Ever since she's started high school, Saki wakes with the knocking on her door. Her mind is aware of it seconds before it happens, which leads to a frantic tingle pulling her out of her sleep. Her eyes fly open just as the knuckles graze the wood, and her head feels like it's stuck in a stormcloud, crackles of lightning and rumbles of thunder.
But the knocking is keeping her grounded.
She sits up straight, places her hands over her ears, and closes her eyes. The noises become muffled. Then, she can't hear the knocking. Can't hear the thunder. Can't hear the voices.
Saki opens her eyes. "Come in."
The doorknob turns. As always, it's Megumi. He's already dressed for school, too, not a hair out of place.
"Sis," he says.
To anyone who doesn't know better, his expression is cold. To Saki, it's anything but. "Grandma made breakfast. Come eat when you're ready." He bows. "And good morning, sis."
Saki smiles. "Good morning, Megumi. I'll be down shortly." Megumi nods, closing the door behind him.
Getting ready is one of Saki's favorite parts of the day. She makes sure the black polish covers her nails entirely, clashing beautifully with the white of her uniform. She guides her long, wavy hair into a braid over her shoulder, tying it tightly. She opens her drawer to pick which Summer-Colored Sigh volume to read on her way to school — the third one, this time around.
Downstairs, she takes a seat at the table to eat. Her parents have already left for work, but her brother and grandmother are already in the middle of the meal. Her grandmother piles the rice high in her bowl, telling her to eat more. Megumi reaches for a slice of cucumber, allowing their grandmother to deposit him another hefty scoop of rice.
The atmosphere is pleasant. The waves in the air are content. Saki eats her fill.
When Saki opens the door to the classroom, she's welcomed by one of her dear best friends. Tohru is already grinning as she greets, "Hana-chan, good morning!"
There's also acknowledgement of Saki's arrival from her two acquaintances, Kyo and Yuki, sitting nearby. They have yet to meet the requirement for her friendship, which is why she ignores them completely. (The two are somewhat offended but unsurprised.)
"Good morning, Tohru-kun," she responds. Her gaze drifts to Tohru's head, and she lets her lips downturn slightly. "You didn't do your hair this morning."
Flushing, Tohru grabs onto the ends of her hair. "A-Ah, yes... We were running late. I must have forgotten. It was quite hectic in the house."
"Well, Shigure-san left one of the windows open last night," Tohru begins. "There were, um... i-intruders."
Kyo corrects, "Bugs were crawling everywhere. You're making it sound like there was a burglary." He sighs, annoyed. "I swear, I saw a cicada in my damn rice."
"Oh, in-ter-est-ing," Saki says, sing-song. She feels some satisfaction at Kyo's anxious grimace. Out of the corner of her eye, Yuki also appears wary.
(Although she's not entirely certain why they fear her to such an extent, that doesn't mean she won't try and exploit it every now and then. With no ill intentions, obviously.)
"I had the sense to grab a few ribbons," Tohru continues, though she loses her pep once she pulls them out of her bag. "Unfortunately, none of them match..."
Saki shakes her head. "No, I think they're perfect." She offers a hand. "Allow me."
While Saki makes tiny braids of her hair, Tohru recounts the terror in the Sohma house. She doesn't do very well, stuttering and forgetting where she left off, so Kyo and Yuki often interject with details. For example: a butterfly in the kitchen, ants invading Kyo's snack stash, Shigure locking himself in the bathroom. By the time Saki's other dear best friend arrives, the story has reached its conclusion and Tohru has three bows of different colors tied to her braids.
Arisa stalks into the room and grunts, "Jesus Christ, I wanna go home!"
"Good morning, Uo-chan!" exclaims Tohru.
"You just got here, yankee," remarks Kyo.
Squinting, Arisa cocks her head to the side and sneers, "'scuse me? I don't wanna hear snark outta you, orange." She turns to Tohru, switching to a grin. "Hey, Tohru. I love what Hanajima's doing with your hair!"
"There wasn't any snark," Kyo retorts, rolling his eyes. "I made a freakin' observation." Arisa ignores him in favor of collapsing onto her desk.
"Anything out of your unruly mouth sounds hostile," Yuki says, nonchalant.
Fists and teeth bared, Kyo growls, "What did you say to me, punk!?"
Everyone in class is so used to this sort of heated exchange that ignoring it is second nature. The bickering is easiest to overlook. When it gets to fighting, keeping out of the way is the best. The only person who ever tries to stop them anymore is the only person who actually can.
Tohru flails her arms, trapped by Saki's braiding hands, and babbles, "L-Let's all try and settle down before Mayu-sensei gets here, okay?"
Kyo and Yuki share a sharp glare, but they follow the request without argument. Saki takes a look at them, the contrast of orange and gray, and observes. Kyo isn't as aggressive as he once was, irritated shouts replaced by low grumbling. Yuki isn't as two-dimensional as he once appeared, a small splotch of embarrassed pink along his cheeks from the confrontation. Whether Tohru notices these changes or not, she must be the one responsible.
It worries Saki, sometimes, how taken they are with Tohru. If she were to ask them to run across campus, maybe they would. It's not dedication; it's a type of trust that's terrifying. Saki knows well what it's like; she and Arisa would follow Tohru to the ends of the earth. Hence, it worries her, sometimes, that there are others who may eventually share that sentiment as well.
A silly thought, it is, wrought from a moment of jealousy. Saki is well aware that Tohru loves her and Arisa, and absolutely nothing will change that. The whole world can love Tohru, but she will always have a place within her heart for her two best friends.
"Hana-chan, are you feeling alright? You're wearing a strange expression."
Saki wants the whole world to love Tohru, genuinely. And if they won't love her, Saki would give the world to her, if she could. Tohru deserves all that and more.
"I'm thinking about how lovely your hair is," Saki says.
Tohru smiles. "You're so sweet!"
A few minutes later, Mayuko enters the classroom with the attendance binder under her arm and a scowl on her face. She stands in front of the board and declares, "It's time for learning, gremlins."
Saki finishes tying the last bow in Tohru's hair and announces, "Ta-dah." Tohru giggles, and Arisa snorts.
"Hanajima-san, nice job on Honda-san's hair but please, sit in your own seat."
"As you wish, sensei."
Mayuko sighs. "For the last time, stop with the theatrics. Now, class, listen for your name as I start roll call. If you don't respond, you don't exist for the day. No complaining!"
Lunch isn't only the three of them anymore. Tohru, Arisa, and Saki have now included Kyo and Yuki in their group of weirdos. It's a new arrangement, ever since discovering Tohru's new living situation, that brings them unexpectedly closer to the family. Arisa has a blast teasing the Sohmas, whereas Saki has yet to pass judgment. Tohru is content with all of them getting along, anyway.
Five growing students with their lunchboxes are difficult to fit on desks, so they take to the outdoors on sunny days such as today. The grass is cool, and the conversation is easy. Arisa argues with Kyo about the deliciousness of miso in stir fry; Tohru ponders over the recipe while Yuki lists ingredients.
During these times, Saki likes to listen to the waves. The energy is so comfortable that she can't help it.
Tohru's waves are like gentle heartbeats, like the reason life itself has purpose. Arisa's waves are like the beats of a bass drum, strong and loud and steadfast. So juxtaposed, yet so complementary. Saki loves them and their waves, can sense both a kilometer away.
The Sohmas' waves are strange, though; Saki can't quite place a proper analogy to them. They have those pulse-like waves like everyone else, unique to the individual, but there is something else underlying. She can describe the feeling in vague verbiage: buzzing, humming, unceasing. They all match, Shigure included, which is even stranger. For Kyo and Yuki, two boys so at odds with one another, to have waves that share the same frequency is a puzzle given for Saki to solve.
But she won't. It's not her business to investigate. They treat Tohru well, and that's all that matters. There is no need to pry for secrets.
"Hanajima-san, is that... your second burger?" Yuki asks, astonished.
Arisa adds, "Hanajima is a growing girl, prince. Let her live."
"The girl's like an animal," Kyo mutters, and immediately he chokes on his food. Tohru worriedly pats his back and asks if he's okay, to which he sputters, "I'm not a kid!"
"Debatable," Yuki says.
It's nice to know that these boys are weirdos, too.
Walking out of the school is a three-plus-two tradition now, also. Once class ends, they begin their treks home together. Kyo and Yuki walk in front, a meter apart, while the girls are behind them.
"Geez, I bombed that quiz," Arisa laments, folding her hands behind her head and groaning to the sky.
"Math is not my strong suit," Tohru sighs, "so I'm sure I didn't do that well either..."
Yuki turns around, interest piqued. "Honda-san, do you need extra practice? I can go over a few review problems with you tonight."
Tohru gasps, "You've already done more than enough for me! I don't want to cause you any more trouble."
"It's no trouble at all," Yuki assures.
Kyo grumbles, "Yeah, milk his brain 'til it's dry and useless." In the next moment, he's on the ground from a swift motion at his ankles. "Ow! What'd you do that for!?"
"My foot slipped," Yuki says, stone-faced.
"Fight me like a man, you coward!" Kyo roars as he clambers to his feet.
"Your unconscious body will block pedestrian traffic."
"My what will do what?"
Saki places a courteous hand on her cheek and says, "Cat and mouse."
Like predicted, Kyo and Yuki freeze. This has happened before, and the reaction is identical. A strike of fear and anxiety in the air. Those underlying waves are buzzing like a colony of bees. Saki wonders, but she doesn't probe, so instead she smiles.
"That reference again, Hanajima?" Arisa huffs. "Geez, you sound like an old geezer."
Tohru's awkward giggle follows. "Y-You really love classic cartoons, Hana-chan!"
"My grandmother has a DVD collection of that show," Saki muses. "Megumi and I often watched it during my younger years."
Chuckling, Arisa says, "I'd love to see that kid react to the over-the-top violence. He'd probably jolt in his seat and try to play it cool. Ha!"
So, they continue walking. Kyo and Yuki stand one meter apart. The buzzing fades into the background. Saki can only hear the vibrant voices of her friends at her side, and there is balance. There is happiness. There is love.
Saki and Arisa part ways with the other three at the next crosswalk. Tohru waves them goodbye, and she stands between Kyo and Yuki as they leave. There is sorrow to it, but there is still balance. Happiness. Love.
"Hey, don't look so bummed out," Arisa scolds. "We do this every time."
Saki sighs. "An unbreakable, inevitable habit."
"Yeah, sure. I miss her, too."
When she arrives home, Saki forgoes her homework in favor of cooking rice. It's the excuse she uses almost every night, but at least it's productive. Her grandmother, who cooks alongside her, says that a full belly is more important than anything else in the world. Saki won't argue with her.
At dinner, she eats with her family. Her father talks about work, and her mother talks about relatives coming to visit over the summer. Her grandmother puts extra slices of meat on everyone's plate; Megumi gives those extras to Saki in exchange for vegetables.
In the evening, after reluctantly completing her homework, Saki sits in front of the TV in search of a treasure. Her grandmother is already in bed, so she takes a while to discover it on her own, collecting dust in an old shoebox.
"Megumi," Saki calls.
Her brother emerges from the shadows, where he'd been testing bath candles in the kitchen. "Yes, sis?"
"Would you care to watch Tom and Jerry with me?"
Megumi blinks. He's confused. "What's that?"
"You don't remember?" Saki pats the space beside her. "Let's watch, then."
With the scent of amber and fire, Megumi sits down and watches the decades-old show with his older sister. He flinches at the loud bells and cymbals, grimaces at the pain that can only be felt behind the screen. But his eyes glisten with wonder, and Saki can sense his curiosity of something forgotten.
When Megumi asks if they can watch another DVD tomorrow, Saki says yes.
Braid undone, mind at ease, before she drifts off, Saki gives thanks.
To her family, standing by her side in the worst of times; to her friends, believing in her at her best; and to her future, simply existing in the distance.
And finally, there is quiet.