We Are ☆ Star Club!
Summer was drawing closer, with the days getting warmer every morning when I woke up. But it wasn't only in the air that I noticed the change: Lulu was changing, too. And not in a good way.
While I was used to her chattering at invisible things in the night, it was a bit more worrying when it happened now, especially since I knew aliens existed (and the possibility of ghosts, though I wasn't sure about that one). Lulu became mainly nocturnal, eating and drinking when no one was looking. Sometimes it seemed like she wasn't eating, at all. Mom was also worrying about our little furball, and her sighs and concerned looks became more and more frequent.
One morning, before I could bring Arisu's and my food upstairs, she was sighing again.
"I don't even see her anymore."
I was balancing two bowls of cereal on the stairs. Mom didn't even notice. She was all caught up in her worries for Lulu, and I couldn't blame her. Our cat was on my mind all the time, too.
"Do you think we should bring her to the vet?"
Mom glanced at me.
"Huh? Oh, yes, that might be a good idea."
"But how do we get her there?"
Mom was right. Lulu had become elusive, and I couldn't remember the last day I saw her. But thankfully, I wasn't alone.
"I'll ask some friends after school if they can help us."
She smiled at me.
"That sounds wonderful, honey. I'll prepare some snacks for their trouble."
And trouble it would be, I was sure. I went up, eating breakfast together with Arisu, but stayed silent during her talking to herself. I looked around the room, as my keyboard had been one of Lulu's favorite spots, but of course, she wasn't there. With a bad feeling in my stomach, I struggled to finish eating.
Between classes, I walked over to Maria and Arisu. Whatever was happening with Lulu worried me too much to wait.
"Hey, do you girls have anything planned after school?"
"Ah, no. Why?"
Maria tilted her head.
"I just want to nap," Arisu said while stretching.
"Well..." I hesitated. "Our cat is acting strange, and my mom wants to take it to the vet. And, uh, she's become really elusive, so we might need help with that, so I wanted to ask..."
"Oh no, the poor kitty! Sure, I'll help."
Arisu, on the other hand, seemed alarmed.
"What do you mean, your cat acts strange?"
"I don't know, she's just... different. Maybe she is spooked by your presence, but she usually loves visitors. And it's going on for a few weeks now..."
"Uh-huh. That sounds weird."
Arisu was avoiding my gaze. Something was up, I was sure.
"Are you not telling me something?"
She shook her head, a smile on her face.
"I just want to help, too. I don't know how your cat is usually like, so this will help me understand it better."
"If you say so."
I nodded at them both.
"Thank you for your help. It really means a lot to me."
"I'll ask Erica, and Pudding, too."
Maria took out her phone, but before she could send our friends a message, the bell rang. As I was stumbling back to my seat, the teacher entered, as cold as ever. I really tried to pay attention to the lesson, as he had an uncanny ability to sniff out slacking students. Sometimes, more often than I would like, I would get called out by him. It was just so boring to listen to him going on and on and on about Trigonometry!
So, naturally, my gaze went out of the window, watching the bright blue sky and imagining all the fun things I could be doing instead of being trapped in this classroom. It was there that I saw Lulu. Or, at least a vaguely Lulu-shaped being. Unlike the Lulu I knew, this creature possessed bat-like wings, and its fur had a glowing green tint to it. The creature turned its head to me, its eyes glowing in a bright yellow, but it seemed to recognize me.
"Lulu...?," I mumbled.
"What was that?"
Apparently, the teacher had heard me and stared me down.
His eyes became slits, and I tried to become as small as possible. The thoughts of Lulu were wiped right out of my head. When I dared to look outside, she had vanished.
"What do you mean, you saw your cat? And it had wings?!"
"Not so loud," I shushed Maria.
"Oh, so it's not normal for a cat to have wings?"
Arisu tilted her head, nodding as if she had found out something fundamental.
"Of course not."
I saw the gears turning in her head, and then, she seemed to understand something.
Her face was full of regret.
"I, uh, I can fix this!"
"What do you mean?"
I didn't understand. Is she responsible for this? How? And why? She doesn't even know that cats normally don't have wings!
Arisu slumped in her seat, and sighed.
"I guess that my frequency and that of your cat are a bit... off."
She looked around at my alarmed face, and lowered her voice.
"Normally, I try to adapt my frequency to your human one, so I can blend in better. I guess the cat got changed due to this difference. I was... careless."
She shook her head, forcing a smile.
"I still don't understand."
Even though she was explaining something, the questions in my head didn't get solved. Instead, more and more of them piled on top.
"I... It's not easy to explain, yes? All that matters is that I wasn't careful enough, and now your cat has changed."
"So, you changed her?"
"Well, isn't it more important if your cat can be changed back?"
Maria seemed to understand Arisu perfectly. The two exchanged a look, and Arisu nodded.
"I can change it with PURIRIN's help. But... we need to catch it for that."
"So we're back at the beginning."
I sighed. Had this conversation been pointless? No, I was more confused now than before. Getting Lulu to the vet or having her changed back with PURIRIN seemed like the same thing, basically.
"Then let's go! What are we waiting for?" Maria waved with her phone in her hand. "I've messaged Erica and Pudding."
Most of the other students had left the stuffy classroom already, and we joined them. The air outside was warm, like it had soaked up all the sunlight during the day. It energized me, and it seemed to have the same effect on the other students: most of them were either preparing for their after-school club activities, or going home. They all made noise, which was sure to spook Lulu.
"Hey! Here you are."
Erica waved at us, sweat running down her forehead. It looked like she had been exercising.
"Pudding isn't feeling well, so she won't come. Sorry."
She looked at all of us.
"So, what is this about? Your cat, right?"
"Please, we have to find her."
I didn't want to sound desperate, but I really hoped we could get this over with, quickly. What if Lulu's transformation didn't stop at growing wings? At once, a mental image of her, Godzilla-sized, appeared in my mind. This didn't make it easier for me.
"Then let's go."
Maria clapped her hands together, still smiling. I don't know what it is about her smile... but it gives me hope. I smiled back at her, and together, we searched the campus.
While we didn't find Lulu, I did realize how lucky I really was. I had found so many friends I could count on, that were nice and fun to be around. It wasn't something you came across often. In middle school, I had no one like that, to laugh with, to spend my time together. I looked up at the sky, slowly turning orange. Even though the night sky was still far away, I thanked the stars for my friends. I started to feel emotional, and shrugged the tears forming in the corners of my eyes away. I need to focus.
It was then that Maria tugged at my sleeve to get my attention.
"Hey, is that your Lulu?"
I blinked, and looked where she was pointing to. The giant, old tree in front of us was probably older than the buildings on campus. And on some of the farthest branches sat a cat. Lulu. I could see her flapping her new wings, and the most heartbreaking little meow escaped her. How did she manage to get this high up?
"Oh wow. She really does have wings." Maria sounded not nearly as surprised as she should have. "Did she fly up there?"
"She should be able to just fly down."
Arisu got closer to the the tree, waving her arms.
"Get down here!"
But just like Lulu didn't realize she could fly, Arisu didn't use her hair to get up to her. Maybe she was scared of heights, too?
But the strangest reaction had Erica. She had a look of horror on her face, standing completely still as she watched the cat.
"That is. Your cat?"
"Yes." I shrugged. "Well... It did change."
"It glows. Green."
Erica gulped. She was right, and it was only then that I saw that Lulu's fur was more green than brown now, and even from this far down I could see her eyes, glowing as bright as little floodlights.
"Is it... contagious?"
Erica directed the question at Arisu, who shook her head.
"Nope! She should be harmless. I think."
She took a step back.
"Maybe I'll start with configuring PURIRIN. Can you get her down? She's... really high up."
"But how should we get her down?"
I looked at Maria, who seemed just as confused as I was. But Erica took a shaky breath.
"I'll get her."
"Wait, you're not-"
Before I could stop her, she was climbing up the gnarled tree. Even though she was the strongest of us all, I watched in horror as she went higher and higher.
"Maybe we should have called the fire brigade?," Maria said.
"Well, it's too late for that now."
Erica climbed higher and higher, until she was as hard to spot as Lulu. A high-pitched scream - I couldn't tell if it came from Erica or Lulu - pierced the air, and suddenly, a green-brown piece of fluff fell down, desperately spreading its wings.
I rushed forward, gently catching her in my arms. Her wings and claws scratched me, and I turned to Arisu, sitting on the ground with PURIRIN in front of her.
"Whatever you need to do, do it now!"
"Got it. One moment."
Suddenly, PURIRIN emitted a weird sound. Arisu grabbed the device-pet and pointed it at Lulu, crawling closer to us. It got more and more difficult to keep the cat in my arms, but finally, she calmed down. That had been enough time for her to turn back to normal, and there she was, my precious furball. She purred loudly as she snuggled against me.
"Thanks, Arisu," I sighed.
She got up to look at the cat, and then, we heard a loud thump! behind us.
"Erica! Are you alright?"
Maria ran over to her. Even though Erica was down on the ground again, she was shaking and a bit pale in the face. I got closer, too. Is she hurt? What happened?
"I'm fine." She sighed. "T-that cat..."
She looked at Lulu in my arms, and something in her expression softened.
"Can I pet her?"
I couldn't stop myself from laughing, and my friends all joined in. It was good to know nothing had happened to her, and the blissful look on her face as she cuddled Lulu was not something I would expect from her. Who knew that she loved cats this much?
While Erica was occupying Lulu, I took out my phone, dialing Mom.
"Hi, it's me. I just wanted to tell you we found Lulu, and she's fine. No need to worry."
"Ah, that's good to hear."
"No problem. See you later."
I hung up, looking at my friends who all took turns to pet Lulu. The cat was certainly enjoying the attention she got. Above us, the sky turned dark, but right now I just wanted to watch my friends, and didn't care about the stars.