24 Hours to Life
by Moon Momma

11:00 pm, Tokyo

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Umino got off the bus with Naru at her stop and walked her to the entrance to the stairs that led to the apartment above the OSA*P jewelry store. "Don't forget to study Asuka-san's outlines before you go to sleep, Naru-chan!" he said, then gave her a quick peck on the lips before heading back to the bus stop.

Naru sighed as she got out her key and unlocked the door. Now that the thought of breaking up with Umino had come into her mind, she couldn't get it out again. Would it really be so hard on him if she broke up with him? He seemed to like Asuka a lot; what if he liked her better than he liked Naru but he was only staying with Naru because he didn't want to hurt her feelings?

Naru paused on the first step of the stairway. She hadn't thought about it like that before. What if Umino was only with her because he felt sorry for her, or was too used to her, or didn't want to make her feel bad by dumping her? It hadn't occurred to her that maybe he wasn't happy either. He always seemed happy, but maybe he was just hiding his unhappiness for her sake.

What if she took the initiative and told him he was free to date other girls if he wanted to? It was clear they didn't have much in common; maybe if she pointed out that he might be happier with a girl who liked more of the same things he liked - Asuka-san, for example - then he wouldn't feel bad. It would almost be like she was doing him a favor. Yeah, that was it.

As Naru made her decision, a great sense of relief filled her mind, but at the same time she felt a terrible loneliness, almost a fear, as though she were standing right on the edge of a deep crevice, so deep and dark she couldn't see the bottom, and she was about to step off the edge and fall into it. It was like Umino was the only thing that was keeping her from tumbling into the bottomless dark. But why on earth should she feel like that? She wasn't a depressed person; she hadn't been particularly sad or lonely at the time that she and Umino had just kind of drifted into going together...

And then that strange feeling came over her again, as though she had slipped into a different life that wasn't her real life. She realized that she couldn't remember exactly how or why she and Umino had started going together. It was like one day they weren't, then there was kind of a hazy memory of talking and - what? Umino cheering her up? Saving her from - something, she didn't know what. Had he pushed her out of the way of a car that was about to hit her? Some kind of danger, though she had no memory of what it was. And then, suddenly, they were going together.

A wave of dizziness swept over her. She grabbed the banister and sat down on the step to wait for the dizzy spell to pass. Too much study, too much stress, not enough sleep, she decided. She would get a good night's sleep - forget studying Asuka's outlines tonight - and then tomorrow she would have an honest talk with Umino.

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The Nephrite and Naru Treasury