1.3: Bunks

I got up on that karaoke stage to perform my favorite TFF song, “Losing Games To Butterflies”.

     “And just so you guys get the whole picture, my daddy was the biggest individual donor to get this place back in order,” Norris boasts as he runs a hand through his hair. “His price was that I be allowed to transfer here. Since I don’t know anyone here, I asked him to let me bring some friends along. Word got out and, well, a couple of extras got the chance, too.” Norris waves a dismissive hand. “Come on, extras. Listen to the headmaster. Introduce yourselves. I’m done.”

     Nuria expresses more interest in Norris than the two who come from the left file line. Instead of remaining to stand, he squats down and rests his arms on his knees, his loose shirt hiding his ankles. She can’t pinpoint it but something about his ego, charming as it is, doesn’t ring true to her ears.

     Maybe he’s nervous. The stage isn’t for everyone.

     Nuria shifts her focus to the other two.

     “–forward to being here. Again, I’m Mila,” says the girl in the pair. Her hair is a stark mix of red and brown, with two buns knotted on the back of her head. Two long strands hang on the sides of her narrow face. Her fair skin shines beautifully under the stage lights. Her dark blouse and violet skirt have white stripes at the hems. Strangely enough, her amber eyes are the dullest aspects of her person.

     Next to her is a boy around the same height as her, five feet nine inches tall. He wears brown dress pants and a matching sports jacket, alongside a cobalt dress shirt and shoes. He has a similar beard to Shuri’s, except his is full and slightly thicker. His stance is void of any insecurity, hands in his pockets and expression lax. “My name is Hugh. Coming here was my parents’ idea. I had a different idea of my future in mind but had no say in the matter. So, I’m just here to be here. If you can respect that, I’ll respect you. That’s it.”

     He sounds…fun, Nuria thinks.

     Norris snaps his fingers. “Get your turn over with, Fain.”

     Following the command is another young man, this one with a holstered katar fastened to his thigh. His wardrobe is that of a commando with dark tactical gear, including a dark vest and steel-toed boots. His body language and soft expression tarnish the intimidation factor of his attire, further ruined by his shaggy, unkempt dark hair. “Hi, everyone. I’m Fain. Didn’t think I’d be picked to come here but I’m glad I was. Nice to meet you.”

     As Fain retreats, Norris barks his next order. “Okay, Mac, it’s–”

     “I knew you were gonna make me last,” the boy next to Norris’ right whines. “Why do you always do that? I’m your best friend, jerk. Can you treat me–”

     “Just go then. I don’t care,” Norris spits.

     “Well, I do.”

     The blonde boy jumps forward and pumps his arms into the air. “Ignore my pals, they’re all just tired from the trip, but I’m excited to be here! You guys are hailed as heroes where I come from and I couldn’t wait to meet you all!” All of a sudden, his blonde hair gains black streaks and his irises shrink into diamonds. A spotted tail also sprouts from his back. He laughs off the spontaneous transformation. “Sorry, I trigger my transformation when I get too excited,” he says, exposing the sharper teeth in his mouth.

     I’ve been there before…kind of.

     “Seriously, you guys are incredible! Neeth was right.”

     “Neth,” Shuri corrects below his breath.

     “You guys should be proud.” The blonde boy takes a few moments to reverse his transformation. Once his tail vanishes, he pulls his cargo shorts up and plaid shirt down. “You can call me Devito. I can’t wait to hang–”

     “Yeah, yeah, my turn,” says the last boy.

     “According to who?” Norris says. Gone is the easy-going, cocky attitude. He flays the last boy with a hardened gaze. “Don’t forget. You can still go back home, Mac.”

     Nuria blinks curiously as Mac shakes from the announcement, his defiant look built atop sand.

     “You forget yourself, young man,” Neth says sternly. “Now that you are part of the Four Heart Family, the only one who can expel you is me. Your father’s generosity got you through the doors but his influence ends there. Remember that.”

     Norris looks crossly at Neth for a moment but just shrugs. “Get it over with, Mac. I’m hungry.”

     Definitely a shot-caller.

     Mac’s nerves don’t disappear, his whole body shaking so fiercely that he might slip out of his white gym shoes. He takes a deep breath but it doesn’t help. “I’m M-M-Mac. Th-that’s it.” He turns and shuffles back into position, nervously stroking the bracelet on his left wrist. However, the haunted look in his eyes stands out to Nuria.

     I wonder what he’s here to escape from. It was enough for just a mention of it to terrify him. Hopefully, he’ll be able to relax in time.

     Neth clears his throat and moves to the edge of the stage. “I know this news comes as a shock for some of you, and it may not seem fair after what you’ve endured, but FHA has never turned away a student, any and all who wish to make this their home away from home. So, while I have no right to ask this of you, please welcome them with open arms. If you can’t, say so now.”

     Nuria doesn’t want to exclude them at all, especially the three on the right. Their attitudes and stories have seized her curiosity. But, if Shuri’s whispered words are any indication, then perhaps others aren’t as pleased also. She looks around and spies the sour demeanors that Aven, Carnya, and Lauron exhibit. They keep quiet but Nuria knows them well enough that it won’t stay that way for long.

     She can’t help but check her brother’s reaction next. To her surprise and chagrin, he looks okay with the news. He instantly loses his grin when he notices Nuria watching him. She turns around and sighs.

     “You sure it’s nothing to worry about?” Shuri asks quietly.

     Nuria doesn’t bother lying this time. Her dour look says it all.

     “Very well, then,” Neth’s voice booms. “Officer Stark and I will retire to my office. The professors will lead the rest of you to the dorm for room assignments.” Neth turns but doubles back. “Oh, and everyone, welcome back.”

     The headmaster and Stark exit stage left promptly, leaving command to Tameri. She corrals the six new students and guides them back into double-file formation.

     “You will lead the way out.” She relays the next orders to the original class. “As they pass your row, file out to create your original double-file pairs. Aurum, you will have to wait and take the spot beside Pan in the back.”

     “Yes, ma’am.”

     “Okay, move out.”

     Nuria can’t wait to get back on the move. She eagerly reunites with Tyra, a completely safe space, and initiates their arm link this time. She voices the burning question on her mind.

     “So, how much do you know about this year?”

     “Later,” Tyra whispers in that eerily silent tone again.

     “I’ll hold you to that.”

     Once they return to Reddic Union Hall, Professors Zathony and Marmagar hold open the double doors for the students.

     “You may break the double-file formation and fill out the foyer,” Tameri says.

     Nuria and the Vanusi crew gather together in the same way the other classes do. The six new students form a fifth group amongst themselves. Everyone’s bags are stacked to the side guarded by security guards forming a square around them. The ground floor rests beyond them and the semicircle wooden platform with two curving steps. The silver granite encompasses the entire common area. All the chairs, sofas, and tables are fitted with rubber sliders to avoid scratch marks.

     “The common area is designed to be customizable to your current needs, so take advantage of that as you require. We, however, encourage using it for group activities like studying. If you want more private affairs, the halls to the left and right have lounges you can reserve up to two hours at a time. We ask that you keep messes to a minimum.

     “Now, we don’t want to police you too hard on that front. So, now is your chance to elect one of your peers to do that for us. That person will be your sole class representative and will bring your concerns and desires directly to us professors. Do we have any volunteers for the role?”

     Tyra seamlessly breaks the link to Nuria and steps forward with self-assurance.

     “Any others?”

     The moment Aven takes just one step, Tyra looks at him sharply. She turns the frost in her gaze up to eleven, becoming the final stretch of an insurmountable icy mountaintop. Her lips tick up with satisfaction when he steps back. His retreat earns him mocking giggling from Nuria and Pan. Tyra inclines her head, pleased with herself.

     “If there are no objections, Tyra is your student council president,” Professor Tameri announces. “The last official piece of business to conduct are the room assignments. Shuri’s exempt from this since his request was to have a room in the administrative building. As for the rest of you, we have four floors, each with five rooms, for you to choose between. We decided to assign the second and fifth floors primarily to the male students and the third and fourth floors to the female students. However, to accommodate everyone, eight of you will have to room together.”

     Nuria and Tyra lock gazes and nod simultaneously.

     “Donovan, you, Dig, and Wallace will be on the second floor with Mac, Norris, and Devito. Which of you two would like the pair’s room?” Professor Lynald asks.

     While the original student trio hesitates, Devito makes his plan known. “That’s for me and Norris! You guys mind?”

     Donovan, Dig, and Wallace shake their heads vigorously.

     “You didn’t ask me first,” Norris says stringently.

     “You wanna room with Mac instead?”

     Norris groans. “Whatever.”

     Professor Zathony says, “The third floor is a trickier situation because there are two pair’s rooms there and only three female Vanusi students. Even with the addition of Sutar and Barry, that would create an imbalance. So, to keep some form of cohesion, the other third-floor pair’s room goes to Koren and Syl. Do not make me regret that, you two.”

     Professor Marmagar points to his eyes and then to the boys in question.

     “Yes, sir,” they reply.

     “Wait,” Barry says. “Why not just make the second floor all boys, then?”


     “That would leave one boy leftover to be sentenced to a female floor regardless. Blame our class’s male-to-female ratio,” Sutar explains regrettably.

     “Precisely,” Professor Zathony says.

     “And since Mila and Pan are both S’nue to varying degrees, we’ve put them on the fourth floor with Lauron, Valine, and Sticker,” Professor Cwen elucidates.

     “Don’t worry, girls. Syl doesn’t bite and Koren’s blinded by preference,” Carnya says to tease them both, looking from Syl to Nuria.

     “I’ll try not to be offended,” Syl states dryly.

     “And cool it with the…preference stuff,” Koren argues, his heat at the start of the sentencing cooling to embarrassment.

     “Preference?” Nuria asks.

     “You’re tel–”

     “We’re moving off-topic,” Tyra thunders. “Quiet down so we can announce the final room assignments.”

     “But we didn’t choose the second pair for our floor,” Barry says.

     “That belongs to Nuria and me.”

     “Uh…yes, ma’am,” Barry replies., floored by Tyra’s authority.

     “It appears Tyra was the correct choice, after all,” Tameri says. “The fifth floor is for Aurum, Aven, Evic, Fain, Hugh, and Roy. Hugh and Fain, I’m giving you the first chance at the pair’s room. Do you accept?”

     “No, ma’am. Fain and I don’t really know each other and I’d be more comfortable alone.”

     “I don’t mind the pair’s room,” Fain says.

     “And who would like to be his roommate?” Tameri looks at her class group.

     Aven and Roy take steps back but Rum’s locked in place by his tether to Pan’s hand.

     “Excellent. Thank you for volunteering, Aurum.”

     “You both suck,” he tells Aven and Roy. The former sniggers while Roy the latter turns away guiltily.

     “The restrooms are in the center of every floor. Koren and Syl, you will only use the ones on the second and fifth floors. We trust that you all can choose your rooms cordially. Apart from the pair’s rooms, they are all identical and at your discretion to decorate how you please. To choose your room, hold up your ID to the digital reader. You’ll know it’s paired once the light turns from red to green. The pair’s room’s readers are programmed to accept two IDs. That makes it so that nobody can enter your room but you and your roommate if you have one. Once all rooms on a floor are claimed, nobody but those occupants can scan their cards to enter that floor. Make sure to keep your ID on you at all times. The guards right here will each escort you to your assigned floors and will assist you in the process should you have any questions.”

     “I have a question,” Aven says. “You said the fifth floor is a boys’ floor but I saw six floors from the outside. What’s up there?”

     “That floor is for us and Stark.”

     “Are your rooms smaller since there are six of you?”

     “No, dear.” Tameri strolls over and wraps a hand around Marmagar’s arm. “That pair’s room is for this pair.”

     The hint of the grownups being grownups behind closed doors sends the students scurrying for their bags. The gathered security guards make the acquisition of suitcases swift and easy. Nuria notices the six new kids all have the same black duffel bag with an image of a large fossilized jaw inside a hexagonal border. Each of the guards escorts a different group to each floor, unlocking the stairwell doors for them.

     The Vanusi crew and Barry and Sutar follow the guard up the well-lit stairwell to the third floor. The outside of the access door matches the metallic matte chrome of the stairs and walls. As the guard pulls the door outward, the other side is midnight black. The narrow corridor the students access has a dark wood floor with midnight walls and doors with carmine trim and frames respectively.

     “What is this, a haunted house?” Barry asks.

     “Welcome to Vanusi House, gurls,” Carnya says.

     “The pair’s rooms are on opposite ends of the hall,” the guard explains. “Remember, hold your ID to the reader until the light goes from red to green. I’ll know when everyone’s ready here.” He hefts his tablet slightly.

     Tyra nods. “Koren and Syl, take this room right here since it’s closer to the second floor and your restroom.”

     “Wait, how are we going to have access to it once we’re locked to this floor?” Syl queries.

     “Get chummy with the boys down there and work out a system for that,” Tyra says. She turns to the Sulublei girls next. “I know you two aren’t comfortable with this living situation, so Carnya will take the room between you and the boys.”

     “Thank you,” Barry says.

     “I appreciate that,” Sutar says.

     “You’re welcome.”

     Tyra inclines her head slowly and steps past the girls. Nuria follows her lead to the furthest room. Tyra connects her ID to the reader above the knob first. The picture on her ID is the definition of composure. It clicks when the light turns green. Nuria looks down at hers, the lifted gaiter mask giving her ID the definition of shame.

     “Your turn,” Tyra reminds the phoenix.

     “Uh…right.” Nuria connects her ID to the reader. She connects her ID straight away.

     “All right, we’re all good to go here. You’re free to come and go as you wish. If you need anything cleaned swiftly, there’s a custodial closet right here on the stairwell that you can grab supplies from. If there are any other concerns, my team and I will be on the first floor with the professors for the next couple of hours.” The guard shuts the stairwell door behind him, leaving an entire haunted house atmosphere.

     Barry and Sutar can’t escape into their room quickly enough. Carnya and the boys take their time, used to the aura the décor evokes.

     Nuria huffs, pulls the door open, and steps inside the room. She freezes when she sees the sheer size of the room. The narrow corridor now makes sense to her. The room is as wide as her living room and kitchen back home combined. Both sides of the room come with a queen-sized bed, full-sized dresser, walk-in closet, nightstand, desk, and rolling chair. The color scheme doesn’t match the corridor in the slightest. The walls are light blue and the floor is covered by a white carpet. The bed sheets are cream and the pillowcases are a shade of honey.

     “Wow, this is huge. Neth really didn’t spare any expense,” Nuria says.

     “I thought it’d be bigger myself.” Tyra shuts the door and places her ornate trunks against the desk on the left. “My room back home is bigger.”

     Ah, now we can talk freely.

     “Lucky you. My room is less than half of this.” Nuria tosses her suitcase onto her bed and sits beside it. “Or am I out of line to say your home life is lucky.”

     “You’re not out of line but you are wrong. It truly was a miracle that I was permitted to return. Even more than FHA coming back, limited capacity or not.” She exhales long and slow as she sits. “But I’m glad to be back. Being back here and seeing you again. It makes my struggles moot.” She lays her head against Nuria’s shoulder. “Call me crazy but I’m actually looking forward to another struggle before our senior year, or whatever Pan decides to call it.”

     “Oh yeah? Well, I can see you’ve grown from fighting your mother these past few months. How do you think you’ll fare against my- Oh, crap! I forgot to introduce you to my mom!”

     “About that…” Tyra lifts her head and shows her first hints of nerves since reuniting with Nuria. “Before she brought you and Rum back, I had a chat with her reminiscent of the message you wanted to be delivered to my mother.”

     Nuria snorts. “Wish I could’ve been there. How’d she take it?”

     “From what I sensed, it made her calm down. Whatever she and Stark were discussing when I walked up had her incensed. I also got the sense maybe I impressed her but she’s a hard woman to read, even with my emotional scrying.”

     “Are you using it now?”

     “Yes. But don’t panic. I can’t get specific reads when I spread it out. I’ve been using it all day just to keep track of the number of people around me and their base mental states. I attribute the feelings as either positive or negative for wide fields. My mind interprets positive feelings as alabaster light and negative as crimson. All day today, everyone’s mental states have been in frequent flux.”

     “Will you ever go for specific reads?” Nuria asks nervously. She knows she can tell Tyra anything but there are things she feels too strongly about that she hasn’t come to terms with. Until she does, she thinks unloading those feelings on others will be wasted. In Tyra’s case, she doesn’t want her to discover those feelings before she’s ready to share.

     “Yes,” Tyra says matter of factly. “But you are the one exception I’ll allow. If you don’t want me to read you, then I won’t. You have my word.”

     “Then can you ignore me? Just for a while.”

     Tyra inclines her head. “You will be off my radar until you tell me otherwise.”

     Nuria wraps an arm around Tyra’s shoulders. “Thanks, T.”

     Tyra smirks. “You know, you still haven’t asked me how my mother took your message.”

     “I get the distinct impression you can’t wait to tell me.”

     “Definitely offended. She responded to that with six whole sentences.”


     “Here’s some context for you. When I returned home from the war, which she couldn’t be bothered to pick me up from herself, it was days before we spoke to each other. When I finally went to her, this is what she had to say. “Not a scratch on you, that’s good. Glad to see you’re done hiding behind the phoenix’s threat. Maybe you can tell her to mind her tongue. I told you once to keep her noise down. The two of you are trying the minimal patience I can afford. So, can you bring the phoenix to heel? I’d rather not punish her but I will if I must, Tyra.” And that was the last of it.”

     “She never brought me up again?”

     “We barely spoke after that. We both were spearheading different projects. Her occasional interference of mine were the moments I had to speak to her to divine her motives and learn ways to impede future interruptions. Taxing is too light a word to describe our…whatever it is we are to one another.”

     “I’d still call her your mother. At the very least, she gave you one more sentence than she did me in her…I guess I’ll call it a rant. Plus, she never once used my name. She used yours. And if you’re using the number of words to explain the gravity of things, then the words she chooses must matter, too. And your name was the last word she said.”

     Tyra opens her mouth to argue only to choke on zero thoughts. “We should unpack. I’m hoping to get everyone together for a group dinner tonight.”

     “Glad I listened when Neth said to bring as much as we wanted.”

     Nuria folds and deposits all of her clothes into her dresser, quickly finding she doesn’t have enough room. She whirls just as Tyra learns her closet isn’t big enough for her wardrobe. A silent agreement is made through their eye contact among them to take the other’s closet and dresser.

     “Just save me some space for my underwear.”

     “I only need one dresser, so I’ll take the bottom one.”

     “Sounds good,” Tyra agrees and goes back to hanging her haoris and kimonos with exacting care.

     Nuria pulls two snowboards from her second suitcase, placing both atop her dresser, angled against the wall. She secures their placements by anchoring them with family photos: one of her and Rum as kids and the other one of her, Rum, and Auriel with Nuria on Auriel’s shoulders. The left snowboard is a plain grey one while the other has a decal on the bottom of a snowy mountain lit by a full moon.

     Nuria removes two journals from her suitcase next, both worn and weathered. She races to hide them in her desk drawers when Tyra’s voice spooks her.

     “Oh, those are nice. Where’d you get those from?”

     Once Nuria realizes she means the snowboards, she dumps the journal on the bottom with the plain orange cover, hoping not to draw Tyra’s attention to it.

     “Oh, from a little vacation to Mount Handreau. There was a festival there and they were selling commem-morative snowb-boards.” Nuria turns and wipes sweat from her brow, in disbelief that she made it through that sentence as well as she did. “Just wanted to remember my time there.”

     Tyra looks down at the anchors. “You went with your family?”

     “No,” Nuria answers sullenly. The phoenix goes back to unpacking.

     “You know, it’s okay to be happy you’re here, Nuria,” Tyra says warmly.

     “What happened to not reading me?”

     “I don’t have to use that to see you’re hurting. You are punishing yourself when you don’t deserve punishment. I may not know the story behind those snowboards but I don’t need to. Whatever it is you believe you’ve done wrong, you haven’t. Whatever mistakes you’ve made, you need to realize that’s all they are. Mistakes can be fixed. And in case you forgot, I’ve seen you fix many mistakes since we met, some of which still astound me. So…” Tyra walks over and places a firm hand on her shoulder, “take it easy on yourself. Okay?”

     Nuria looks at the decal on the commemorative snowboard. She doesn’t fondly think of many things from that time but knows one singularly perfect night. She decides now is a perfect time to replicate it.

     “You round up the boys for dinner. Leave the girls to me.”


     “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” Valine shouts as she runs through the Reverse Iceberg doors, gaining access via her ID badge. “We had some wardrobe challenges.”

     Pan picks up the pace to catch up with Valine after the young woman waves her and the others over desperately. The last few ladies amble behind still, but Pan gets the lead out, being the chief reason behind them being fashionably late. If she knew Valine had a performance, she would’ve gotten dressed faster. She respects the lengths Valine’s gone to be presentable for the opening night. Her ruby hair is combed into soft, curly waves, the left side tucked behind her ear. Her black capris and dark red blouse glow against her pale skin.

     “It was my fault,” Pan addresses the crowd inside. “I couldn’t decide what jersey to wear.” The archer’s outfit is a neon blue jersey with the Arrowhead insignia on the back and a smaller one on both short-sleeves, white jeans, and a pair of Arrowhead sneakers where the shoelaces are weaved to pattern the insignia also.

     “Still with them, Eagle Eyes?” Aven asks.

     “Exclusively,” she answers, taking the seat next to Rum. She jumps when Dig sidles into her blind spot and asks, “Can I get you anything to drink?”

     “Wait, you really work here?” Pan asks after absorbing the fact he has three different hair colors, going from blonde to blue to green from top to bottom.

     “Yes, I do.”

     “So, then…” Pan turns to the door.

     “Singing here is quote-unquote my job,” Valine shouts outside. “Lauron, stop bragging about the statue and get in here!”

     A few moments later, Lauron leads Tyra, Sticker, and Nuria inside. Pan frowns slightly when Rum turns away at the sight of his sister.

     “My bad, chief. We’re here now. Get ready to give us a show!”

     Valine takes a few calming breaths. “Right. Okay. Grab your seats. We’ll start in a moment. Dig, get their drink orders already.”

     “I was…okay. Pan, allow me to seat these three, and I’ll be back for your order.”

     “No problem.”

     Pan watches them get seats near the front at the unofficial Vanusi table, Lauron and Sticker taking the two vacant seats. A thought hits her as she inspects the other tables, each covered with checkered blue and pink tablecloths and wooden chairs with pillow cushions. The bar is split into two sections by a liftable wooden gate that acts as a bastion to the kitchen. All of the stools are empty.

     “Did none of the new–”

     “Not a one,” Aven says, annoying her that he realized it first.

     “Mila said she wanted to “rest her eyes”. What was Fain’s excuse?”

     Rum shrugs. “He didn’t give me one. He looked surprised when I asked him to come but I guess he’s too nervous.”

     “You left your stuff in a room with a stranger?” Pan asks incredulously.

     “I’ve done it before. Aven and I used to hate each other’s guts, remember.”

     Aven sniggers. “I used to hate all your guts.”

     “Such a nice sentiment. I’ll take a water,” Pan tells Dig as he approaches. He nods and goes through the wooden gate hurriedly. “Still a dick, I see.”

     Rum rolls his eyes. “Any other topics, please.”

     “Fine.” Aven leans forward with a mischievous grin and the hairs on the back of Pan’s neck stand on edge. “What’s going on with you and Feathers?”

     Pan hates Aven for instigating but she can’t deny she’s not as curious as Aven and Shuri are.

     Maybe it’s not as bad as it seems and their problems will blow over.

     Rum delivers an equally mischievous grin back and Pan feels a chill in her spine. “Tell me about your back scar and I’ll tell you about Nuria and me.”

     Aven loses his smirk and retreats back against his wooden chair.

     “Back scar?” Shuri asks.

     “He misspoke.”

     And back to hating Rummy’s guts, he goes.

     “Thank you,” she says when her water arrives. The wafting aroma of coffee tickles her nose. She follows Dig carrying a tray of beverages to the Vanusi table and delivering the coffee to Nuria.

     I’ll have to find a sneaky way to ask her what she got. It smelled awesome!

     On the stage just past the Vanusi table, Valine extends the microphone so that the mic is a comfortable distance from her lips. A trio of valance curtains, two blue and one pink, are the stage’s backdrop. Two speakers are drilled into the walls over the curtains, one above the bar, and one near the restrooms, all connected to the mic to create a powerful stereo effect.

     “Hey, guys! I know you’re all probably hungry, and I’ll let Dig show you our menus in a second, but I wanted to thank you all for coming to the opening night of Reverse Iceberg! And a special thanks to Dig and Barry for including me! I simply wanted a room with a karaoke machine as my request when Neth suggested I reach out to them. They were thrilled by the idea of a musicafe and let me onto their team! So, please give them a round of applause! This night and more to come are because of them!”

     Pan stands to deliver her applause alongside the rest of Sulublei class, Roy, Carnya, and Nuria, the former and latter whooping and hollering in addition. Dig bows his head. Barry steps out of the kitchen with a greasy knife and stained apron. The murderous image aside, she accepts the applause with a gracious bow of her own.

     “And that’s the energy we need in here! I’m gonna kick things off with my favorite song- “Run, Gyara”!”

     Pan feels light-headed when she first hears Valine’s lofty soprano voice reverberate through the entire restaurant.  It feels like a warm massage hitting every muscle just right. The muscle jolt that comes with the feeling nearly makes her squeak when Rum grabs her hand gently.

“You gotta run Gyara,
Straight to the moon
Don’t you stop Gyara,
Go faster than a typhoon
We’re gonna run all night,
Race through the stars and
Go the whole world round
Gonna light up the sky and
Dazzle you just like the–

     Valine holds the mic to the crowd for them to finish the verse. Pan and those who stood earlier sing the word, one harmonious note.


     “You sing, Eagle Eyes?”

     “Not really. I just know a few jingles from commercials I’ve shot.”

     Rum blinks. “Wait, so you did get the model deal?”

     Pan smirks proudly. “Sure did. You’re looking at Arrowhead’s national junior female model. I had to nix my blog to commit to it, though. Didn’t have the time for both and one was lucrative. It was a no-brainer. Plus, my comments were becoming increasingly horny and offensive. I hate to bring this up but there are people that actually blame us for The War of FHA. Us, students. Like, seriously?”

     “The world’s a mess. Our only solace is to find safe places to exist. Or make them…like The Jun-Sen,” Rum says kindly.

     Pan looks at him with amusement, though she feels her heart rate increase as the same jolt from before strikes again. One of the side effects of the Nadolol has left her more sensitive to the palpitations of the muscle.

     “What about Reddic Union Hall?” Shuri says. “Was there something wrong with it? I thought Nuria’s request was good.”

     Rum groans crossly. “Can we just stop talking about–”

     Their table’s conversation is overshadowed by the applause for Valine’s performance. She lifts her head with a labored but bright smile and tucks her curly hair behind her left ear once more. “Thank you, guys. Thank you, thank you. But the party’s just starting! This isn’t the karaoke room I wanted but think of this as an open mic club! That means any of you can grace this stage! And we already have our first volunteer! You know her, you love her, and she’s gonna kill it! Get up here, Nuria!”

     Pan hesitates to join the rest of the class as they rise to cheer Nuria on as she takes the stage. Everyone but her brother. The look on his face is so tight with rage that she fears his skin might turn white.

    “No. No way. She’s not going to–”

     “What’s up, Four Hearts! Welcome to Reverse Iceberg! Shoutout to the owners for letting me go first! Like Valine said, the party’s just starting! If you don’t like it loud then you better go! It’s only 6:30 and we’re gonna rock till four!”

The moment Nuria starts belting out lyrics about cocoons and fingers, Pan witnesses Rum’s rage melt into pain and back to rage. He topples his chair over and storms out. After making Valine late, Pan hates to leave early, but her truest reason to return and her safest place on campus just did. She follows after Rum and doesn’t look back.

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