For a brief moment while watching her best friends chatter steps ahead of her, Sara ponders on Joe’s taste in fashion.
Today, a sunflower-shaped hair clip perches nicely between the usual two yellow clips. The petals are only a few shades off from the surrounding accessories, managing to make the newest addition pop further. Not that her observation is necessary; Joe had pointed it out as soon as they met up that morning with the excitement of a recently adopted puppy.
A gift from Ryoko, he gushes, unclipping it solely to nearly shove it in Sara’s face. It’s back in place with a practiced movement seconds later, the bloom outmatched in radiance by the grin crossing the boy’s face alone.
The sunny disposition somehow doesn’t blind Ryoko, who can see through it and find that softly glowing boy beneath it all and speak with him as if it isn’t so obvious he has a crush on her. Sara can’t help her own little smile the longer she eavesdrops (not that the other two don’t know she’s listening, of course), finding the current relationship climate extremely comfortable.
Summer has finally fallen into school’s schedule, smashing the calendar for the five weeks of freedom they’ve been presented. Sara represses the urge to start fiddling with Joe’s ponytail in the same manner he does to her when possible, choosing to save such in order to embarrass him later. She thinks about the dog keychain she bought him all that time ago, how it rests easily in the chest pocket of his shirt and never leaves his side.
( One day about a week ago, he came into class with only seconds to spare. His hair was more disheveled than normal, ponytail holder about to untangle itself and drop to the floor, but through the panting he’s smiling like he’s won some championship. Later, he admitted how the keychain had disappeared overnight and how he’d torn up the house this morning to find it again.
He proudly presents it in the cozy spot of his pocket and Sara laughs. What an honor to have a friend like this. )
Sara hasn’t forgotten the excitement from the switch to summer uniforms, how Joe whooped and hollered and threw off his blazer in the midst of morning announcements. Sleeves of his shirt were already up and, frankly, his look didn’t change much minus the new lack of blue adorning his torso. The incoming days showed it around his waist instead, tied and a bit rumpled from sitting on it. His excuse is that the classrooms tend to be cold, so carrying around one part of his winter uniform is helpful to combat the chill.
Joe’s never been one to follow uniform code anyways. The disciplinary committee has given up on handing out detentions since, in the end, the crime isn’t that egregious.
“ Hey, Sara! Come back to Earth, Ryoko’s headin’ home! ” Joe says, voice breaking through her thoughts. By the time she looks, Ryoko’s halfway down the street and still waving up until Sara finally returns the gesture. Sara’s attention goes to Joe immediately upon hearing a dreamy sigh, turning to see an expression radiating with warmth.
“ Are you going to ask her out or is she going to do it for you? ”
The accusatory tone makes Joe choke, the red already on his cheeks deepening. He sputters a few times before clearing his throat, turning his head away from Sara to avoid the smug gaze she’s giving him. “ I - I’m gonna do it! Just… gotta find the right time first, y’know? If I don’t pull it off perfectly, she might say no! What am I going to do then? ”
Sara isn’t too knowledgeable on how to shove your foot into the doorway of a romantic relationship, but what she does know is how Ryoko and Joe are. That alone gives her the basis to shrug and start walking, listening to the boy call her name and scurry to catch up when he brings himself out of his own contemplations.
The sun blazes down upon them and their mindless talk, unbothered by the heat as they make summer plans. These five weeks must be spent well, after all; freedom is scarce during the school year when exams and homework loom over their shoulders. Sara doesn’t bring up that Joe is going to cram school for part of it, but the suggestions for activities manage to silently navigate that fact.
( Ryoko is included and Joe’s eyes brighten enough that Sara’s certain she’ll go blind if she looks at him. )
A warm breeze ushers in sundown as the duo finally arrive at Sara’s doorstep. Distractions aplenty kept them from arriving at a decent time ranging from eating ice cream and relaxing in a park to petting several dogs stood in their path. Not that either is complaining, naturally; it’s the perfect way to kick off the vacation.
“ All right, so I’ll catch ya tomorrow? I’ll give you a call when I’m heading over, ” Joe tells her, shaking his phone at Sara for emphasis. There’s a list of alarms on this phone, ranging from when to wake up and when exactly to shoot her a message.
She appreciates the effort to keep on a time schedule. “ Right. If I’m not ready when you get here, I’ll pay for a drink that you want, ” she offers. Joe grins, bouncing on his toes in anticipation and readiness for the challenge. “ You have to call me though! No cheating, or you’re paying for one of my drinks. ”
“ Hey, don’t put me down like that! I’m not that kinda guy, ” Joe complains, blowing a raspberry and folding his arms. Sara wonders at times if they’re really the same age with how easily he reacts to little provocations, but it’s more endearing than anything. She climbs the steps and puts her hand on the doorknob, raising the other to wave.
“ I’ll see you tomorrow, Joe. Good night, ” she muses with a light smile, catching one of Joe’s own as the door shuts with a gentle click.
Joe wonders if human beings are meant to survive in winter weather. Stubbornness forces him to roll his blazer’s sleeves to his elbows, but the winter chill makes him want to push them back down and hug himself until his body temperature returns to normal.
Either way, he’s hopelessly cold and Sara is far too amused by his predicament. She knows how to dress for this, what with her blazer buttoned and a scarf around her neck along with a fluffy pair of earmuffs. Meanwhile, Joe… is only wearing the school’s winter uniform in the same way he does when the weather slowly chills and changes over.
( He should’ve worn socks today. )
A sneeze and a shake of the head, a dry crack sounding from his neck before he lets out noise and his brisk pace turns into a crawl. Sara pauses some feet ahead of him, exhaled breath visible in the air as she waits for him to catch up. Joe bends over, hands on his knees as a chorus of pops comes from his spine before standing back up straight.
Sara crinkles her nose at him, but Joe can’t help but grin before slouching against her. “ You gotta lend me one of your scarves someday! We lost all of mine after last year and I’m saving my money for stuff, ” he coos, receiving a scoff and eye roll.
“ If you remind me before class tomorrow, I’ll bring you one, okay? ”
“ Deal! ” he chirps, removing himself from her shoulder and moving ahead. Without the chills getting into his bones, Joe’s speed picks up again and the two are homeward-bound again before he knows it. While Sara’s certainly faster (and has left him in the dust plenty of times when it comes to impromptu races down the sidewalk), he’s still comfortably in talking distance. Short pants sprinkle into his sentences along with laughter, leaving him breathless at some moments but still following as a dog does to his owner.
That’s a more recent realization, actually. While finding ways to describe their friendship, Joe’s found the similarities between that of a cat and dog supremely obvious when after searching hard enough. Sara’s cool, collected nature is befitting of a feline along with her more graceful qualities while holding a certain snideness in her responses when its called for. She’s a companion that knows how to have a level-head and lingers about as a source of warmth when she chooses to be as such.
Joe appreciates her endlessly. The journey into his thoughts leads him to pause in the middle of the sidewalk, exhaling and watching the air form a cloud before drifting away with the breeze. While the sun isn’t peeking out from behind the clouds, there’s a warmth that spreads out from his chest as a hand hovers the dog keychain in his pocket.
( He remembers when he got it. His first birthday since entering high school and half-befriending Sara, finally culminating in the blissful moment where they stopped being so formal and started using first names.
The item holds the feelings of Ryoko and Sara in it, solely because the former won it and Sara found it fitting for him. Joe’s cheeks hurt by the end of the day from how hard he smiled throughout the rest of it, positioning the dog so it sticks out of his pocket perfectly. )
“ Joe, you’re going to catch a cold if you keep standing there! ”
Ah, right; he should get home. His attention goes to Sara and he grins, yanking his blazer sleeves down to his wrists and moving to catch up once more. There’s no more conversation for the time being, though Joe’s eyes are on Sara for a majority of the walk. While he’s certainly full of enough energy to speak for the next several minutes until they both reach home, the silence does them fine.
There’s the brief wish for Ryoko to be here as well to complete this trio, but she had fallen to the winter cold and went home in the middle of the day with a cough and a face mask. Joe pulls out his phone and considers shooting her a message, taking the idea into consideration for only a few seconds before sending her one complete with a kaomoji to cheer her on through the sickness. Sara laughs beside him and he looks to her, raising an eyebrow and waiting for an explanation.
“ Sometimes she talks to me about the way you message her, ” she begins. “ She thinks it’s cute. It reminds her so much of you that she guessed who was texting her before even entering your name into her phone. ”
Joe feels his heart beat faster and puts both hands to his chest, unsure of how to respond past that. His ears are red from the cold, but the shade only seems to deepen after Sara’s comments. Does… that mean Ryoko likes him in return? Does she even know how he feels about her? Hands reach up and cup his cheeks, the stinging cold that freezes his fingers jolting as they touch his warm face.
Sara’s relentless when it comes to teasing him about Ryoko, though it’s his own fault in the end. He speaks too fondly of a girl he’s fallen head-over-heels for so fast, about how much he would like to take her out someday and let her know his feelings. The lack of information on his end is disheartening, but privacy is important and he isn’t about to interrogate his best friend about his crush.
“ C - C’mon, Sara, you can’t say that to me suddenly! I was wonderin’ how she knew it was me since I messaged her and forgot to say my name the first time, ” he answers, scrubbing at his cheeks in hopes of erasing how obviously he’s blushing. Sara’s expression is a soft one, a kind pat to his arm while watching him have a flustered meltdown.
Ahhh, that does it! I’ll ask her soon! No more cowardice, Tazuna Jou!
Exhaling deeply to rid himself of the red, Joe sprints forward. He hears Sara gasp at the burst of speed before she calls out to him and follows behind, soon reaching an equal pace. Their grins match each other and they continue home in this manner, the cold winter air left far behind as their collective laughter fills in the empty space.
Springtime filters out the chills of winter and takes in the approaching warmth of summer. While temperatures do not quite hit the point where the switch to the summer uniform is official, Joe can comfortably roll up his sleeves to his elbows once more and Sara can drop the earmuffs and scarf back into her closet for the next several months.
( Not that such items could protect them from the creeping feeling of being watched, nor the light rain that starts up on one late return from the school grounds. )
Sara holds the cat keychain Joe gave her upon the change in year, a gift for their advancement into their second year of high school. It’s a protective charm almost, how it calms her down enough to breathe and search her dark home as he calls the police after finding her mother unconscious.
She pleads for her father, prays for an answer, and yet… and yet…
Joe hears a scream and drops the phone in his hands. “ Sara! ” he calls out, stumbling up the stairs with how fast he moves up them. He catches sight of eyes within the darkness of the room and, out of his own mind in panic, charges. One fist is up and he throws it, feeling… something oddly shaped under his foot when he plants it down to swing.
Someone catches his fist before mercilessly twisting it behind his back. He’s thrown to the floor, catching only a glint of purple from the small light filtering between blinds.
His thoughts are silent when his consciousness finally slips away, one hand shakily out to try and grip his best friend’s.
( The next time a breeze brushes past them, they’re falling faster and faster.
Such is how the seasons go, they suppose. )