2.2: First Mark

One thousand and one.

     Trigonometry is Norris’s least favorite subject, well, math is in general. Sine, cosine, tangent, and their variations, none of those angles much matter to him. For the field he hopes to breach, that kind of math is useless to him. He doesn’t care for music, so if his lackluster performance costs him a V.I.P. pass, so be it. However, he enjoys the class regardless. All around him is nothing but competition.

     Zathony and Marmagar forced the Vanusi house students to sit in the front two rows, and Norris is glad he bullied the corner spot from Devito. He has a full view of everyone else competing to answer the equations on the whiteboard. It only gets better when Zathony explains that he doesn’t respond to raised hands. The front runners for the contest are Nuria, her brother, the headmaster’s grandson, and two girlies from S’nue House.

     While the S’nue girlies and Shuri give it their best, the blonde girlie is torn. When she and the grandson answer together, she speaks in a rush. But when she finds herself competing with the redhead, she forces her mouth shut partway through her answer.

     She wants her ticket so bad but not at the cost of the redhead girlie losing her chance at the concert. Silliness. If she wants it, she should just take it. Like those two.

     He finds the contest between Nuria and her brother even more entertaining. Just like the other three, Norris can tell their contest goes beyond the equations on the board. Anytime her bother answers are only when Nuria speaks first, his reaction time immaculate as if trained to react to her voice on command. After the first few interruptions, Nuria refuses to go down quietly. It devolves into a screaming match shortly.

     Norris goes from enjoying the show to lamenting the mental image of himself and his older sister. When Zathony turns around to scold the class, his living nightmare is shattered.

     “Everyone, silence1 Now!” Zathony shots.

     For a moment, the only sound is Norris’s pencil scratching against his notebook. He stops promptly.

     “I understand that the student of the week contest is important, and I’m happy to see the competitive spirit on display, but there is no room for anything else. Nuria. Aurum. You two will remain silent for the remainder of this class session. Is that understood?”

     “Yes.”

     “Yes, sir.”

     “Good. As for everyone else, let’s continue.”

     Norris loses the last bit of his interest once the contest dies, the blonde girlie and the grandson losing their nerve. He goes back to his sketch, drawing a bull charging toward a bullseye, held at bay by a pair of cowboys snagging its horns with lassos. Just as he outlines dark blemishes on the cowboys’ necks, his body is jerked and he pokes a hole through the page. A trigonometry worksheet is slapped on top of his sketch.

     “This is my classroom, not your living room. Feet are for the floor,” Zathony clarifies, moving on swiftly to Devito. To everyone, he says, “The sheet you all have is your homework for the week. You can complete it as fast or as slow as you wish. You can place it in the drop box by the door. I will check it every night at 9 pm sharp. You’re dismissed.”

     Norris and Devito stay in the room to finish their sheets immediately, as do Nuria’s brother, the grandson, and the blonde girlie. Although, the Vanusi boys do not turn theirs in until right before Tameri’s science class the next day. One new detail that sticks out to Norris is that Professor Tameri is the second one who makes it a point to seat Mac as far from the girlie with the magenta streaks in her eyes.

     Did that idiot already get into trouble? Should’ve known bringing him was a dumb decision.

     And Norris observes that the conflict is ongoing, observing how Mac grows angrier as the magenta girlie answers the bulk of the nutritional and exercise-focused questions in seconds. The five percent she doesn’t answer are taken by Tyra, the girlie always by Rum’s side, and the other girlie in the same house as Mac. Norris’s favorite scientific field is biology, so he looks forward to the next science class Tameri outlines at dismissal.

     He slaps Mac upside the head in passing. “Get your shit together,” he whispers venomously.

     And that’s the last word Norris commits to Mac, even when it appears he hasn’t learned his lesson the next day during Lynald’s history class, he and the magenta girlie still seated apart.

     Can’t believe my dad sent him here with me. All his stupid top-of-the-food-chain talk looking weak right now!

     “Dude, chill,” Devito whispers.

     Norris blinks and turns, looking down in Devito’s direction. The pencil he uses to draw is snapped in half in his hand.

     “Everything okay, Norris?” Professor Lynald calls.

     “Oh, uh, yeah. Just put too much pressure on. I’m good,” Norris replies.

     Lynald turns. “It’s okay if you’re not. Certain sections of Avinia’s history can be hard to learn about, especially the farms history.”

     “The f–” Norris pauses, all caught up with that one sentence. “Farms” is a broad term regarding the early days of Vanusi. Since they couldn’t be used for food because of the virecia enzyme, they were forced into hunting the very animals they were related to. Dolphin-Vanusi hunted all kinds of fish. Fox-Vanusi and wolf-Vanusi hunted rabbits, rats, and deer. The treatment of Vanusi has improved but extremists who want them back under control exist.

     “Keep going, professor. History is important. Ignoring it only makes it easier for those mistakes to happen all over again.”

     “Very true. Take heart, class. Mistakes are the truest foundation for perfection. Four Hearts was born by the fate of four mistakes intersecting at once.” He sweeps his cane across the class. “Does anyone know what I mean?”

     “Ooh! Ooh! That’s me!” Nuria cheers, bouncing in her seat, hand raised.

     “By all means.”

     “The Founding Four all met in juvie! That’s where Star Derby was invented!”

     “Correct and correct. When like-minded, courageous spirits gather, great change is sure to come. I view this class as one such group. Within you all is the strength, ingenuity, and talent to steer this world along a better path.”

     Norris wants to go back to his bull sketch but his father would be cross if he continued to disrespect a history class for his “sorry cartoons”.

     It’s my fault I’m here. If I’d listened to him before, then my sister would be here instead. Smug bitch would probably come without question; his perfect little mini-me!

     He can feel the pencil caving into his grip early this time. He shrugs and snaps it anyway, just to see whose heart bleeds for his imagined pain. Nuria and the furball both turn to him briefly before turning to each other.

     They’re that close that they can intuit the other’s thoughts with just a look?

     Norris smirks once when they nod and again when they approach him after class.

     “What’s up, girlie? Furball?”

     “First off, I’m Nuria, and his name is Koren. That’s only fair, Norris.”

     “Noted. Second?”

     “We’re going to the pool before dinner. Do you wanna come?”

     “Just me?”

     “That was the plural version of you.” She tilts her head toward Devito. “He can come, too.”

     “Whaddya say, Dev? Wanna take a dip?” His smile is full of teeth.

     “I hate you.” Devito turns to Nuria. “I’ll come but I’m not swimming.”

-FHA-

     Norris marches into the eastern pool and whistles. He’s only used the saltwater pool since the school year started, so he’s still impressed by the sheer size of the eastern pool. He looks forward to diving in, more comfortable in the water than on land. He keeps on his overly large shirt but kicks off his sandals at the door. Devito follows him to the table where Tyra and Syl reside, tackling their homework.

     “I don’t get it. Why come to the pool if you’re not swimming?”

     Syl shrugs. “Just to be here.”

     “That’s what I told him,” Devito whines. “Jerk tried so hard to get me into my swim trunks.” He gestures to his blue and yellow checkered shirt and white shorts. “What’s wrong with wearing this to a pool?”

     “Nuria tried her hardest to change my mind, too,” Tyra says.

     Devito takes a seat at the table. “Peas in the pod.”

     “Speaking of the gi- Nuria. Where is she?”

     Norris follows the laughs and screams, raising an eyebrow at the trio of Nuria, Koren, and the octopus girlie rat-tailing one another in the corner. He keenly notices that while the ladies are equal-opportunity strikers that Koren solely goes after Nuria.

     So, their connection goes that way, too, huh?

     Norris’s eyes become glued to Nuria’s figure. Her milk chocolate skin sports peaks and valleys along her muscles, none more well-defined than her back and shoulders. Her orange bikini hugs close to her body, the top knotted below her shoulder blades. All of her bouncing around stokes Norris’s imagination. However, another woman, a grown one, comes to his mind.

     Koren can keep her. I’m after a real woman. But still…

     Norris breaks into a run against Tyra’s adamant warning, rounding the next corners daringly. He tosses aside his large shirt, his physique even more intensely sculpted than Nuria’s. His charge is soon noticed by the three in the corner.

     “About time you- wait, what are you- oh, okay, I guess this is hap–”

     Norris silences her broken responses when he lifts her into his arms and jumps into the pool. He sinks deeper into the water than her, watching her rise calmly.

     Not easily rattled, I see. Let’s make some waves, then.

     Norris kicks just once and surfaces and catches a splash to the face, though he welcomes the cool sensation assuaging his skin and hair. He manages to stay buoyant without kicking by transforming his lungs, expanding their size and thus the volume of air they can carry.

     “Thanks for that,” Nuria says with a laugh. She regrets clearing the excess water from her face once the octopus girlie cannonballs between her and Norris. “And thanks…for that.”

     She pops her head out of the water, her blonde pigtails suspended across the pool’s surface. “You’re welcome,” she says cheekily. She floats just like Norris.

     “Nice,” he compliments.

     “Wha–” She recognizes his floating and grins. “Back atcha.”

     “What am I mis–”

     Koren dives into the pool, splashing all three at once. His fur sags over his eyes like curtains, kept at a safe distance due to his brow ridges. “Yeah…definitely need a haircut.”

     “Who cuts your hair and how do they cut it? Where do they cut it?”

     Koren counts with his fingers as he answers, “Any licensed groomer. They typically use scissors but the finer work requires clippers They get my face, my arms, my legs, and…no, yeah, that’s it.”

     “Now, why don’t I believe you?” Nuria says.

     Koren laughs nervously.

     “Glad that fur hides your blushing ain’t yah?” Carnya teases.

     Norris snorts. “Leave the fuzzy kick-floater alone. He’s got enough to tackle without us poking fun.”

     Carnya raises an eyebrow. “Oh, you noticed it, too?”

     Norris nods at the abandoned, twisted towels. “Hard not to.”

     “Right!

     “What? The kick-floater thing?” Nuria asks.

     Carnya bursts out laughing.

     Either she’s that dense or she isn’t attracted to Koren. But they have a strong bond for sure. Maybe she needs a more direct push to see it. Like I said, let’s make waves.

     “So, tell me, Fuzzy. Who are you trying to look good for? Got a girl back home?”

     “Uhh…”

     “Come on. No girl chasing your tail?”

     “Uhh…” Koren repeats.

     “What’s that have to do with how we swim?” Nuria inquires.

     Norris looks at her curiously. Her voice is calm but her expression is fierce. He lifts his hands out of the water. “You got me. But I promise it’s the last one. But now I’m curious about you, genuinely. You’re what, fifteen?”

     “Sixteen,” she corrects intensely.

     “Tell me, have you ever kissed a boy?”

     Nuria’s kick-floating falters momentarily and she gets a mouthful of water. She hacks and spits it out indelicately. Norris expends great self-control to not ask if her experience went anything like that. At the least, eh can tell off that reaction that her first time was shy of any quality. He decides to lie to make her reveal more.

     “My first time wasn’t good either. Didn’t help that it was sprung on me,” Norris says.

     Nuria’s fidgeting lessens. “Wait, you too?”

     “Yeah. It sucked. One, I didn’t like her. And two, I coughed into her mouth. You know, on account of the surprise.”

     The phoenix relaxes more. “I…well, I punched the guy who almost stole my…my first kiss. I spaced out while dancing with him and he took that as a sign to kiss me. I definitely panicked. Definitely didn’t like him.”

     “Well, at least your first kiss is still yours. Choose well.”

     “I…yeah. I’ll think about it.” She double-takes with her eyes before stroking her wet braid. However, Norris catches the glance she affords Koren. Carnya confirms it when he locks eyes with her.

     Ah, so she’s just immature, unsure how to identify and express her attraction. And Fuzzy’s not confident enough to confess his feelings. Wonder which bough breaks first.

     “What about you?” he asks Carnya. “Any first kisses?”

     She laughs. “Too long ago to remember clearly. I just know that I and another little girl wanted to see why every tv show had characters kissing. But…” she looks over her shoulder, “I gave Syl his first our freshman year,” she whispers.

     “You never told me that,” Nuria comments.

     “He swore me to secrecy. But I think two years is long enough that it doesn’t matter anymore.”

     Koren sniggers. “You kept it longer than he did. He told me last year.”

     “Of course. All you boys do is brag. Even when it’s not true.”

     “And all girls just naturally believe themselves superior,” Norris states.

     “Because it’s true.”

     “Please.”

     “I can prove it. Name any one contest we can do here. Nuria and I will beat you and Koren.”

     “Oh yeah?”

     “Oh yeah!”

     “Why do Nuria and I have to be involved?”

     “Greater sample size. Norris can’t argue if we beat you both.”

     “I’m in. What contest are we gonna win?”

     “It’s their egos at stake, so they can choose.”

     Norris shrugs. “Whaddya think about a hold-your-breath match, Fuzzy?”

     Koren smirks. “You’re about to see the world’s greatest marine kitty in action!”

     “All right. Then everybody, get ready. On the count of three. One!”

     “Three!” Nuria chants then submerges herself.

     Norris looks at the others quizzically.

     “She does that,” they explain.

     “Okay, then. Two, three. Let’s go!”

     Norris lowers into the water right as Carnya and Koren do. He and he suspects Carnya, adjust the size of their lungs to sink like lead bricks, reaching the bottom of the pool even before Nuria does. Norris squats down while Carnya remains on her feet. He nods in turn to Nuria and Koren as they join the circle.

     And now I wait.

     Norris stays as still as a statue, cycling through the air in his bloated lung slowly. Carnya, on the other hand, dances around everyone, her movements free of resistance, as if she were weightless. Nuria and Koren have trouble saving their breath as they battle not to laugh at the dancing. Norris sports a tiny grin.

     He loves the water and being able to swim as long as possible. But to this day, he’s had few chances to move through the water with the same feeling Carnya expresses. He’s always been a lead brick.

     Or worse.

     He looks at Nuria and Koren battle against the limits of their ill-suited biology and jealousy hits him hard. He sees their stressed smiles exude the same cheer as their bright, squinted eyes. He’s said so before, but he doesn’t believe they’ve known what being a disappointment feels like. Even when Norris claims victory over Nuria and Koren as they retire to the surface, he feels no better. However, he views Carnya as a proper challenge.

     Her dancing shows no signs of slowing down, so Norris stands and crosses his arms. He watches her dance in her white and red bikini, but it’s not her muscles he heeds. Her flesh is soft and supple. Two gills spread his skin on both sides of his neck. The serrations that grow on his teeth grind against each other behind his closed lips. When blue rings pulsate over Carnya’s arms and legs, Norris takes a step forward.

     Suddenly, Devito swims between the last two contestants, still fully dressed. He mouths four syllables, panics, and swims to the surface swiftly, a remorseful Norris following his lead. His gills close and his teeth and gums reshape themselves. He pokes his head out of the water slowly.

     “What was that, Devito? Why’d you interfere?” Nuria asks.

     Devito climbs out of the pool, his clothes a sopping mess. “Just felt like it.”

     “Thanks for messing up the contest.”

     “I don’t think Carnya cares too much,” Koren says while pointing, the young lady still dancing.

     “No, but he does.”

     Norris hates what just happened, but her pitying him is an even more grave offense. He pushes against the floor and rises out of the water, somehow feeling even heavier. He stomps past Koren, Nuria, and Devito without a word. His anger is at its boiling point and should he open his mouth once, he’ll only repeat Mac’s mistake.

     History is everyone’s tutor. I didn’t repeat my greatest sin today.

     He glances at Nuria and Koren rat-tailing each other again.

But when I can, I will enjoy it!

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