Sarah sat dully within the worn leather chesterfield, her legs crossed elegantly. Absentmindedly, she flipped through pages of a book that sat neatly on her lap. It was quiet and peaceful.
The casual cough of the librarian in the distance, the constant smell of old books, and the timeless aura of peace enveloped her like a warm blanket. It was an ideal place to seclude herself from the entire academy. Had she not been patiently waiting till the lunch bell rang, she would already be napping in the cozy chair. However, today she will not sleep away indoors.
The sun was out in full force and the warm rays sang to her in a siren's call. Sarah kept herself from checking the clock, not wanting to fret anxiously about the time since it was all she had nowadays. It was a privilege for a student like her.
The Willager Brightson’s Academy was unique, offering several options and class styles that were like no other. For several reasons, the biggest option was the module structure class. Not only was it a self-paced program where each subject was offered in module format, but you also had to apply to get into it. It was very exclusive and few were selected in each grade. Even fewer were accepted outside of different schooling systems. Once you are accepted into the program, you could complete the entirety of your education. However, failing to comply with the grade mark requirements or rules meant expulsion from the program. Permanently.
Sarah was the small few that were accepted into the program. Instead of spending her school days in a classroom, she was granted the freedom to do as she pleased. Within limitations, of course. Some requirements were that each student must be on-premise for the morning classes and with good attendance. Only then were they able to leave the property during the 3rd and 4th periods.
At the end of the day, they must return to check-in after classes had finished within an hour. Leaving the academy’s premise was a perk that Sarah utilized every day.
Often she spent her time in the library and then would go sleep out in the fields. During the first few weeks of attending the school, several of her classmates had shown her around. They shared all of the hidden gems and where most of them would hang out. One of her favorites was the hillside.
It was a fair distance from the academy and through the forest that surrounded the entire property. The small worn path weaved and if it weren't for the others, she would have easily gotten lost. There in the far back of the property line was a small open field that turned into a sharp hill. It was a popular place for all the module students to hang out due to the privacy. It was also easy to access once you knew your way and quick to return to the building to check back in.
Although as fall began to settle in, it got quite chilly out. Several of the students decided to stay inside. Despite the cold, Sarah was determined to enjoy the last few days of good weather on the small hillside. It had become her place of sanctuary. On hot days, the tree shade gave enough solace and the open hill patch was a great place to have lunch. The way it angled was perfect for a snooze and the feeling of nature all around was soothing.
Sarah was fortunate to have been invited on a whim to the hillside by her classmates. It was easy to get along with them since they too desired to laze about. Not having the overbearing weight of constant conversations was a beautiful change of pace. Because she wasn’t much of a social being, it was hard for her to make friends. Even in her previous school.
Here, Sarah could let her guard down. To just enjoy the weather while feeling like she had low-maintenance friends. Occasionally they would share in playing games, but with winter approaching it died down. Sarah had not seen them since.
So alas, her hiding out in the library began. Students also began focusing on oncoming module deadlines since the majority of them put it off to play outside. Now being forced indoors it was a perfect time to catch up. At least for them, not for Sarah. She had long completed the necessary ones in the first month.
A sudden loud clunk on a small table nearby broke Sarah from her daydream. Heather plopped down her pastel rainbow bag and crossed her arms in the chair across with a smile. She took the liberty to sit down first before breaking Sarah’s thoughts.
“Hey, you look a little worn out more than usual. Winter blues kicking in early?”
Heather smiled softly, waiting with a twinkle in her hazel eye. Several freckles sat on her cheeks and nose against the contrast of her light cream skin. She brushed her amber bangs to frame her face, then pulled at her large braid made of dreads down her left shoulder while she adjusted in the chair. How she managed to keep them so neat and firm always baffled Sarah.
Smiling lazily back, Sarah closed the book on her lap with a thump. Looking down at Heather's uniform, she stiffened. Immediately she spotted several infractions to the school's dress code. Heather had ditched the academy’s forest green blazer and untucked her long sleeve shirt from her plaid green and blue skirt. Several top buttons were undone to show an array of layered necklaces and tank tops.
Sarah scowled with a shake of her head while Heather burst out laughing. In response to Sarah’s displeasure, she leaned back into the leather chesterfield and kicked up her legs to rest on the table. Before Sarah could start her usual lecture about her uniform, Heather raised her hand to stop her and quickly interjected.
“You can’t change how I am. I’ve been doing this since 5th grade, If they haven't kicked me out since then, they won’t start now.”
Sarah huffed before snapping her mouth closed. Adjusting her poster to sit up straight, she flicked her long black silky hair out of the way to lean into her fist propped against the chair’s arm. “Fine, make us look worse than we already are. You wonder why everyone in this school thinks the Slithers are spoiled rich kids.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “As if sitting outside on the hill is any better. I heard you’ve been napping out there and was late for check-in, Miss Kettle.”
Sighing heavily at her companion, Sarah squirmed in her seat. She may have been a little tardy here and there in the last few weeks. At least it was a few small mistakes and not blatant disregard for uniform policies.
Sarah settled back into the chair and placed her hands behind her head. She noticed a few students sitting nearby at tables with headphones in. They worked hard on projects and term papers, scribbling frivolously in their world.
Yes, Sarah had been tardy a few times. However, it was no surprise Heather would have found out she was scolded. There were classroom students, or Hoppers, who had it out against them. The Hoppers who complained usually tried to get the mod students banned or reprimanded on purpose. Scalers were treated like degenerates, no matter what they did. Even though they had the same grade point as the class or higher since it was a requirement. The real difference was that Scalers didn’t need to follow the standard rules.
Sarah was always treated the same as the Scalers, no matter how hard she tried to follow the rules. She would always be an outcast regardless of where she attended.
Sarah feigned ignorance of Heather's statement. With a coy smile, she finally replied.
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Closing her eyes, Sarah fought the sleepiness that pulled at her. They sat in silence for a few moments. The sound of pages flipping could be heard, filling in the silence. Each moment that passed, Sarah could feel Heather's eyes on her. How long was she going to keep staring? Was she going to comment on her remark?
It finally became too much to bear when Sarah took a deep breath in. Since Heather had come to find her, there must have been a reason. There was always a reason.
Not bothering to open her eyes, she let out a long-drawn sigh. “Was there something you needed?”
Heather giggled victoriously. “I’m glad you asked. A few of us Scalers are going to the cafe at lunch if you wanted to tag along. You can always go nap on the hill tomorrow. If the weather permits.”
Fighting a grumble, Sarah chewed at the inside of her lip in thought. Going to the cafe meant that Sarah was expected to socialize with several groups while they talked and played games. It was a new internet cafe that opened last year that served food, coffee and tea of all kinds. They had several tables to hang out and a back room with several computers lined against the walls.
The boys would hang out in the back to play games, yelling loudly and cheering at each other every time someone scored or won. Meanwhile, the girls would stay at the tables watching the boys.
Sarah was not interested in gawking and found it unamusing. Not to mention that games were not her thing; she despised them. There was only one game she didn’t mind playing. The cafe had an old-school shooter game in the front. Heather forced her to play a few rounds even though she was terrible at it. Still, Heather didn’t stop inviting her to play.
They would play till the money ran out regardless of her skill, which wasn’t long. Heather was much better at playing and always carried them through the levels. Each time Sarah could no longer play, she would give up and claim she was no longer interested.
If not for Heather, Sarah wouldn’t bother to go. In the past, Sarah used to refuse Heather each time. She would seek Sarah out every day to befriend her, asking her to come. Until one day, she finally said yes. Since then, Heather would constantly drag her along.
Why she bothered to do so was a mystery. Neither of them had much in common. Heath was incredibly popular where Sarah wasn’t. Yet, out of all the people in the school, Heather was her closest friend. If she hadn’t made an effort, Sarah would be left in the library or hillside each day alone.
It was a sombering thought. Sarah opened her eyes and glanced over at Heather. She sat patiently with a caring smile, waiting for her to reply. How did Heather put up with her? Sarah was stale and mundane to be around. She knew if she decided to sit in silence till the last minute to answer, Heather would comply without a fuss. It made Sarah feel guilty.
Heather was a saint with her carefree attitude and hippy appearance. Sarah was quiet, reserved, and followed the rules. So what if she wasn’t the ideal friend? Just because Heather broke the rules more than any student in the academy didn’t mean Sarah couldn’t be friends with her, right? Sarah had an opportunity to make a close friend, even if she was troublesome.
Dropping her arms to her lap, Sarah gave in. she nonchalantly answered while flipping open the book again.
Heather stood up and snatched the book from Sarah. The action startled Sarah. With a gasp, she sneered at Heather. Heather giggled and tapped the book under her chin, leaning in close. Her necklaces fell out and dangled in front while she planted a fist on her hip. With a roguish grin, Heather wagged the book with a taunt.
“I will have none of that. I know you're not even reading anyways. It’s in Russian, and I have a sneaking suspicion you don’t know the language.”
Sarah crossed her arms defensively. On second thought, she was a terrible friend. With a pout, Sarah barked back. “I could be learning.”
Heather raised an eyebrow and looked at the title of the book. Laced with dramatic flair, she spoke enthusiastically.
“Mmmhmm. ‘Agriculture of Russia’?”
Heather flicked her eyes towards her with a knowing grin. It was a new form of teasing Sarah hadn’t seen before. Desperately searching for an excuse, there was no escape from the embarrassment. Sarah ran out of interesting books to read. It had become a game to grab one at random and try to read it regardless of language or topic. Disarmed with no retort, Sarah frowned.
Heather laughed victoriously and turned towards the library aisles. “As I thought. Khoroshaya popytka, my friend. Come, we are leaving early today.”