1.3: Not The Same Old Same Old Anymore

When Nuria steps past that last security checkpoint, inversely the first for those preparing to board, her smile that starts small broadens profoundly. As promised, she’s accepted the fact Tyra’s gone, but she’s done letting that unfortunate business weigh her down. She drops her suitcase handle to achieve that more literally, sailing through the air to deliver a crushing bear hug.

     “Stark!” she cheers.

     “Good morning to you, too, Nuria,” the officer replies, offering a light stroke to the top of Nuria’s head. Her gaze sharpens when she looks into Nuria’s face and the phoenix knows she can tell she’s been crying. However, whether she decides to observe it quietly like Rum and his classmates or chooses not to broach the topic in front of a host of other FHA officers and train station security isn’t clear to the phoenix.

     Stark steps around Nuria and says to Rum and gang, “Thank you for having your weapons cased this time. I brought a few extra officers in case you caused another incident.”

     “Them?” Aven points to Rum and Pan incredulously. “You? Seriously?” he asks them directly.

     “I’m a rebel at heart,” Pan states.

     “I was following her lead,” Rum says.

     “Wow. I’m impressed, actually,” Aven replies.

     “It’s time to follow my lead,” Stark commands. “Most of the other students have arrived and gone on ahead. Let’s get a move on!”

     Nuria only hesitates to follow Stark so she can march in step with Rum and Pan. “What incident?” she whispers, taking the reins of her suitcase from her brother.

     “Last year, um…Pan and I kind of got into a fight with train station security.”

     “Really? Does Mom know?”

     “Yes…and I’m not sure if she does or not. She never brought it up.”

     “Doesn’t matter now. I don’t see that bitch anywhere,” Pan says as she looks around.

     “Bitch is a little harsh, don’t you think?”

     “Not at all.”

     “At least she didn’t call her the C-word,” Nuria says. “I hate the C-word.”

     “You mean cu–”

     Rum slices his hand in front of Pan’s mouth, slicing his head in negation tightly. Pan holds his gaze as she shrugs and nods back.

     Nuria tries not to be jealous of the two of them as they dive back into their own conversation, though she’s tickled by how annoyed by it Aven seems to be. She looks forward to times like that again. Crazy meal periods with Carnya, awkward moments with Syl staying in the same room, and her and Shuri chilling at the flagpole.

     Excluding Tyra, I barely made any new friends last year. Guess I went too phoenix-crazy to notice in the moment. It shouldn’t be too hard to change that.

     Nuria peeks out the window as the bus pulls into the FHA courtyard, catching the “Welcome to FHA” banner narrowly as they pass underneath it. She leans forward to absorb the beauty of the campus all over again, from the refreshing courtyard fountain, the dorm towers looming beyond the main academy building, all of it promising new adventures.

     Who says I even have to go back to Vanusi class? Maybe giving Sulublei a chance is the wisest option. I’ll ask the headmaster when I can get him alone.

     Stark orders Nuria and the Ohaida off the bus. In the corner of the courtyard that they park are several news vans also in attendance. The biggest van has an insignia of an eyeball atop a satellite antenna. Underneath a nearby tent guarded by FHA security officers are several dozen luggage carts, most of which are occupied. Labels on the carts include class and year, such as Vanusi senior or S’nue sophomore. All of the freshman carts are empty.

     “Place your bags on the sophomore cart of whichever class you chose last year,” Stark instructs.

     “Shouldn’t we just take them to our rooms?” Aven inquires.

     “Normally, yes, everyone but the freshman has that choice, but today the headmaster has a special announcement to make for everyone,” Stark clarifies.

     Nuria hears Aven ask, “Does this have anything to do with the news trucks?” while she moves closer to the Vanusi sophomore cart with a magnetic gait. She scowls after counting the number of bags, totaling three with her own thrown into the mix, and the one she has to place hers next to is an elegant trunk with midnight wood and ornate red brass corner pieces.

     “You’ll see soon enough. Make your way to the auditorium, please.”

     Nuria takes off ahead of the Ohaida in a brisk run. She knows who the elegant trunk belongs to, and after so long and so much hurt, she’s ready to give them a piece of her mind.


     “But why can’t we go back?” Nuria wailed from the backseat.

     “You know why, Nuria. Egeme’s parents were very close to pressing charges,” Auriel countered furiously. “And I’ve had to pay for half a dozen replacement instruments that you’ve melted. Until you learn to control those flames of yours, you and Rum are going to be homeschooled.”

     “That’s not fair! It’s not my fault those instruments were cheap! And I did not go looking to fight Egeme! He started it!” Nuria argued.

     “Here are some things I’m not letting slide: you burning that boy’s cheek, my money being wasted, and your piss poor control of your fire powers, Nuria. If and when I believe you have them under control, I will allow you to go back to school.”

     Nuria wanted to rage and fight back, but she knew the tone her mother was using meant there’s no changing her mind. Still, she chose one last time to make her compromise. “That doesn’t mean Rum should be punished, too. We both have friends at SMSP (Sakela Middle School Preparatory)!”

     “If they don’t wait on you, then they’re not real friends, anyway. You’re better off without them.”

     Nuria growled as her hands started to heat up. She panicked the moment they caught fire. She used her toes to open the window and fanned her hands free of the flames in the breeze. After leaning back in her seat with a heavy breath, she could see her mother’s fury reflected at her from the rearview mirror.

     “That’s precisely what I’m talking about, Nuria. Your powers are a reaction to your emotions. Any time you lose control or get too angry, who knows what damage you could cause. Until I can trust you to keep yourself in check, I need to keep you away from that risk. For others’ sake, as well as yours. Do you understand?”

     Nuria stands in the rear of the auditorium’s second floor of seating. Down in the very row is the confirmation of her suspicion. Tyra chats with Syl and Carnya amicably, the three of them sharing laughs without her. Nuria’s hands grow hot.

     They’ve moved on. Tyra certainly has. Why else would she come back after ignoring me all spring break? Probably just to rub my excitement in my face!

     Rum’s chatting with Pan and Aven gets the attention of Tyra and a few others once they enter the auditorium. Although Nuria registers Shuri’s waving, she only locks eyes with Tyra. The angel smiles up at her and nods to the empty seat on her left.

     “Look at that,” Rum whispers, “she made it after all.”

     Nuria stays completely still as Rum and his peers move away to join Shuri. The longer she holds Tyra’s gaze, the hotter her hands become. She suspects that soon, her tenor flames (two hundred degrees) will ignite and the combustion might light the auditorium ablaze.

     I’m not in control. As long as I’m not, I’ll have to avoid Tyra.

     Electing not to take that risk, Nuria speaks volumes by glaring daggers at her best friend and holds the expression as she turns away, hoping the angel got the message. The punctuation on her statement is climbing to the furthest back row and casually kicking her feet on top of the seat before her. She sees Tyra’s deflated spirit as she sits, but Nuria resolves to not be baited by guilt or sympathy.

     She had all spring to speak to me. I’m not going to just be her school BFF for her to ignore me later. None of my old friends from SMSP talk to me, so why should I talk to Tyra?

     The lights in the auditorium dim, minus the ones blanketing the stage, and Nuria’s dark outfit helps her blend into the soft shadows. A black curtain lowers onto the stage and sucks up most of the brilliance. The metal perimeter of the stage shines eerily, the FHA plaques appearing like the eyes on a flat beast waiting to strike down those who trespass into its territory.

     The double door entrance swings open with a whooshing sound. Inside the auditorium is a procession of reporters and cameramen led by Headmaster Neth.

     “And here is our student body,” Neth tells them. “I apologize for the drastic shift in lighting conditions, but this is customary for when we introduce the faculty.”

     Nuria’s ears perk up. It is?

     Neth turns and points to the last row bathed in ambient light from the stage glow. “You may film from here, but do save all questions until the presentation has ended.”

     Nuria watches the cameramen get set with tripods. However, what interests her most besides the logo on the cameras is the fact that Tyra isn’t hiding away from them, even going so far as to turn and wave when Carnya and Syl do the same. She clicks her tongue out of aggravation.

     So, now you’re fine with cameras, but not when Stark needed our help? Exactly how much of what you shared last year was true? Nuria seethes inwardly as she thinks the next word. Bitch! The phoenix shakes her head and elects to focus on Neth, her hands getting dangerously hot the longer her thoughts remain on Tyra.

     Neth’s cream skin tone contrasts beautifully with his dark brown suit, a matching dark-striped dress shirt hidden underneath a crisp jacket and vest. The shape of his jaw and slanted nose remind Nuria exactly how alike he and Shuri look, especially when looking into his teal eyes. Both he and Shuri always seem to have this underlying seriousness they express through their eyes.

     “Good morning, everyone, and welcome back to Four Hearts Academy!” Neth breaks into applause that the students mimic. “It is so great to see all your beautiful faces once again. But I must apologize for this inconvenience. Thank you all for your patience. I know so many of you are just excited to be amongst friends again–”

     Some more than others.

     “–but today’s announcement is critical for each and every one of you to hear. This will directly impact everyone in this room, from our youngest class to our oldest. And as some of you may have noticed, we’re lacking a freshman class, meaning the class of ’93 effectively does not exist.”

     Nuria shifts uncomfortably in her seat while other collections of students murmur amongst themselves.

     “Now, if that were the only announcement I’d have to deliver, the school’s history would be infringed upon beyond repair. However, today marks a historic moment for Four Hearts Academy, the reveal of which will follow the introduction of our esteemed professors.”

     The headmaster removes one hand from his wooden cane and flicks it once. A sharp breeze raises the midnight curtain. Standing side-by-side on the now uncovered stage are the professors. Nuria grins the second she sees Zathony and Marmagar standing as tall, imposing, and sharply dressed as ever. She frowns the next.

     Wait, I won’t be able to show off what I’ve learned because Tyra’s also gonna be in Vanusi class. I’ve already set the dorm on fire because I lost control once. I can’t do it two years in a row.

     “First and foremost, I’d like to introduce our senior instructor, Professor Tameri,” Neth says. “The professor and housemaster for our Ohaida students.”

     Professor Tameri steps forward and breaks away from the shadows concealing her piercing blue eyes. She stands dressed in a jacket to match her raven curls and a tangerine blouse. She lays one hand on her spadroon’s chalk-colored guard. “Welcome back to Four Hearts, everyone,” she says warmly. “Regardless of our family here shrinking, we are still a family. We have quite the year in store for you all. Just you wait!”

     “Indeed, we do. Thank you, Professor Tameri,” Neth says. “Next, I present to you all Professor Cwen.”

     “Thank you, sir,” Professor Cwen replies. “I oversee the instruction and social functions of the S’nue house as both professor and housemaster. While I had many plans for new faces, all the faces I’m used to are in for their own fair share of treats. Trust me when I say you won’t want to miss out on anything!”

     Cwen steps back into the lineup and seems proud as she pushes her glasses up her nose. She looks like a cherry sprinkle on top of the dark chocolate donut that the other professors make up with their dark attire.

     Nuria massages her belly. Should’ve eaten more, I guess. She digs into her pocket as the Sulublei professor takes his turn to speak. She withdraws a small sack, drops into her palm a couple of almond-colored seeds, only briefly hesitating to swallow them before redirecting her attention to the stage.

     “–and education works best in a jovial setting. Sulublei house is where we learn with fun and games, not just tests and essays,” the Sulublei professor says before stepping back into line.

     “Wise words as always, Professor Lynald,” the headmaster states. “Entertainment does play a role in engaging our student body. This is their home away from home, and no home is complete without fun and games.”

     Nuria thumbs her chin. My issue is my fire powers. And I can’t stand being around Tyra. That settles it. Sulublei house is my choice this year.

     “Now, our only professor duo will make their plans for this year known. Professors Zathony and Marmagar, the floor is yours.”

     Nuria waits for their presentation with an anxious heart. She longs so much to return to their class, but she knows the better choice is to leave. Still, she savors the moment as Zathony does the speaking while Marmagar provides a sign language translation.

     “My expectations for my students have not changed. I will shape you all into the best Vanusi you can be. My lesson plans will not be easy, but they will be as rewarding as they are difficult. You will keep up or you won’t. That is all,” Zathony says clearly and with all the composed authority that Nuria is used to. She grins broadly as they both retreat into the lineup.

     Damn it, Zathony. You would make this hard. I want to show you what I can do and it sounds like I can get better if I stick with you. Nuria shifts her gaze to Tyra and scowls. But because of you, I know I can’t…

     Neth gathers wind around him and uses the miniature cyclone her generates to lift himself onto the stage, standing before the professors’ lineup. “Our faculty is top of the line across the board, so regardless of their house, our students will be blessed even more this year than the last. However, our presentation is not complete. After giving our dear students the chance to grab lunch, we will dive into the details behind this announcement. We will no longer truly be Four Hearts Academy as our four houses expand to five. Starting as of today, Four Hearts Academy now has a house for Vanusi, S’nue, Ohaida, Sulublei, and Ibri.”

Every reporter jumps up with questions at the ready.

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