Kazuha felt like screaming. She was tired, lost, and alone in the middle of Tropical Land. She had no idea where Ran was, her phone battery was dead, and she had no clue how to find her.
It had been going so well, too. They had gotten to go somewhere by themselves for once – without Heiji or Ran's family around – and just hang out and have a good time. Kazuha knew Ran had some unpleasant memories here, but Ran had said it was fine. There weren't a whole lot of places around Tokyo or Osaka that neither of them associated with death. So even though it might have brought up some bad stuff, they were managing to actually have fun, Kazuha thought. They'd gone on rides, gotten lunch, played some games – it had been a really great first date, as first dates went.
And then they'd gotten separated leaving the haunted house, which seemed to have multiple ways you could exit to the rest of the park. Kazuha had run around to all of them, and still hadn't seen Ran.
She was about to head back to where she started when she caught a glimpse of a familiar face.
“Ran!” she yelled, half running to her and half dodging the crowd. Ran was turning away, couldn't see her, couldn't hear her over the noise of the park. “Ran!”
Kazuha's hand was already on the girl's shoulder when she processed that Ran had been wearing a totally different outfit.
“Oh! Sorry!” Kazuha withdrew her hand like she had been burned, just as the girl jumped a little and spun around. She bowed her head, looking at the ground. “I thought you were somebody else.”
“That's okay! Sorry I wasn't who you thought I was.” Kazuha looked back up. The girl did look a lot like Ran, even up close, although with much messier hair and a very different energy. She was smiling, and holding two ice cream cones. “Are you here alone?”
“I'm here on a date, actually,” admitted Kazuha. “But we got separated.”
“And they look kind of like me, right?” asked the girl innocently. “The person you're on a date with?”
Kazuha's brain shorted out. Sure, tell every random stranger you're here with another girl, that's a great idea! But she was already all out of plausible deniability, so she figured she might as well own it.
“Y-yeah. A little bit. You got a problem with that?”
“No?” The stranger sounded genuinely confused. Either she had figured out a lot less than Kazuha had given her credit for, or she was just too nice of a person to judge her for it. “How did you get separated?”
Kazuha flushed. “We were in the haunted house,” she explained. “But near the end I... kind of panicked and just kept walking forward without looking where I was going.” She had already left the ride by the time she calmed down enough to realize Ran wasn't with her.
“You're scared of that sort of thing?” asked the girl. She giggled, and Kazuha felt at least fifteen times more embarrassed, if that was possible. “That's pretty cute, actually.”
She wasn't even going to acknowledge that last sentence. “A-anyway, Ran's not too good with that stuff either, so I feel bad for running. And my phone's dead, too.”
“Hmm.” The girl frowned a little, apparently deep in thought. “Wellll, as soon as I deliver this,” she lifted one of the ice cream cones, “I can help you look.”
“You don't hafta-”
“It'll be fun! And it's no trouble.”
Feeling very awkward, Kazuha followed the girl towards some tables, all with cute umbrellas shielding them from the sun. They were next to the lake, and there were several little pedal-operated boats on the water, with couples in them. Kazuha breathed deeply and told herself that she was not going to cry. She was going to find Ran and everything was going to be fine and – The girl stopped walking, looking around the tables in confusion.
“What is it?” asked Kazuha.
“I guess I lost my date too,” she said, but she didn't sound very concerned about it. Maybe a little annoyed. “Geez, ice cream wasn't even my idea!”
“Can't you call them?”
The girl waved off the suggestion, gesturing with the ice cream like she had forgotten she was carrying it. “Not necessary. Let's look for yours first.” She turned around and they walked back towards the haunted house.
“I already checked by all the exits.”
“Do you think she's still inside?”
Kazuha hadn't thought of that. “I guess I could just keep waiting, then.”
“Orrrr, we could go in!”
“C'mon!” And the girl started towards the exit, clearly intent on entering the ride from the wrong direction.
“We can't do that!” said Kazuha. “That's definitely not allowed.”
“It'll be fine! Hold these.” She shoved the ice creams into Kazuha's hands, and gestured to the Tropical Land employee that was working at the end of the ride. “Ask that guy if he's seen your girlfriend.”
“Um, okay.” Kazuha let herself be pushed in his direction. She approached cautiously.
“Hey, have you seen my, uh” - she blushed a little - “my friend? She looks a little bit like-” She stopped abruptly, as her new friend used the worker's momentary distraction to walk right into the haunted house. “Like herself! That was what I was going to say. I'll just describe her, maybe? She has long hair! And is wearing a yellow blouse, and shorts. And...”
The guy was supremely unhelpful, and normally she'd keep questioning him until he took this seriously, but she was also sure he was going to figure out what had happened any minute and get her in trouble, so she let it slide. She retreated to where she could see a couple of the exits but he wouldn't notice her skulking around, and vindictively decided that if the ice cream started to melt on her she was going to eat all of it.
But before that happened, the girl she had run into emerged, towing two other people behind her. One of them was Ran. The other was a tall and stunningly gorgeous girl with very long, straight hair and a kind of imperious air to her, and she was getting chewed out.
“You could've told me you wanted to check out the haunted house!” insisted the girl Kazuha had met. “Although I don't think any real spirits would be in there.”
“Ran!” called Kazuha as she caught up to the group. “I'm so sorry I left you in there!”
“No, I'm sorry,” said Ran, very pink. “I panicked and-”
“I was just checking,” the new girl was saying, haughtily. “No, you can keep those,” she told Kazuha as she attempted to hand the ice cream cones back to her friend. “I needed a moment to explore uninterrupted.”
“-when the axe murderer came at us, I mean the guy dressed as an axe murderer, I just kicked without thinking. He was out cold for ten minutes...”
“Oh, so when you said I should go get dessert, you were just sending me on an errand!”
“Ran, it's okay, I would've done the same thing if I hadn't already been halfway out the building.”
“It was an important errand. You met Miss Toyama, did you not?”
“How the heck do you know my name?”
“Did you call upon the forces of hell to find out how our date would go?!”
For the first time, the intimidating beauty looked a little embarrassed. “Maybe! What's wrong with that?”
“I don't quite get what's going on,” said Ran, interrupting what might've been a fight (Kazuha really couldn't tell). “But thank you for finding Kazuha.”
“As I said, you were always going to find her,” said the tall girl dismissively. “Such is fate.”
“So you did ask Lucifer or someone about today! And you're welcome,” the first girl added, speaking to Ran and Kazuha. “It was really no trouble.”
“If you don't take back your ice cream now, I'm going to eat all of it,” Kazuha informed her.
“That's fine, you can have it if you want it!”
The two strange girls bid them farewell and wandered off in the direction of the boat rides, bickering in a weirdly cheerful kind of way. Ran and Kazuha stared after them.
“They seemed nice,” said Ran. Kazuha snorted a little. “What?”
“No, no, they were,” Kazuha agreed. “They were just weird.”
“I guess, but they were.”
“Maybe.” Ran bit her lip a little, looking rather concerned. “Sorry if you were worried about me.”
As always, Ran was way too considerate. Kazuha shook her head. “It was my own fault for bolting out of there.”
“Let's never go in a haunted house ever again. Also, do you want ice cream? These are melting all over the place.”
Ran agreed, and took one of the ice cream cones off her hands.