We Are ☆ Star Club!
The sky was cloudless, a sea of stars among an inky sea. A night perfect for stargazing.
The air was still sweet with summer's warmth, though the wind cooled me down as I lifted the heavy telescope together with Arisu. Slowly, we made our way towards a small hill outside of the town.
"It's heavy," Arisu complained.
"Yeah," I had to agree, "But how else are we supposed to see the stars?"
The girl sighed.
"It's all easier where I'm from. You just have to walk up to a window and..."
She stopped. What should I say? I looked up at the stars, glinting in the distance. They are a familiar sight to me, and I feel comfortable when I watch them. But how must Arisu feel when she looks at them, this far away from home? I can't really understand.
"Do they look different at your home?"
"They do, but they are beautiful here, too."
Otherworldly life. I still couldn't quite believe it, but after so many weeks with Arisu, I just knew it was true. Surely, she was missing her home. But I hoped we could have a wonderful time together, still.
"How much longer do we have to go?"
Her complaints about the telescope apparently never ended. I tried to stifle a laugh.
"Not much more."
I understood her complaints completely. It was hard to breath, and I could feel my arms tremble. Without frequent breaks, I would be afraid of some sort of mistake happening, damaging the expensive telescope. The hill was much further away than I originally had thought, but Erica had insisted we go there. I hoped it was a great place for watching the stars after we went through this much trouble.
We never returned to our first spot after Arisu crashed there. It was too dangerous, and honestly, it felt weird going back to the crater. Still, I looked into that direction, and it felt like the crater was still weird, distorted, glowing. I blinked, and that sensation was gone. Maybe it was just my exhaustion.
"What are you looking at?"
Arisu tilted her head. By now, she was using her hair-hands to support the weight of the telescope, something that was weird to look at but right now, I was immensely grateful for.
"Hm? Oh, nothing."
I turned my gaze towards the stars again, now that our load was a bit lighter. Above us, stars speckled the whole sky. Even with the light noise from the city, we could still see them here. It almost made this whole hassle worth it. Almost.
When we finally arrived on top of the hill and we could set the telescope down, my whole body ached. I gasped for air, my vision blurry.
"That was... so heavy..." I managed to get out between to breaths.
"I'm glad you two made it. Good job."
Erica nodded at us, before she lifted the telescope all on her own, taking it closer to the little camp the other girls had set up. A small campfire burned next to a giant tent, and Maria knelt next to it, poking the burning wood with a stick. This was probably closer to her romantic stargazing fantasy than our first sessions during spring, when it had been still quite cold. Even now, a small chill settled in my bones, and so I sat down next to the fire, its orange glow warming me.
"I'm glad I didn't have to bring the telescope this time," Maria sighed.
"Yeah, it was awful."
Still, she smiled at me.
"But it was worth it, right? The sky seems so big here. I actually feel much smaller here than in the city."
Again, I looked at the stars, as the smoke from the fire mixed with the cool air. The night sang us its song: the wind rustled through the leaves, the sound of falling branches, a birdsong here or there. The fire crackled, as if to support the melody. Arisu and Erica were talking in hushed voice as they built the telescope. I looked at them, and then around us.
"Where is Pudding, by the way?"
"Huh?" Maria yawned. "I don't know. Maybe she's sleeping already?"
She pointed to the tent. With how sleepy Pudding was all the time, it seemed very likely that she was sleeping in there. How could a human handle so much sleep, anyways?
"I'll take a look."
I stretched, before walking over to the tent, opening it.
I expected darkness, but instead, I saw the artificial light of a portable gaming console. Behind the screen, Pudding looked at me.
I cleared my throat, looking back at Maria by the fire.
"Do you want to come out with us? The fire is nice, and..."
Surprisingly enough, Pudding turned the game off and crawled out of the tent, her braids almost undone. Apparently, my surprise was written all over my face as she looked at me curiously.
"Nothing, I just..."
"I'm not the club leader for nothing, you know?"
I nodded, but it felt like I was missing something. She sensed that, too.
"Okay, what's the problem?"
Agaian, she yawned.
It wasn't something I could talk with her about. Still, her gaze was inquisitive, and she didn't look away, or changed the subject. Uncomfortable.
"It's just..." I shook my head. "I just don't get you."
"Well, you don't have to get me. Isn't it enough that we all enjoy this night?"
"Hmmm... I guess you're right."
With that, our conversation was over, and Pudding brushed past me, walking over to the fire. Did I hurt her feelings? It was hard to tell. I followed her, sitting down next to Maria, while Erica and Pudding sat across from me. Only Arisu was missing. Where is she?, I wondered. The others didn't look worried, so it was probably nothing.
Then, I saw something move in one of the trees. At first, I thought it was a giant racoon, but a moment later, when the clouds parted and moonlight illuminated the forest, I realized it was Arisu. She climbed the tree with the help of her hair, faster than any of us could. Her gaze was fixed on something on the sky, the stars, probably - or something else.
Erica stood up, looking at all of us.
"So, who wants to see through the telescope first?"
The evening was lovely, both looking at the stars and spending time together. I was amazed at how much energy I had left, even after Maria and Erica had gone to sleep in the tent. Arisu was still on the tree, looking out to the stars. It must be different. She never really likes looking at them through the telescope, I think. I never realized that. It seemed like she wanted to be left alone, so I did that.
"It's a beautiful night, isn't it?"
Pudding was playing her game by the fire, her eyes focused on the display as it softly beeped in the summer air.
I looked at her. Even though she seemed sleepy, there was a certain spark in her eyes. And her reflexes were much faster than I thought.
"You really love gaming, huh?"
She yawned, but it didn't seem like she was really tired. Maybe it was more of a habit than anything else.
"I like to spend my days with something I like."
"You mean your nights, right?"
I laughed softly.
For a moment, she paused the game, and looked right at me.
"Don't think I don't know what you're thinking. I'm not sleeping all the time."
"My grades are good enough that I can go to university after this school year. I've never failed an exam. It's just not something that's important to me."
"Academic success, you mean?"
"Yeah. Life is just... so much more than that, you know, newbie?"
She unpaused her game, still speaking.
"I just... it's not good to push yourself too hard. It just makes you sick and tired. Not a good tired, like when you fall in your bed after a fantastic day."
I slowly nodded.
"I think I get what you mean."
"And, you know, spending time with my friends, with my hobbies... that's what I'm all about."
I looked up at the stars.
"Sounds like you've figured it all out."
She let out a small chuckle.
"I wish it was that easy. But at least I'm trying to get there, a bit every day. In my way."
Now I was the one yawning.
"Ah. Sorry. I guess I'm more tired than I thought."
"No worries. Just go to sleep. I'll keep an eye on the fire."
The flames were smaller now that there wasn't much wood for the fire to feed on, but it was nowhere close to dying.
Still, I caught myself worrying. What if Pudding falls asleep with the fire still going? But then, I looked at the tent, and a realization dawned on me.
"Erica really trusts you."
Pudding nodded, still focused on her game. But what other explanation is there for it all? Erica, who is always planning everything out to the smallest detail, is now fine sleeping with the fire still going?
"We've been friends since what, elementary?"
"Wow. Sounds like you two have a great friendship going on. I never really realized that."
"It's not something other people need to know about, or understand."
"Alright then, see you tomorrow. Whenever you're awake."
That made her chuckle.
"Sounds good, Sansa."
"Goodnight. It's Sara, still."
I waved at her, as she watched me with a soft smile on her lips. It was true: I don't have to understand her, or her friendship with Erica, or even our own friendship. Maybe it really is enough to enjoy our time together. With that thought, I crawled into the tent. Somehow, Arisu had snuck in there while I was talking to Pudding, and the tent seemed already overcrowded with the three girls. I managed to wiggle in between Maria and Arisu, so when Pudding decided to sleep, there would be enough room for her next to Erica. I wasn't sure if Pudding cared about it that much, but I was sure she would appreciate it.
I never thought I would be able to sleep between so many people. But maybe it was the familiarity we shared, echoing in the smallest sounds, that made it so easy, so homely. Soon enough, I drifted off to sleep, still smiling.