24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

8:00 pm, Tokyo

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Naru and Umino took their trays of sushi to an outdoor table at the restaurant and sat down. Before they even started eating, Umino reached into his school satchel and pulled out the study schedule he had drawn up for them. "We can cover chapters 10-12 in the calculus textbook tonight, and chapter 14 of physics..." He sorted through some notes. "Here's an outline that Asuka-san made of chapter 13 -"

"Where did you get that?" Naru asked. Asuka was a pretty girl in their class. Physics and math seemed to come as easily to her as walking, or even breathing. And the outline Umino put on the table was handwritten, not a photocopy or computer printout. When had Umino gotten a handwritten outline from Asuka?

"Oh." Umino grinned and rubbed the back of his head. He even blushed a little. "I was talking with Asuka-san late last night in an Internet physics chat room. I was asking her how to explain some of the things you didn't understand in chapter 13, and today she gave me this."

Naru stabbed at her sushi with her chopsticks. Umino was chatting with other girls on the Internet late at night? And telling them about things she was having trouble with in school? She wasn't jealous. It would be silly to be jealous; Umino was devoted to her. But she didn't like being talked about and criticized behind her back. She didn't think Umino was perfect, but at least she didn't go around telling other people about the clueless or embarrassing things he did when he wasn't even there to defend himself. Well, if she had a best friend, maybe she would tell her, but she certainly didn't talk to other guys about him.

He meant well, she reminded herself. He wanted to make sure she did her very best on the university entrance exams.

So she could go to school where he went, and study what he thought she should study.

She stabbed another piece of sushi so hard it went skittering off the tray onto the ground.

"Naru-chan?" Umino asked. "Are you unhappy about something?"

Only about everything. "No. I just wish you hadn't asked Asuka-san to help me without telling me what you were doing."

"Oh!" He rubbed the back of his head again in embarrassment. "You don't need to be jealous, Naru-chan."

"I'm not," she snapped.

Weirdly, especially since his glasses hid so much of his expression, he managed to look both disappointed and relieved at the same time. Did he want her to be jealous? Or did she actually have reason to be jealous? Whatever; whether or not she was jealous or why or if she needed to be was beside the point.

"I think I can decide for myself if I need help," she said, "and who to ask for it. And it's embarrassing when you go around telling other people what I'm not good at."

"Oh, well, I was chatting with her anyway and decided as long as we were talking I'd go ahead and ask her..."

She glared at him and he trailed off, finally getting the message that he wasn't doing himself any good.

Naru sighed. She shouldn't get so annoyed about this. He meant well. She should just enjoy the evening out and the break from studying. The food was good and the weather was lovely and...

And she had just met the most gorgeous man she had ever seen in her life and he had been disappointed that she didn't recognize him.

Well, there was nothing to do about it now. He hadn't told her his name, so she couldn't ask her mother about him. Her mother probably met tons of handsome men at jewelers' conventions, and it wouldn't surprise her if her mother talked about her to every one of them.

"Sorry," she said to Umino. "I think I'm getting burned out. I'm too distracted to study this evening. Maybe we could go to a movie instead?"

He chewed a piece of shrimp thoughtfully. "I guess so. If we go to an early movie, there'll still be time after it to get some studying done, and after you relax for a while, you'll be ready to get back to work. There's a really good new one out that Asuka-san was telling me about..."

Naru sighed and jabbed at her food again. "Whatever you want, Umino-kun."

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury