Tyra closes the front of her kimono dress top and secures it with a wide red sash, a monochromatic butterfly decal on the front. The hem and cuffs are white while the body is black. The excess fabric on the sleeves is dotted with red butterflies. Her skirt is mostly black, but both layers are hemmed with white lace. She twirls around and the crimson bow attached to her sash has long ribbons that tickle her ankles. She turns and looks into her full-length mirror, and while at first pleased with her outfit, it swiftly reminds her of how many times she’s worn such dresses for events she was forced to and lacked the interest to attend.
To be completely honest, do I even want to go to this dance? Or is it that I’m dreading going home so much that it’s got me thinking tonight’s party is responsible? Either way, nothing good will happen toni–
“I’m gonna miss you,” she hears Nuria say, but the immediate warmth she feels from her behind the back embrace only slightly thaws her joy. “Both of you.”
“I’m gonna miss you guys, too,” Carnya says. “But who knows? I’ll keep my eyes on the skies in case either of you ever decide to drop by Conis. That’s my hometown, by the way.”
“I’ll see what I can do.” Tyra sees Nuria turn to her, and she feels the alabaster heat coming off of her even without opening her senses up. Before she knows it, that energy seems to infect her and she feels a bit better.
“I don’t think I’ll have the chance to get away, but I’ll definitely miss you guys,” Tyra replies. She glances swiftly at her mirror and her frown returns.
“You guys excited for tonight? Dancing’s always fun!” Nuria declares, recapturing Tyra’s attention just as swiftly.
“Oh, yeah!” Carnya cheers. “I don’t step on Syl’s feet anymore, so we won’t look terribly awkward on the dance floor. What about you and the grandson?”
Tyra hears light rapping at their door, but it appears she’s the only one who did, so she attributes it to her stress and lets it slide.
Nuria shakes her head. “You’ll just have to wait and see.”
“Aww, c’mon…okay, you know what? I’ll let you keep that secret.” Tyra flinches when Carnya turns to her so abruptly. “Tyra, what you got planned tonight? Who’s your date?”
All at once, Tyra is treated to a montage of memories from the past month. Gentlemen of all ages and races came to her, asking to be her date. She felt bad for rejecting them all, but she was after someone in particular herself. She tried to get a hold of him as often as she could, other duties acting as obstacles, and ultimately faced defeat. The flush in her face is both from embarrassment and shame. “I…I don’t have a date.”
“What? Then why dress like that? For yourself?”
“Is that a bad thing?” Tyra asks nervously.
“Well, no, but why no date? Did you not ask anyone? Did nobody ask you?”
“I turned down most of them because…well, the one I wanted to ask was never around. He suddenly just dropped off the face of the planet.”
“He who?” Carnya inquires.
“Yeah, now I’m curious,” Nuria says.
Tyra feels the heat lick across her cheeks. “I mean, a dance is the least he deserves for saving me.”
“You mean the Ohaida boy with the attitude?” Carnya asks.
“Ohaida boy with attitude?” Tyra watches Nuria try to piece it together with a perplexed expression, then remembers she was knocked unconscious before all the craziness in the stands went down. “Oh, you mean–”
“Aven, yes,” Tyra sort of shouts.
The moment Tyra saw Nuria attacked by the woman’s liquefied arm and slammed against the wall, she rose straight away, her body brimming with white light all around her. She never felt such power before that moment all at once, feeling her skin burn up from the back of her hands and just beneath her collar bone. She was just about to summon her wings when the woman turned her attention to the crowd. The woman’s whirpool arms hurdling toward her, crashing over her peers had her frozen. She would’ve taken the full brunt of that attack if Aven hadn’t shielded her with his own back. The look on his face expressed nothing but pain as they fell to the floor together.
To this day, Tyra still can’t fathom why he took the blow for her, and much less to why he’s avoided her since then.
“Wait, is that why you always hung out with him this semester? Do you like him?”
“I…well…I guess so,” Tyra mumbles while twiddling her thumbs. Does it count if the affection comes from a high-intensity situation? What if it’s just extreme gratitude I’m feeling, and the moment I express it, my “crush” goes away?
“There are no classes right now, so there are only two places he’s bound to be,” Nuria states. “You ready to go get him?”
“But what if he already has a date?”
“Not today, Tyra. No room for doubts. Time to kick “what-ifs” in the ass!” Nuria boasts. “You’re the best-dressed girl here. Go and show Aven what he’s missing out on!” Nuria throws a thumbs up her way and holds the position while Tyra thinks it over.
I guess arguing with Nuria about it will eventually get me to say yes, but how do I do this? How do I be fearless? How do I become like Nuria? I mean, she always does her own thing because she follows her own set of rules, even if she seems to make…them…up.
Tyra again dismisses the knocking when she pulls out her journal from beneath her pillow, a “D” made from strips of duct tape on the cover. She flips to the second page and writes down:
No. 2- Ignore fear in the face of desire, duty, or desire.
“What’d you just write down?” Carnya asks.
Tyra snaps the journal shut and says, “Just a little something to remember from time to time.” She places the journal back under her pillow. “Shall we go?”
Someone knocks again, this time with some power.
“I think so,” Carnya answers. “Syl’s losing his mind out there.”
“How are you feeling after all those dance lessons?” Pan asks Rum as he leads her into the fenced-off seating area of the courtyard. The fence is decorated with cyan, magenta and yellow rose-shaped lightbulbs all the way around, including the arched entryway, the path connecting the seating area to the dance floor, and the perimeter of the dance floor.
At the rear of the seating area is the faculty table with the headmaster and all the professors present. The buffet line keeps it separate from the student tables, shaped like circles as opposed to the long rectangular table for the faculty. Rum waves to Tameri, but she’s distracted by Nuria and Tyra calling to her from behind. The three of them talk briefly before departing the party together.
“I’m not nervous,” Rum says as he watches them leave, raising an eyebrow when Nuria ditches them after.
“You don’t have to lie, Rummy.” She lifts their conjoined hands. “I can feel your hand shaking mine.”
“Just relax. We could both look stupid soon enough.”
“I don’t know about that.” He looks down at his midnight blazer and dress pants, cobalt dress shirt and laceless dress shoes, then moves to appreciate Pan’s green chiffon dress with a not so modest neckline and pearl sneakers. Her sandy hair is pinned up in the back in three side-by-side buns. “I think we look pretty good.”
“Who looks better- you or me?” she asks as they pass through the buffet line.
“We’re not here to compete with each other.” He leads her down the pathway to the dance floor. He twirls her around in front of him and holds her there. “We’re here to compete with all these other couples.” After he lets her see the crowd of other dancers, he pulls her back into him and assumes a standard starting dance pose, one hand holding hers and one on her waist. He lifts an eyebrow when she gives him a look. “What?”
“Other couples?” Pan teases.
Rum clicks his tongue. “I mean, not us, but I’m betting most of the other dancers are. What?”
Pan goes still as she looks at him. After a lengthy silence, she says, “Challenge accepted.”
“Challenge? What challenge?”
“I think you’ll catch on by the end of the night. You ready to do this?”
He starts to initiate their dancing when the music changes, and the tempo is more upbeat than before. He and Pan turn and watch as the group of dancers gather together in the center.
A not so coordinated flash mob, huh. Perfect!
Rum grabs Pan by the hand and leads her directly into the middle of the crowd. He didn’t always enjoy the concerts Nuria would drag him and their mom to, but he did enjoy the spontaneous dance pits some of them had, coming to like more freestyle dances than anything else. When he and Pan are the center of attention, he effortlessly slides both hands along her waist, having already braced himself mentally the moment they agreed to go together. He initiates their cavorting with powerful and sure leading steps, growing more and more confident when Pan follows smoothly.
Yeah, we’re definitely gonna be the best couple tonight!
The wooden steps of the spiraling staircase vibrate under the spell of the Founder’s Day celebration rhythm, making even the campus buildings dance. The flashing lights from the party peek through the ground floor windows and the dazzling rotation of colors seep into the faint glow coming off of Tyra’s wings, turning the color from white to cyan to white to magenta to white to yellow. Tyra bounces her shoulders along with the vibrating floor, concerned this will be her only chance to dance tonight. Still, she’s here and she plans to do at least one thing with Aven tonight. She suspects he knows who she truly is, but with her wings out completely, she plans to confirm it for him. He saved her life, so he deserves to know what kind of life it is.
Tyra finds the door between her and her target. She applies too much strength to her rapping- nerves a mess- and her fist breaks through the door. Instead of panicking further, she leaves her fist in the hole and takes a deep breath.
“Aven, are you there?” she says to the door. She waits so long with no reply that she believes him to be asleep. She sighs and pulls her hand back, but her arm jerks. She feels Aven’s hand gently grasping the tips of her fingers.
Answer’s that, I guess.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“You should be able to tell that,” he says. “We’re connected by our hands, so it should be a cinch for you.”
Tyra recalls his expression when she told him exactly what she was. None of the other students comprehended like he did. Even now, he expresses his intimate knowledge of her abilities, which makes him even rarer for someone his age. What amazed her was that after he never really mentioned her Vanusi state or her lineage, but was brave enough to hang out with her. Until that woman attacked them, that is.
“I could, but I asked you for a reason,” Tyra says. “Why did you become recluse after the Freshman Derby?” He goes silent again, so Tyra says, “I won’t tell anyone. Just like how you’ve kept my true identity to yourself. And yes, I’m aware you’ve known since the day I healed you.”
“And I have only your word for that,” he spits through the door.
“At least you’ll have that. I have no such guarantees from you. You could run your mouth the moment you’re back home,” Tyra accuses, reacting sourly to his own accusation.
“Then you’re in luck, because I’m not going home!”
Her fingers drop so suddenly from his grasp. She pouts and presses an ear near the hole. His breathing is slow and shallow, but she can tell he’s nearby. She leaves her palm in the hole as she expands her angelic senses. Yes, he knows I can divine emotions through touch, but I don’t need that to do so all the time.
In her mind, the physical world fades away, save for the door between her aura and Aven’s. Her aura takes the shape of her body and blazes alabaster brilliance, though orbs of crimson rest inside her stomach, heart, and brain. That same crimson light makes up Aven’s entire aura and it radiates from him like a toxic plume of gas that feels his entire dorm room. Tyra gasps, finding the sheer volume of his negative emotions staggering.
“Not pretty, is it?” Aven says, his aura’s head turning to the door. His hand raises slightly, but Tyra recoils and pulls her hand out of the hole, too afraid of his rage and fear and malice and whatever else is mixed in his aura. He lowers his hand and turns his head away from the hole.
“You don’t want to go home, do you?” Tyra asks, fighting back tears. The pressure from his emotions, even from outside the door is nearly suffocating.
Aven sighs gustily. “I hung out with you because yes, I know who you are. I presumed you had a similar home life to mine, and that perhaps you might have an insight on how to escape this feeling.”
“But you don’t have a clue what it’s like. You’re all into your home life. You obsess over your bible, you ingratiated yourself into the politics of this school, and you flaunt your influence every single day. I don’t even have to open this door to know you’re probably even better dressed than the professors are. You’re a completely narcissistic individual, self-absorbed with your own betterment. And I can guarantee that Nuria will see it soon enough for herself. She’ll drop you before long and–”
“Shut up!” Tyra screeches, her tears streaming now, and her aura much closer to his own. “I came here because I thought about you. I wanted to thank you for saving my life. I wanted to dance with you. I never would’ve expected to be seen as some tool by you. I thought you were more mature, more chivalrous, but you’re just a selfish jerk. Just like everyone who thinks an angel is a sign in their lives that I can make things better for them, you fail to see I’m just a person, too. But you’re wrong about me in more ways than that!”
Tyra’s view of the dorm returns to normal as she backs away from the door. “Nuria knows about my bible. She knows what I am and she could care less about using me for selfish reasons. In fact, the only reason she’s ever asked me to use my status was for the benefit of another, and I obliged. And you know what I’m getting in return- punishment! After tonight, I’ll never be able to come back to FHA. I used my influence for a friend and I’m going to lose that friend in mere hours! But I’m going to make these final hours count. I’m done here. So, enjoy your time alone in that dark room!”
Tyra turns her back to the door and lets the glow from her wings peek through the hole for a few moments before absorbing them into her back.
“And for the record,” she says without turning around, despite hearing the door open, “I’m not looking forward to going home either.”
Fanfare, jubilance, and highly-spirited cavorting are enjoyed, expressed and exalted as the students take warmly to the food, music and one another’s company. Neth smiles as he witnesses it all occur uninhibited. He lifts his gaze to the sky, but his smile doesn’t vanish thanks to the moon shining down on them from a cloudless sky.
“If you’re expecting more trouble,” Tameri whispers as she takes the seat to his right, “then you should not have allowed Stark back.”
The headmaster lowers his head and turns to her, keeping his smile. “I’m not going to discuss my decision here, and I’m not worried about an attack.” He looks back up briefly. “I’m just glad there’s no snow tonight. I want the students to have as much time to enjoy themselves as possible. And so far, it’s going swell. Just take a look.”
The headmaster directs her attention before them. The buffet line is full, but no students push or shove one another, even when Carnya holds them up while trying to gather and apropos amount of food, using Syl as a second set of hands. The dance floor is packed with intensely passionate and skilled dancers taking turns engaging in dance-offs. Tameri’s brood bursts apart when she sees that Aurum and Pan appear to be winning. The other professors also take some pride in the smiles on their respective students’ faces.
“Winter may be here, but I don’t want their fun cut short because of it. Even forgetting the Liamria business, some of them have the future to think about. One last night of fun with them together with their friends is the least they deserve. And to that end.”
Headmaster Neth leaves his seat and crosses to the DJ station. The second the music stops, all eyes are immediately trained on him. He raises the microphone proffered by the DJ. “Now, now, no lead for those looks. I’ll be very brief. In fact, there’s only one question I want to ask all of you. At every single orientation, new students are asked why it was they applied to study here. I pose that question again now. You don’t have to voice your answers to me, just as long as you feel you have something in mind, that’s fine. Now, get back to the party!”
He returns the mic and takes his seat as the music and festivities resume.
“Sir?” Tameri asks.
“Shh,” he says. “I want to listen.”
The headmaster applies his manipulation of air currents to control what sounds reach his ears. While keeping the mellow tune dance tune at bay, he hears a litany of varied responses to his question.
“To learn to control my powers.”
“I thought it was a cool school and got my parents on board.”
“It beats juvie. What about you, Evic?”
“I wasn’t given a choice.”
Carnya words are unintelligible as she talks with a full mouth.
“Yeah, I guess so, too…”
“I didn’t think I’d have to work so hard here. I thought school was supposed to be easy.”
“Who needs easy?”
“Mine sure won’t be. My dad already has a job lined up for me.”
“That’s why we’re here in the first place.”
“Our moms want us to take over the family business.”
“I didn’t have much luck trying to determine my blood type here, so my mom wants work overtime at her hospital to figure it out.”
He tries to search for answers from the other freshman, but two of them are still dancing, one of them returns and sits quietly at a table at the other end of the seating area, and the one he truly wants to hear isn’t even present. Nor is his date.
Shuri, don’t tell me you’re not co–
A wild flare from overhead shines down over the entire party venue. Neth isn’t alone in looking up and there in the sky, he and everyone else see a wild field of auburn flames die down to two condensed fiery jets beneath a pair of white, orange-striped sneakers. Right next to them is a pair of black sneakers resting atop two bowls of swirling air.