I knew everything was going to change the moment Saki grabbed my arm.
She began power walking on the sidewalk and dragged me along with her. Her silvery hair was long and wavy, so when a light breeze came by it blew her hair straight into my face. I brushed it off with my left hand to see where we were going but it didn't help that I was at least a head shorter than her. The noise suddenly transitioned from a bustling street to a serene indoor space. That was when I realised that we had just entered the second most unlikely place I'd be in—the library.
The first place was the Entrance Exam Study Guide section of the library. The sign was right above my eyes. Apparently, that was where she finally let go of her firm grip. My right arm felt like jelly as it fell by my side. I gasped for air after what felt like a marathon.
"There's something I'm looking for . . . " she said, tilting her head up and down at the bookshelf.
"Jeez . . . take it easy, Saki. You almost tore my arm off. You know I'm not an athlete." I snapped back at her with a sharp tone. "What's this all of a sudden?"
"Sorry, Eri! I'll only take a minute."
Where does this girl get her energy from?
"When was the last time we went to the town library? It must be something important, especially since we're in this section."
Saki didn't respond and continued looking, using her finger to sift past several books to find whatever she was looking for. It was as if she didn't even notice my presence.
A prolonged silence started to creep in, which made the library's ambience more obvious. I heard a harsh vibration from the air conditioner above and noticed the cicadas chirping outside in the sweltering heat. Every now and then, I'd hear a beep coming from the entrance whenever someone walked past the automatic door.
I panned my head right and scanned the library to see if there was anything more interesting than what Saki was after and, lo and behold, I spotted the Manga section.
From left to right, I examined the manga volumes on the bookshelf: Lawn Mower Man, When the Crows Cry, School Guides & Aliens, Volume 9.
Volume 9 is out already?
It had been at least several months since the last one was published; looks like Ambersand came back from her hiatus. I made a mental note in my head to pick up a copy later.
"Found it!" announced Saki.
I turned back to her as she pulled out a book.
She then bent down to pick up something else. "I'll take this as well."
She got back up and towered above me again, facing me. I looked at two things that were held out in front of me: to my right, a study guide titled Martinique Academy Entrance Exams: Problems & Solutions, and to my left, a pamphlet titled Welcome to Martinique Academy.
I glanced back up at her and was met with a strong gaze from her golden eyes.
"You may have guessed it already, but there's been something I've been dreaming of doing for a while now."
My hand reached out to the study guide but Saki slapped my hand away.
"No, silly! I think the pamphlet will help explain it better," Saki said while giving me the pamphlet.
I read aloud the front cover, "Martinique Academy . . . "
"Come on, open it!"
Upon opening the pamphlet, I was met with the colours purple and white; the presentation was aesthetically pleasing.
Then I read the school introduction:
"Welcome to Martinique Academy.
A private boarding school located in the heart of Seichi.
A rich history dating back to its foundation in 1919.
Come and appreciate the Baroque Revival style architecture.
Walk among several hectares of beautiful greenery.
With state-of-the-art facilities and teaching, your future is assured."
Saki continued, "I'll be studying for entrance exams in hopes of entering this academy next year. I know you and your family will be going to Hawaii soon for a year . . . buut, when you come back to Japan I want to see you again in my second year."
I looked back up at her. "Wow . . . that's incredible, Saki. I never thought I'd see the day you'd pursu—wait . . . wait a moment, you want to go to this school with me?"
"Of course! What better way to enrol into a fancy boarding school than to do it with my best friend!"
"Relax girl, I need time to process this because this is coming out of left field. And isn't this where Kurina studies at?"
Saki paused momentarily before speaking, "Aah, Kurina. She was a grade above us so she started this year. I haven't heard a lot from her so if I make it in I'll be catching up with her for sure."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Anyway, are your parents okay with paying for your tuition—assuming you get in, of course. I bet it's really high. I mean, we're talking about going from the local Ichinose school to a prestigious, high-life academy."
"Yep, they've got it covered."
I stood there motionless. Was Saki hiding the fact that she came from a wealthy family? We were residents of Ichinose, a small remote town in the middle of Japan. I guess if you lived in such a place, you'd have no other choice than to enrol in an average school.
"No arguments here," I said. "But have you seen the acceptance rate? It's probably pretty low. Ichinose school doesn't go past middle school, so all our classmates will be transferring to random high schools. The chances of anyone making it into Martinique is slim at best."
Saki giggled. "Oh, you're such a sceptic, Eri! Don't worry about it. It probably is low but that doesn't bother me. That's why people apply to a bunch of schools—just in case they don't make it into their desired one. Moreover, I want to know a little bit more about you moving to Hawaii. What's the occasion?"
Saki was right. Between the two of us, I was the sceptical and careful one. When you juxtapose those traits with her bubbly and free-spirited personality, you'd have to wonder how we'd gotten this far in our friendship. But maybe that's how it works. She'd open me up to new experiences and I'd keep her on track with her life.
"Well, my mum found a job in Hawaii so she's scheduled to work there for one year. As for me, I'll be going to a school in Honolulu. Hey, maybe when I come back I'll bring back a souvenir for you."
Her face lit up. "Ooh! I can't wait!"
I looked back at the school introduction on the pamphlet and the words Seichi and 1919 piqued my interest.
I faced Saki again and asked, "Um . . . I've never heard of a place called Seichi before. Do you know where it is? For all we know, it could be all the way in Hokkaido."
"Don't take my word for it but I've heard that it's a rural, mountainous region about an hour away from Ichinose. I'd take it over a busy city any day. Not a bad trip if you ask me."
"That's . . . not so bad. But take a look at this: it says here that Martinique Academy was founded in 1919 which means that by the time I presumably enrol it will reach its centenary."
"That cannot be a coincidence," she said, slowly shaking her head. "You and me reuniting during the academy's 100th anniversary . . . "
"I said presumably for a reason."
"Yeah . . . but have you forgotten the reason why I told you about this in the first place? I've been thinking of leaving this town for a while now. Doing the same thing every day, seeing the same people, going to the same places—I want a totally different life away from that monotony; a life where every day is different. And I think Martinique Academy will give me that opportunity. I'm sharing that opportunity with you, Eri, because I think you deserve it too. So are you with me?"
I tensed my body and swallowed, thinking of something to say to ease the tension between us.
I sighed. "Well, it's hardly a mystery why you'd want to change things up a bit . . . just don't expect me to catch up with you when it comes to schoolwork, okay?"
I guess that also means I have to convince my parents somehow.
Suddenly, Saki spread her arms wide and embraced me with a hug tight enough to choke someone.
"Y-yes . . . I knew . . . I knew you'd accept my offer."
I put my arms around her waist softly. "Hey, hey. Take it easy, we're in the library. You almost took my breath away—both figuratively and literally. And who's to say you'll be hugging the same person by the time I presumably enrol. I could be a completely different person by then. Taller even."
She let go of me and backed away, chuckling. "Who'd forget your short purple hair and those piercing green eyes?"
"Yeah . . . well, I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that my looks stand out amongst the crowd."
Saki then put her right arm out towards me and extended her pinky finger.
Really? Are we doing this right now?
"Saki, this is awfully cliché. We're not kids anymore."
"Come on, Eri, just one more time."
I let out a huge breath and extended my own pinky, locking it with hers. "Alright, let's get this over with."
We both rocked our arms up and down while chanting, "Pinky swear, ten thousand punches, whoever lies will be made to swallow a thousand lunches!"
Here's a fun fact: pinky swearing is called yubikiri in Japan (meaning "finger cut-off") and it's often confirmed with the vow we just chanted. Although, we replaced needles with lunches to make it rhyme.
"See you in Martinique Academy, Saki-Saki."
"Saki-Saki. Now that's a nickname I haven't heard for a very long time."
I came up with that nickname for her during elementary school. Her surname is Sakishima, so I just took the first syllable Saki and combined it with her first name to create Saki-Saki. I thought it sounded cool at the time.
"Come on. Let's head straight to the counter then race home. Looks like the sun is about to set," Saki said.
"I'm with you, but first, let me just take this."
I walked alongside Saki towards the manga section and snatched a copy of School Guides & Aliens, Volume 9. She glimpsed at it with heightened eyebrows.
"Wait, Volume 9 is out?! That means Ambersand is back, isn't she?"
"Yep, you heard it right."
"In that case, I'll get a copy too." She reached her arm toward the bookshelf but stopped after finding no sign of Volume 9. Her head slowly turned towards me. "Umm . . . I think you just took the last copy, Eri."
I smirked. "Hey, it's probably for the better. You have entrance exams coming up after all, so this shouldn't be your priority right now. However, if you work extra hard at it, I might let you borrow my copy."
Saki pouted back. "Alright, I suppose so. But don't forget that in about a year's time you'll be in my shoes preparing for entrance exams,"—she pointed directly at me with furrowed brows—"so you better study your ass off when the time comes!"
My eyes widened in response.
I've always hated studying.
But if it was to be her, I couldn't ever say no.
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