakaki worked at.
The group assembled outside of the cafe. Kagura was there first, followed shortly by Chiyo and Osaka, then Yomi and Tomo. Kagura glanced down at her watch. 12:15. It wasn't like Sakaki to be late. Her eyes wandered as she kept a look out for the tall girl while the others made small talk.
"Well, we already know that Miss Kagura got into her school," Chiyo had started happily, "does anyone else know if they got in as well?"
"My results don't come in for another couple of days." Yomi replied.
"Just delaying the inevitable..."
"Shut it, Tomo. What about you?"
"I actually got in, thanks."
"Wow! Congratulations, Miss Tomo!"
"Why thank you, Chiyo-chan. At least you appreciate my successes."
"Wow, ya got in on your first try?"
"That I did, Osaka! Hey, why does everyone seem so surprised?"
Kagura scarcely noticed that Tomo had began going off on a rant about how no one believed in her. She checked the time again, noting that Sakaki was more than a half an hour late.
She's never this late...did something happen to her? Maybe she got held up somewhere...or can't make it anymore. Either way, I thought she would have at least called by now...
Kagura was brought back to her senses by Tomo poking her shoulder.
"Huh? What's up?"
"I should be asking you that. Where's Sakaki?"
"See, that's the thing. I don't know. She's normally not like this..."
"Maybe one of us should call her." Yomi said.
"Kagura'll do it." Tomo volunteered the athlete, who was already in the process of calling. However, the phone rang straight through to voicemail, puzzling Kagura even further. Just this morning, Sakaki had seemed excited to go to lunch with her and the rest of the gang. Now she wasn't even answering her phone.
"Guys, she didn't answer."
"Are ya sure she said she was comin'?"
"Yeah, we talked about it not even a few hours ago."
"Maybe she got held up at the results boards."
"What are you talking about, Yomi?"
"Her results came out today for that big vet school. Didn't she tell you?"
"No..." A feeling of dread came over Kagura. "Guys...you don't think...she didn't get in, do you?"
Yomi adjusted her glasses. "I doubt it. I don't see why she wouldn't have."
"But that would explain why she's not here."
"Miss Kagura, you should try calling her again."
Kagura nodded and dialed the number again, but was left unanswered a second time.
"I've got a bad feeling about this."
"Well, why don't you go talk to her?"
"What did you say, Tomo?"
"I said, go talk to her. Lord knows you two need to start talking again."
Kagura eyed the wildcat suspiciously. Tomo nodded to Osaka, who took a confused Chiyo into the restaurant, claiming that she had to go to the bathroom. That left Yomi, Tomo, and Kagura standing outside on the sidewalk.
"Tomo, what are you trying to say?"
"Isn't it obvious? Go find her! Go be her knight in shining armor! Save the day...all that good shit."
"I'm not her 'knight in shining armor'. Where the hell did you come up with that?"
"Kagura, you're stupider than I am."
"Shut up! I honestly have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Kagura, what Tomo's trying to say is...we know about you and Sakaki." Yomi stepped in before the two could have a go at each other. Kagura stood there, dumbstruck.
"How the fuck..." was all Kagura was able to get out.
"Surprisingly, Tomo was the one who found out first." Yomi stated coolly. Tomo stood next to her, a cocky grin present on her face. She nodded sagely, as if recalling the whole situation.
"Yes, yes...I remember it well..." Tomo started.
"Cut to the chase, Tomo. You've got about twenty seconds to explain where you got all this..."
"Okay, okay. Remember that time we went to the arcade and you said you and Sakaki got into a fight?" Tomo paused and Kagura nodded, signaling for her continue. "Well, I guess that's kind of what got me started. That and the day before school started, how you were all sorts of depressed. That's what really let me in on it. After that, I tried to set you two back up a few times. I told her about that swim meet of yours, and I planned to ditch you two at lunch so you'd have to sit together by yourselves for a bit..."
"You planned all of that!? Tomo I swear I'm..."
"Kagura, calm down." Yomi interrupted. "Tomo was just trying to help, even if it was in her own crazy way."
"Oh yeah? And how long have you known?"
"Actually, I didn't know until Tomo told me. I didn't have a clue."
This calmed Kagura down a bit. She knew the only reason Tomo had known was because of how much time they had spent together.
"So...who else knows?"
"Just us and Osaka."
"I...I don't know. I mean...you guys aren't...you know, like weirded out by it or anything?"
"Pssh! Yeah right! Whatever you two do mphmhmm..." Tomo was cut off by Yomi pressing a palm against her mouth.
"What Tomo means is that we're all okay with it." She looked down at the struggling wildcat dangerously. "Right, Tomo?"
When she nodded, Yomi released her. "Yeah, yeah. That's what I meant..." Tomo grumbled at Yomi.
Kagura stood in stunned silence. The facts were finally sinking in, although none of them seemed real. Knowing that Tomo had been the first of their friends to find out was surprising, but the simple fact that she hadn't told everyone right away was beyond belief. She was also surprised at how well they took the news. Well, I suppose they did bring it up...if they weren't okay with it, they wouldn't have said anything. She told herself. Overall, she was extremely grateful to have the friends she did.
"Weren't you listening, moron? Go find her!" Tomo yelled, an exasperated look on her face.
"I...I don't know where to start!"
"I'd say start by the results boards, see if she's still there and just caught up in the crowd." Yomi suggested.
"Yeah, okay. Good idea." Kagura nodded, hoping that she would find Sakaki there and that the whole thing was just blown out of proportion. "I'll head there now, if that's okay?"
"Just give us a call when you find her."
"Yeah, will do."
Kagura turned to run off towards the boards, but stopped herself when she overheard Tomo say to Yomi:
"Yomi, you know she's not gonna call us when she finds her! They're just going to..."
Tomo's sentence was broken off by Kagura whacking her in the back of the head. Afterwards, the athlete sprinted off, leaving Tomo clutching her head, but wearing a stupid grin, and Yomi smiling slightly.
After running the whole way there, Kagura reached the boards, sweaty and out of breath. She looked around the mass of people, searching for any sign of Sakaki. When she couldn't find her right away, she moved closer to the vet school's board, hoping to find her there. However, Sakaki was nowhere to be found. Kagura sat down on a nearby bench and started to think.
Where would Sakaki be? We know she's not at work. Hmm...where would she go? Kagura thought of all the places Sakaki might even be. Her house was the obvious place to start her search, so Kagura started jogging towards it. Being a weekday, she knew Sakaki's parents would be at work, so she could avoid an awkward confrontation with them. When she reached the house, Kagura caught her breath, then knocked on the door. When there was no answer, she tried again. She called the house phone, then Sakaki's cell, which had been turned off. Somehow, Kagura knew she wasn't just ignoring her; Sakaki was not here. Kagura sat down on the porch, trying to figure out her next move. She considered the places that Sakaki would go to avoid running into anyone she knew.
She really likes that pet store down by the arcade...but she couldn't be there all day. The school roof? No, that's locked up. Where the hell would she go? It'd probably be quiet...someplace that only she knew about. Except...
In that instant, Kagura knew exactly where Sakaki would be. If she wasn't there, then Kagura would be forced to admit that she couldn't find her. She took off back towards the park in her last-ditch effort to find her.
Maybe it's somewhere that only WE know about.
Kagura ran through the park, pushing her way through the people walking peacefully on the walkway. She jumped off the path and stumbled through the bushes. At last, she burst through the brush into a clearing.
"Sa..." Kagura cut herself off. There, in the clearing, sat Sakaki. Her eyes were puffy and her face was red and blotchy. She had watched Kagura enter the clearing with a dull expression that showed not sadness or anger, just an emptiness that could have come from extreme devastation.
Neither of the girls spoke as Kagura walked cautiously towards Sakaki. She wasn't sure how Sakaki would react, and she was certain that the way she acted would influence Sakaki's actions as well. Slowly, Kagura sat down next to Sakaki. Sakaki's eyes hadn't left Kagura the entire time. She watched as the athlete lowered herself to the ground, noticing the slight hitch in the athlete's otherwise smooth descent as her weak knee bent to its fullest extent.
She had nothing to say.
Still looking at Kagura, Sakaki reached out and took her hand. She gripped it tightly, feeling Kagura's surprisingly soft hands react to her touch. At this point, Sakaki had to look away. She cast her gaze to nothing in particular, a few tears beginning to well up in her eyes once again. She heard Kagura scoot over to her, and she felt Kagura's thumb rubbing her own hand in a comforting way.
She hadn't counted on Kagura finding her. And yet, she was glad she had.
They sat in silence for a bit. Kagura knew that now wasn't the time to force Sakaki into speaking. She'd come around soon enough. Until then, she just had to wait. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Sakaki turned back to Kagura. For a brief moment, they held eye contact, neither sure what to do next.
Sakaki leaned over, resting her head on Kagura's shoulder. She didn't want to cry anymore. Not in front of Kagura.
Kagura let go of Sakaki's hand and wrapped the now free arm around Sakaki, pulling her in tight. She wanted to be there to protect her.
And with that gesture, Sakaki felt genuinely safe. It was just her and Kagura. The way it was supposed to be. She knew that Kagura was there to protect her. And that knowledge allowed Sakaki to let loose the welled up emotions swirling around inside of her. The tears followed freely as she turned her head into Kagura's shoulder, wrapping both arms around the athlete's waist. Kagura rested her chin on Sakaki's head, returning the embrace.
They sat tangled up together for a bit before Sakaki pulled back, sniffling. Kagura tenderly wiped a tear out from under Sakaki's eye as the two stared into each other's eyes once again. They sat back against the tree, holding hands.
"I-I-I..." Sakaki started, her voice cracking. "I didn't...I thought..."
"Sakaki, it's okay. You don't have to say anything."
"I just...I...what am I..."
"Sakaki, hold on a second. You applied to other schools, right?" Sakaki nodded in response, too choked up to say anything more. "You'll get into those. I swear."
"B-b-but I wanted..."
"Sakaki, I know that was a really good school. But it's not the end of world. There are other good schools. You'll get into those."
"No." Kagura looked at the shy girl, taken aback by the sudden outburst. "I-I wanted...to go there...be-be-because it's close..."
"Oh, Sakaki, you'll get to come home. You don't need to worry about getting homesick."
"It was...was close to...to your school."
Kagura looked at the girl in stunned silence. Sakaki didn't just want to get into that school for the programs...she wanted to go there because she knew she was going to get that scholarship!
Kagura looked at Sakaki. Taking her one hand in both of hers, Kagura looked at Sakaki with a fiery look that she reserved for competition.
"Sakaki, now you listen to me. To be honest, I'm honored that you wanted to go to school close to me. I really am. But now that that's not an option, you gotta think about what else there is for you. You know how you told me to start studying because it wasn't a for sure thing that I'd get better? I did it. And it still paid off. You're gonna get into those other schools, graduate top of the class, and get a fancy vet job somewhere. And you don't have to go to that one school for it. And if you're worried about not being close to me...well, I can't say I can come visit you all the time, but we'll stay in touch. We can talk about anything and everything, no secrets, none of the crap I pulled before. We'll share everything, successes and failures. And if you've got something bothering you, you'll be able to call anytime. Hell, you could call me at three in the morning, and if I could hop on a train to your school, you can bet your ass I'd do it. You can be damn sure I'll always be there for you."
Kagura finished strong, staring directly into Sakaki's eyes, looking for some sort of reaction. Surprisingly, she got one.
Sakaki pulled Kagura into a fierce kiss, taking the athlete by the collar of her shirt and yanking her roughly against her. The two fumbled around a bit, struggling to gain control of the moment, yet each savoring each other's touch, as well as how raw and emotion-filled the kiss was. It was nothing like the couple had shared before, although no circumstances had ever called for such a kiss either. When they finally broke apart, they locked gazes, neither wanting to end the moment so soon. Finally, Sakaki broke the silence.
"I love you."
Kagura grinned. "You have no idea how long I've waited to hear that again." She said as she pecked Sakaki quickly on the lips. "I love you too."
Kagura looked around at her empty room. All of her more important possessions were packed up into well-labeled cardboard boxes, moved out into the hallways and down the stairs. Her desk was bare, something she couldn't remember ever seeing, so used to it being littered with magazines, scattered papers, video game controllers, and snacks. Her television and Playstation were already packed and in the car, those being some of the first things Kagura had wanted to pack. The magazines and books that she chose not to bring were stacked neatly on shelves, along with all of the various trophies and medals that she had earned over the years. Her walls had been stripped of the posters depicting swimmers and track athletes, and while a few choice posters had been rolled up neatly and were now resting atop the packed boxes, those that didn't make the cut were stowed away in her now-clean closet, along with the rest of the things that were going to be left behind. She sat down on her bare bed, taking in the sight.
Today was move in day.
Being an athlete, Kagura was the first to move in. The gang had said their goodbyes the night before, with the group going out to a fun dinner and singing a few rounds of horribly off-key karaoke. The night had ended in many laughs, hugs, and even a few tears. Chiyo-chan had teared up a bit, and Kagura could have sworn she saw a bit of a glisten in Tomo's eyes as well. However, the wildcat had run off before she could have been certain.
Kagura took a shaky breath, then exhaled. She pulled her phone out of her pocket, reading the time. Her parents would be finished packing up the last of her stuff in the car before long, and they'd be heading out within the hour. She only hoped...
"Kagura! There's someone here for you!"
She jumped up off the bed and descended down the stairs as fast as she could. Standing in the doorway stood Sakaki, dressed up as nice as Kagura ever seen her.
"Kagura, we're leaving in twenty. Make sure you've got everything out of your room!"
"Yeah, Mom, I got it." Kagura called back. She grinned at Sakaki, and the two made their way up to Kagura's room.
"It's...clean." Sakaki said incredulously.
"Hey, I bet yours will look the same."
The two sat down on the bed, since there was nowhere else to sit.
"Are you nervous?"
"Is that even a question? Of course I am."
"You'll be okay."
"Well I knew that. But you know what would make me feel better?"
"This." Kagura said as she gave Sakaki a short, sweet kiss. "There. Better already."
"I'm going to miss you."
"Oh, you have no idea. I'll miss you too."
"Will you...will you call me tonight? Let me know how you're doing?"
"Yeah, I could do that."
"Yeah. I'm past all that forgetting shit. Just trust me."
"Kagura! Time to go!" her dad shouted from down the stairs.
Kagura took Sakaki's hand and pulled her up off the bed. The two went downstairs and out to the car, where Kagura's parents were putting the finishing touches on the packing. Kagura pulled Sakaki into a tight hug, not wanting to let go. Sakaki returned the embrace in a less aggressive manner. When they finally broke apart, Kagura's eyes were shining.
"You'll be okay."
"See you at Christmas?"
"It had better be sooner than that!" Kagura said with a chuckle. She got into the cramped car and rolled down the window to wave out to Sakaki. Sakaki returned the gesture. The car backed out of the driveway slowly and down the street, starting the drive to the university. Sakaki continued to wave until the car was out of sight. Once gone, she started walking back towards her own house. She had packing to do still, and she wanted to get it all done right away.
She was expecting a phone call later, after all.
A/N: And that's a wrap, folks! Seeing as this is the last chapter, I've got some stuff to put out here. First off, thanks to all of you who stuck with the story all the way through to the ending. Even bigger props to those of you who left reviews/PM'd me. Writing's a lot easier when you've got people giving you feedback. Secondly, huge shout out to three pretty important people who were there to praise what I wrote, as well as tear it into pieces if it wasn't up to snuff. Holden, Red, Rodds; you three are the best. On that note, if you're looking for something new to read, I'd highly recommend RedSaltire's Six Comrades or Raro6511's MyAzuStory. Go check 'em out!
Well...I guess that's about it. Thank you all for reading! I hate to fish for them, but reviews on the ending/story in general are greatly appreciated/encouraged. Who knows, it might inspire me to write another story...only time will tell! Until then, stay gold, readers!