Chapter 21:

Girls Night

We Are ☆ Star Club!


Since the weather forecast predicted rain again, ruining our next stargazing session, Pudding had invited us all for a girls' night at her house. With bags full of comfy clothes and snacks, Arisu and I arrived at her house. I looked at the windows, all dark and cold, except for one upstairs. That was probably her room. Arisu, carrying everything with her hair, rang the doorbell. I could see a shadow upstairs, and not much later, Pudding opened the door. She was quicker than I had thought, but being in your own home gives you a certain speed, doesn't it?

She engulfed first Arisu, then me, in a big, warm hug. I could smell the sweet scent of flowers and chocolate on her. She grinned widely, before gesturing at us to come inside.

"Uwaa, thanks for coming, Alyssa, Sandra."

"It's Sara," I sighed, more to myself than her, as I stepped inside the house.

Inside, it was nice and big, and the smell of citrus hung in the air, as if it was freshly cleaned. Her parents must be quite strict with cleaning. And can probably afford a service to keep it all tidy. In all honesty, I felt small compared to the house, as it was so much bigger than what I was used to. Arisu, on the other hand, freely explored the building, as if she knew nothing else, maneuvering around with her hair-hands.

"Upstairs, upstairs," Pudding said, already halfway up on the staircase.

Arisu was directly behind her. Only I was left downstairs, and hurried up to follow them.

"Ah, I'm coming!"

I certainly didn't want to get lost in this house. After climbing the stairs, we went down a hallway and finally arrived at her room. Pudding went in first, and I saw colorful light pour out of the cracks. I couldn't stop staring inside of the room, either. Like the rest of the house, the room was huge, but, unlike the rooms I've seen downstairs, there was not much room to spare. Every little bit of space was stuffed with either something to sit and sleep on, or topped with an electronical device, that probably was for gaming.

"Woah! This is so cool!"

Arisu was clearly in love with the whole setup, looking at the colorful, blinking lights. She spun around, trying to take it all in. While my reaction wasn't that big, I really enjoyed the room. It had the cozy vibe that Pudding always emitted. I could just sit down and have a good time here, I could tell. And a tiny part of me was afraid that Arisu wouldn't want to come home with me again after seeing all of this.

"Oh, it's even big in here!"

"Uwawawa-what are you doing?"

Arisu had opened her giant closet, and looked through lots and lots of clothes Pudding never seemed to wear. Apparently, her fashion style was also pretty cute, in the same pastel colors with lots of white, just like her room. Fluffy, big sweaters and hoodies lined the wall of the closet, but I couldn't see much more before Pudding closed it with more speed and force than I would have thought her capable of.

"That's rude, Allison! You don't just look at that!"

"Oh?"

Arisu glanced at me, and I slightly nodded. I felt heat rising inside of me. What had Arisu looked at in my room? She was probably more familiar with it than I was. At least, she didn't talk about it.

"Sorry. I never considered telling you about that," I said to her.

She shrugged, before sitting down on a cat-shaped bean bag.

"Oh well. It's a good closet. This is comfy, too. I'm allowed to sit here, right?"

Pudding nodded, and put a controller in her hand, before sitting down herself.

"The others should arrive soon. You can choose a game, if you'd like."

Arisu looked at the controller in her hand, dangling it from the cord.

"Sure."

While Arisu probably didn't quite understand what Pudding meant, she was highly motivated to look through the games. I slowly sat down next to her, watching the screen. It ws really impressive how big Pudding's game collection was, both digitally as well as physically, as I saw cassettes for various game consoles lining a shelf. While Arisu flipped through the ones on the screen, I looked at the physical ones. I didn't know how much time went by, but finally, we settled on a party game neither of us knew. Hopefully, it would be fun and casual. I read through the rules while explaining them to Arisu at the same time as the door opened again.

"Hello!"

I turned my head and waved at Maria, who also looked around like the room was a dream come true for her.

"Ah, this is so cute! Pudding, why did you invite us only now? You have fantastic taste."

"Um... I guess, it's just normal taste to me."

Pudding shrugged, and guided Maria to a pink chair, fluffed up with a soft pillow shaped like a cat paw. Even if Maria had wanted to ask her more, this distracted her, as she ran her fingers through the soft, fur-like fabric.

"Wow," she mumbled.

This might have been the cutest seat in the room, even though the competition was hard. Pudding stayed near the door, opening it again.

"I'll get us some snacks. I'm sure Erica will be here soon."

"That sounds wonderful. Can you bring some bowls for our snacks, too?"

I waved at the bags that Arisu still carried.

"Ah, yes. Of course."

She vanished, and left me wondering where Erica was. Normally, she wasn't late... But I couldn't even finish that thought before Pudding returned with a cute set of white bowls, painted with cherry blossom petals. She set them down on a matching cherry blossom shaped table, and poured various types of snacks into them: some salty, some sweet, and some sour. There was even a small chocolate cake that she had divided into five slices.

"Eat as much as you want. I can make some ramen too, if you'd like."

"Wow, that's a lot. Thanks."

Arisu set down the snacks we bought beside the table, while Pudding looked at the screen.

"Oh, you've chosen the game already? Party Piñata. Fun fun."

She sat down in the chair closest to her desk and started the game. I shot her a glance.

"Um, shouldn't we wait for Erica...?"

But Pudding shook her head, already setting the game up.

"It's alright. She'll be here any minute. And if we're in a game by then, she can simply join the next round."

With that, she let us choose our characters, before we started to compete in various minigames. While there were some that I was better at while I was horrible at other ones, across the board, I wasn't the best player, or having the most luck. Pudding was the winner basically every time, even though we tried to beat her as best as we could, even together. She acknowledged our efforts with a smile.

"Uwa, last round already?"

We didn't have a chance against her, if I was honest. Even though we had two bots on the hardest difficulty playing alongside us, she was unbeatable. Still, when I put down the controller, I felt how much fun I was having, my face hurting from smiling and laughing so much.

"Can you even lose?" I wondered.

"It's all practice," Pudding answered while focusing on the screen.

Still, she had a small smile on her face. Just as the victory celebration of her character started, there was a loud bang at the door.

"Ah, it's Erica. Wonderful."

With some relaxed, long motions, Pudding rose from her seat and made her way to the door. I used the opportunity to grab some snacks, and Arisu did the same. Outside, I could hear the faint sound of rain hitting the window, but the cheerful melodies of the game drowned out most of it. This is nice. While I wish we could be outside, this is probably the next best thing.

I watched Maria and Arisu discuss a few of the minigames we just lost. I simply leaned back against the bean bag, just enjoying the moment for a bit. It really felt like we had become a tight-knit group. With them, I could share my secrets, and knew they would be safe. It was a wonderful feeling. I knew my friends so well, that I could even distinguish the sounds of Pudding and Erica's steps as they came to the room. The door opened, and Erica waved at us, enthusiastically.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to be late," she said with paint smeared on her face.

I couldn't hide my smile. "You lost the fight against art today?"

"There's no fight," she huffed, "It's just not as easy as I wish it was."

It was weird seeing her like this, almost vulnerable. We had definitely grown closer, all of us.

"Will you show us your painting?"

But she shook her head.

"It's a secret for now." Then, she looked at the screen where Pudding's character was still dancing. "Hey, have you started without me?"

"The next round is just about to start," Pudding said, filling up the snack bowls.

"I really can't leave you alone, huh."

Erica was clearly teasing Pudding, as she picked up one of the remaining controllers. Pudding didn't comment on that, and instead, readied up the next game round. Now that Erica was playing, Maria, Arisu and I had even more problems keeping up with the minigames. Pudding and Erica were head to head, always racing to win the next game. While they didn't talk during it, I could see their eyes sparkle. I had given up on the victory crown long ago. Now, it was more fun watching their playful rivalry play out than to actually try and win the minigames.

"Yes!"

With surprising vigor, Pudding jumped up in her seat after besting Erica for the final time. She grinned at all of us, who cheered and clapped, as her character danced again on the screen. She even did a small bow. Erica cheered too, and it was clear this wasn't the first time she had lost against her. I was sure that I understood their relationship a bit better, too: there was a side of Erica that only Pudding could bring out. And Erica liked Pudding no matter what, that was sure. The same was true for Pudding as well, certainly. I was a bit envious of their friendship, but this was something that had taken years to grow. I tried to be content with just knowing them. All of them. And who knew what the future had in store for us? Maybe we could all grow as close as they already were.

We played games all through the night. At one point, I must have fallen asleep in my comfy seat, as I woke to the colors of sunrise shining in through the window. While that next morning came with tense muscles, I had no regrets. I looked around me, watching me friends still sleep. Well, all but one: Arisu was still near the console, using her hair to help her with the controls. Whatever game she was playing right now, she completely dominated, with her fingers and hair pressing the right buttons at the right time. There was a giant grin on her face.

"Morning," I mumbled.

She didn't hear me, as she was too focused on the game. I dozed off again, lazily blinking at the sky. The others started to wake up soon after, and I tried to find some energy. Pudding yawned and stretched, before hopping down from her chair.

"I'll get us some toast," she said.

"Thank you," Maria yawned back.

I only gave her a thumbs-up. It was still too early to do anything. Pudding was the most energetic of us all, which surprised me. But maybe it was just that I rarely saw her this early in the morning, when she was truly awake, as it seemed. Soon, she came back to the room, her hands full with plates of toast. Arisu turned to her when she heard the noise.

"Hey, do you want to play again?"

She waved at Pudding with her controller.

"Sure," the girl answered, setting down the toast near me while she returned to her usual seat.

I chewed on one of the fluffy slices while Pudding still won every single game against Arisu. It did look like she was focusing a bit more than before, though. After she won the round, she looked at Arisu with a soft smile.

"Good game."

"Thanks," Arisu grumbled, "Another one?"

"You have to play one without me," she yawned, melting down in her chair.

"Hey, wait! That's not fair!"

But as much as Arisu yelled at and shook her, Pudding didn't hear - or at least, didn't want to hear - her. I finished my toast with a small smile, slightly touching Arisu's shoulder.

"Hey, you should get some rest, too."

"Hmph."

But Arisu put the controller away, and soon enough, fell asleep.