Chapter 23:

Shopping Spree!

We Are ☆ Star Club!

 Maria set down her book with a loud thump.

"Honestly, we've done enough for today."

I looked up from my own textbook. Something was up.

"What do you mean?"

A big smile spread across her face.

"We've done enough learning today! And we did a great job."

As if to support her own statement, she nodded. I stared at her. This wasn't how it usually went. Maria being the first one to stop studying? No, something was definitely going on.

"So, why don#t we reward ourselves with a nice little shopping spree?"

I looked at Arisu.

"I, uh..."

So that was where that came from. Shopping. I felt a knot in my stomach, but I couldn't voice my concerns. Not with Arisu slamming down her own book in her excitement.

"Sounds great!"

She clapped her hands together as her hair was already putting our book away. Defeated, I sighed.

"It sounds fun, but, um..."

Maria looked at me with a warm smile.

"We don't have to buy anything. It's just a little fun, okay?"

I nodded, slowly. Since I was basically spending my little saving money on both me and Arisu, it was surprisingly difficult to manage. And the others started to notice, too. But I just couldn't order everything I wanted from the café, or buy new clothes whenever I wanted to. Urgh. I hate this. Maybe I do need to find a part-time job... but then, I'll probably be too tired for our club, and not able to see my friends often... argh, what should I do?

"Sara? You're worrying again."

Maria's light touch got me out of my thoughts.

"Huh? Ah, sorry."

I forced my mouth into a smile, but the thoughts continued. It's not their problem. Just mine. So, it would be best if we're just having fun now, I thought. Still, while we walked into the city, I was mostly silent. How much money had I left? A few coins rattled in my pocket, but it wouldn't be enough for two icecream cones.

"Ah, here!"

Maria ran up to a shop, with cute clothes in the windows. I could see that Arisu loved them, too.

"Yes, let's go in there."

She took my hand, and I forced myself to smile. We were just looking... that couldn't hurt, right? So we went in, and I looked at the glittering racks full of clothes. None of them really were my style... or my price range, if I was being honest. Oh well. We were just looking.

"Ooooh, this is soooooo cute!"

Arisu's voice echoed through the store, and I saw her grabbing a jacket, showing it off excitedly to Maria and me.

"Ah, that's pretty," Maria cooed.

It really was. While I wouldn't have imagined Arisu in a bomber style jacket before, I now saw how well it would suit her. The muted pink of the fabric went surprisingly well with her bright green hair, and the blindingly white stripes on the arms added some cool details. The material must have been satin or something similar, for the whole jacket reflected the store lights just like water would. I sighed. It was really, really pretty. But I didn't need to look at the price tag to know that I couldn't afford it.

"You should try it on," Maria suggested.

My mouth twitched. It was difficult to keep up the smile. I turned around, looking desperately at the other clothes. The feeling in my stomach got worse and worse.

"Uh, why don't we look around more...?"

Maria shook her head.

"Oh, it's fine. Relax, Sara. Really, there is nothing to worry about."


I half-heartedly looked around the store while Arisu went to one of the dressing rooms. There was a cute top here, a nice skirt there... but nothing that really grabbed my interest. Or maybe I simply didn't allow myself to be interested.

"You're still worried."

Maria was behind me, arms crossed. I shook my head, avoiding her gaze.

"No, I'm not."

She didn't buy it.

"What's wrong? Are you not having fun?"

I sighed. What should I say? It was so difficult to explain myself, but I tried anyway.

"No, not really. I wish I could, but..." I waved around the store. "This is nice and all, but..."

I stopped. This didn't help, clearly. Maria let out a small sigh, before looking at me again.

"Hey. I'm sorry. I didn't understand how you felt."

"It's nothing," I hurried to say, "I just..."

"No, I mean it. I'm sorry. I really wasn't thinking about what that could mean to you when I made that suggestion."

I did feel relieved.

"I.. uh.. .thanks."

Still, it was difficult to actually say what I wanted to say. And before any more words could come out of my mouth, Arisu exited the dressing room and twirled with the jacket on, her arms swishing around.

"It's so cute, right? Right?"

She was excited, like the jacket had energized her.

"It is."

I gave her a thumbs-up, but my heart wasn't in it. I wish I could buy it for her, but...

And she sensed it.

"I can't have it, right?"

She sighed, but there was a small smile on her lips.

"I understand."

She looked at herself once more in one of the mirrors, before she took the jacket off.

"Still, this was fun. Thanks, Maria, Sara."

Maria gave each of us a look.

"Soooo... what do you want to do now?"

I watched Arisu put the jacket on a pile of clothes, gently patting it, but with a smile on her face. Maybe this wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe we could...

"There's another really cute store right down the street." I pointed at its general direction. "Should we go there?"

"Ah, that sounds wonderful. If you're sure...?"

Maria trailed off, watching me closely. I nodded at her.

"I'm sure. This is fun."

This time, my smile was genuine. Together, we left the story and walked down the busy streets. Sometimes, we simply looked at the clothes in the windows, but also walked into one or two more stores to look at their clothes. While we didn't buy any - except for a necklace that Maria couldn't resist - I really had lots of fun spending time with my friends. Only when it got colder, we stopped. I shivered, rubbing my arms. Soon, I would need to wear my coat again. But for today, there was enough warmth between all of us that I didn't need one. After we said our goodbyes, Arisu and I left the bright, glittering city behind us, walking back home. She stretched her whole body, as if she were a cat. Her hair curled around her like a long scarf, and she wore it like one, too. She gave me a big smile.

"That was nice."

I nodded at her.

"Yeah, right?"

Maria had been right. This was the perfect way to end a studying date. That reminded me.

"Still, I hope I won't fail the test tomorrow..."

Arisu grinned at me.

"Oh, don't worry about that," she said.

I playfully rolled my eyes at her.

"Hey, this is important! You can relax, since you're an exchange student, basically..."

"And I'll enjoy it!"

I stuck out my tongue at her, earning the same reaction in response.

The next morning was horrible. On my way to the classroom, my anxiety spiked. I didn't sleep properly before, and didn't eat much. My head spun with all the knowledge I had tried to cram in there on the way to the classroom. Now, that we were in there, I didn't feel better. Still, I tried to remain calm on the outside. I saw Maria at her desk, her nose deep in the textbook.


While she sounded cheerful, she didn't look at us.

"Good morning...?"

This didn't help with my nervousness. She was acting quite strange. But, even more strange, was the paper bag on Arisu's desk.

"Huh? What's that?"

Together, we walked over to it, and Arisu opened it without a second thought. Out fell a dream of pink satin.

"Oh, it's the jacket!"

Her eyes sparkled, as she clutched the fabric close to her heart. I managed to look away from her and watched Maria, who still had her head deep in her textbook. I couldn't even see her face.

"But how?" Arisu wondered. "What? Maria, did you see how this appeared here?"

"Huh? Oh, no." I could hear the smile in her voice. "Let's focus on this test, shall we?"

Still, I could see that her cheeks had turned bright red.

"Thanks," I whispered as I sat down.

She didn't answer, but I was sure she had heard me. I couldn't stop smiling. She probably didn't want to cause a scene, and Arisu was happy. I would see if I could repay her, but that would have to wait.

Any other thought got wiped from my mind as our teacher slammed the door shut, walking to his desk.

"We'll start the test in five minutes. Get ready, everybody."

And with those words, all the gratefulness I had felt a moment ago was replaced with pure panic.