|Saeko Fujioka usually took enjoyed taking trains, but today was a big exception. She was a huge reader, and most of the time she actually looked forward to long train and plane rides, since they were an excuse to delve into the latest mystery or true crime novel. She could completely lose herself in a good book and the hours would just fly by. But today, the girl who sat next to her just would not take the hint and shut the hell up! I just wish people would buy a clue from somebody. If someone has book in their lap, that’s not a sign that they’re looking for some conversation from a stranger. It means that they would like to read, not have some goofwad ask them about it or something else every two minutes because they’re bored!
And what made it worse is that the girl made it really hard to hate her. She wasn’t really trying to be obnoxious, just attempting to be friendly. And she really was a nice person, even complimenting Saeko on her eyes. Of course, by the end of the two-hour trip Saeko knew more about Sarah Builder than she ever wanted to know: Sarah was due to graduate from high school in a few months, originally lived in Florida until her family had moved to Callie two years ago, and she really loved the weather. Now she was visiting all the different colleges and universities around the state, and was trying to pick the right one. By happy coincidence, she was taking the SAME train to go the SAME campus that Saeko was visiting! Not that Saeko was considering going to the school: She was having a great time at Caltech studying to be an aerodynamics engineer.
No, the reason why Saeko was on this train having to endure (with a smile on her face) the company of Ms. Builder was because she was visiting a friend there. Judy was her best bud growing up, and they had been inseparable as long as she could remember. The girls were always getting into trouble as kids, usually because Saeko had dragged her best friend into it. They had quite a few arguments, most of which were based upon a simple template: Saeko would want to do something wild and crazy, and Judy would try to back out of it. Judy actually did have a wild girl living inside her, and it just needed someone whom she trusted to draw it out. Saeko had lost count of the number of times which Judy swore that their friendship was over because of the shenanigans which had nearly ended in disaster. But in every instance, nothing bad had really occurred, and in the end the two had made up and recommitted themselves to the friendship.
But the sad fact was that what dozens of fights and abortive breakups had never accomplished, high school graduation had. Both of them had sworn to keep in touch and at least email once a week. Unfortunately, as it usually happens, physical separation brought distance, and the emails had trickled down to a de facto blackout. She hadn’t heard from Judy in several months, and then it came. An email popped up in her In Box begging Saeko to come visit. There were strong hints that Judy had a big surprise in store for her, possibly in the form of a huge change in her life.
As Saeko loved to figure out a good mystery, this drove her nuts. What could it be? Had she discovered that she was gay? No, her first emails mentioned her attraction to several cute guys on campus, so Saeko didn’t think that was it. Was she getting religion? Judy’s family had always been nominal Catholics, so it was possible she had decided to take it or some other faith seriously. But no, that didn’t seem like it either, judging from the hints in the welcoming email. Other than these obvious possibilities, there didn’t seem to be any prime candidate for what the secret was. So her curiosity was like an itch in the back of her head.
And there was another mystery which was threatening to eclipse the first. In the midst of her idle chatter, Sarah had just casually dropped a phrase that had caught Saeko’s ear: “stripped during an inspection.” Saeko had been half-reading her book, struggling between the urge to do what she wanted to do versus pretending to pay attention so as to not be completely rude. And Sarah had just thrown out the phrase so quickly that Saeko had not been sure she had heard correctly. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
And just like that, the train signaled that it was about to enter the station, which was a warning sign that all the passengers needed to collect their belongings from the compartments. By the time that Saeko had gotten her bags ready, all in the car was chaos. Oh well. I must have just misunderstood what Sarah had said. It sounded like one of her friends was strip-searched during an inspection on campus, or something like that. I wasn’t really paying full attention, so I must have heard her wrong.
She got off the train with her two bags, full of clothes and all the other stuff which no woman can do without for a weekend. She followed Sarah off the train and stepped onto the platform. A young woman her own age was standing off to the side, holding up with a sign reading “Saeko Fujioka.” She was a red head, and was pretty–on the edge of gorgeous. Saeko walked over to her and said in a loud voice (in order to be heard over the noisy atmosphere) “I’m Saeko. Is there a problem? I was supposed to meet Judy here.”
“No, no problem at all. I’m Brenda, a good friend of Judy’s. She got held up at the school, so she asked me to come pick you up. Do you have all your stuff?”
“Well, then let’s roll out!”Just as they were about to turn around from the train, they both heard behind them, “Um, excuse me? Did I understand that you’re going to the College?”
And then Saeko’s heart momentarily stopped beating as she recognized the voice and realized what this meant. And her heart sunk even further when she saw Brenda smile and ask in a beautiful singsong voice “Oh yeah, we are. Do you need a ride?”
“Well, I could always get a taxi. . .” Sarah’s tone made it clear that this was the last thing she wanted to do.
“Oh, hell no! We’d be happy to give you a ride! What’s your name, sweety?”
“Sarah. Sarah Builder. Are you sure this won’t be any trouble?”
“Of course not. Do you have all your stuff?”
“Yeah. I probably brought more clothes than I needed to.” Unlike every other woman Saeko had ever known, Sarah had just brought one small bag.
“Well, are you a visitor, or are you a student?”
“Well, then don’t worry about it. It’ll be just fine.”
Saeko’s ears perked up at this. Another cryptic statement dropped into casual conversation. Her first instinct was to ask what the two meant by it, but then she stopped herself. Quite frankly, I don’t think I want to know, if it means that Sarah will be encouraged to talk. I like the girl, I really do. But right now I need a little break from her usual mode of going a mile a minute.
The three girls walked to Brenda’s car, and Saeko was almost at the car when she noticed something else a little peculiar. It probably had nothing else to do with all the other little enigmas she had encountered, but it did catch her eye. Brenda was dressed a little. . . oddly. She was wearing a big man’s flannel shirt and some sandals. Not a dress or a blouse/combination. Not that Saeko had any complaint about her dress: Just like most women she could admire a good feminine figure, and Brenda’s legs were worth showing off. But it just seemed a little off-kilter to wear something like that in public. But you know what? None of my business. I’m sure she’s wearing something under it. It’s not like she could just walk around in nothing but a shirt! Heh heh!
They all jammed into the car with plenty of room to spare, and Brenda sped out of the parking lot. And as they drove, there was just one more thing that Saeko noticed. For some reason, Brenda kept on fiddling with the buttons on her shirt. In fact, she would unbutton one, glance down, see what she was doing, then re-button it.
About two minutes into the car ride, Sarah was launching into another talk-fest when she suddenly stopped and said, “Oh my gosh! I’m sooooooo sorry Saeko! I’ve been talking your ear off the whole time!”
“No, it’s fine.”
“No, it’s not. I have a habit of becoming a chatterbox when I’m nervous, and I’m really excited about visiting this school. But I’ll give you a break for a few minutes while we look at the gorgeous scenery.”
“OK.” Saeko smiled and shrugged, feeling a bit guilty about her prior thoughts towards the girl. Of course she was nervous. Now don’t I feel like an ass!
“All right, here we are.” They crossed the gate onto the campus. And Saeko didn’t know it, but she had just crossed a Rubicon—and her life would never be the same. And she would know this in about ten minutes when she saw her best friend again. . .