August 12, 2015 by Lyn
Breathe Easy for a While
Kailani slipped into the meeting hall behind a group of other students, clutching her purse to her chest. The bag – more of a backpack than a handbag – served as a sort of combination good luck charm and security blanket for her, and she’d brought it along without really thinking it through. It had come everywhere with her, school and summer camp and even the farm. It felt like a piece of home, a piece of safety.
The small group of students in the auditorium had already gathered into little cliques, chatting and joking amongst themselves. Kai had gotten to the airport late, at a time when no-one else had arrived, and had slipped into her room without being noticed. Now, she slipped into the back of the meeting hall and discreetly claimed a seat in the very back row, looking around at her new school.
The small auditorium was paneled in dark wood, with double doors on two sides of it and a low stage in the front, two plainer doors to each side. It had about seventy chairs – heavy, upholstered wooden chairs – set out to look like an auditorium. Students were scattered throughout, most of them seated by now, and a couple groups of what she assumed were teachers were holding down the middle, chatting quietly among themselves. All in all, it looked like nearly half the chairs were empty.
The side door opened, and a group of three more students walked in – two Nordic blonde types who looked like they could be brother and sister, and a shorter, dark-haired girl whose black-and-blood-red dress served to highlight the china white of her skin. As they entered, someone at the front of the room stood, and slipped into one of the stage doors. A moment later, a woman and a man walked onto the stage.
The woman, tall, blonde, and Dutch, wearing a flowing skirt and a sleeveless sweater with effortless grace and style, took up a position behind the low podium. The man, a beautiful Lebanese boy not much older than the students, stood a few paces behind her and to her right, looking completely at ease. Although he was painfully, distractingly stunning, as soon as the woman began talking, Kailani found she forgot all about him.
“Good evening,” the woman began, “and welcome to Addergoole School’s fifth year in session. For some of you, this is your first year here; for the rest of you, I ask your patience while I explain a few things you already know.”
A quick glance around the room told Kailani more or less who the returning students were; they relaxed and grinned at the woman insouciantly, some of them rather arrogantly. It didn’t seem to bother her; she barely seemed to notice them.
“I am Doctor Regine Avonmorea; you can call me Doctor Regine. I’m the director of our little school.
“As you may have guessed, Addergoole is a bit of an experimental school. As such, some things here may seem a bit strange to you at first, but be patient. We deliver a first-rate educational experience that will serve you well in the years to come.
“Those of you who are new this year will be known as the Fifth Cohort. I know some of you have noticed the differences in your ages. Regardless, you have all been accepted into the Fifth Cohort here at Addergoole.”
Behind Kai, a very quiet struggle was going on in the doorway, but she couldn’t seem to pry her attention away from the Director.
“There are very few rules and regulations as such in this school, but you are expected to show your professors proper deference and respect, and do as you are told. In addition, the classes on the schedules you received are all considered required classes; ‘skipping’ is not allowed and will be punished.
“The school employs a full-time medical doctor, Dr. Caitrin, and psychologist, Dr. Mendosa. Their offices are just down the hallway from this auditorium, and are clearly marked, should you need their services.”
Here, she smiled wryly. “It won’t be all business. I’m sure we’ll all have quite a bit of fun here over the year. For now – your class schedules are in your rooms, which I’m sure many of you have already found, and dinner will be in one hour in the dining hall, which I’m also sure you’ll all be able to find.”
The struggle seemed to revolve itself; someone sat down near her with a quiet thump. Still, Kailani couldn’t tear her eyes from the woman on stage.
“Should you have any questions, feel free to stop into my office at any time. I’m almost always there.” Her smile grew slightly self-depreciating, and a few of the returning students chuckled softly. “And again, welcome. Make yourselves at home.”
With the slightest nod of a bow, she turned and walked off the stage, the beautiful man following in her wake.
Slowly, the students got to their feet and began milling out of the room, many of them seeming as bemused by the abrupt speech as Kailani felt. She turned to look to her right, where the struggle had been, just in time to see someone fleeing the auditorium ahead of the rest of the students. Curious, but not wanting to pry, she slipped into an opening in the crowd; they were all going in mostly the same direction right now, and it was easy enough to move along with them.
“Hey! Watch out!” A shoulder rammed into her, shoving her out of the stream of traffic; a blonde girl a full head taller than Kailani frowned down at her, her aggressive pose highlighted by the menacing chuckles of her two friends standing just behind her. All three girls wore tight jeans, tight T-shirts, and had their hair gelled and sprayed into curly ponytails; their make-up was aggressive and seemed perfectly done.
All this, Kai took in in one quick glance, as she backed away from the three of them, clutching her purse. She knew she hadn’t gotten in their way – she thought she’d been careful –
“Well?” the girl said, smirking. “Aren’t you going to apologize?”
Kai cringed. People were stopping and staring. They were drawing a small crowd. “Sorry” she murmured; maybe if she abased herself quickly enough, they’d leave her alone.
“What’s with the bag?” one of the backup girls demanded. “Were you taking notes during Avonmorea’s little speech or something?” She grabbed for the purse, but Kai snatched it out of her reach.
“Give it to me!” she demanded. She put both hands on Kailani’s shoulders and shoved hard; Kai went limp with the shove and let herself be knocked across the hallway, still clinging to her purse. “Stupid cunt, I said give it here.”
Kai didn’t even bother trying to get to her feet. She’d dealt with bullies in her last school, and these weren’t much different. Instead, she curled her knees up to her face, presenting bony shins to her opponent, and waited.
She felt someone step right in front of her, and went as limp as she could, waiting for the kick, but it didn’t come.
“Move,” the girl demanded again, but she wasn’t talking to Kai.
“Leave her alone, Acacia.” This voice was much closer, and male, definitely male. Kai peeked her head over her knees, but all she could see was the back of someone’s knees and their backside, in smooth khakis.
“What’s it to you, Taro? Is this one yours?”
“It’s the first day. Cut them some slack.” Speaking of slacks, his covered a rather nice body, at least the lower back of him. Kai took the opportunity provided to study him.
“Whatever.” There was a catlike studied disdain in the girl – Acacia’s – voice, as people began moving away. After a moment, the boy, who was probably Taro, unless that was an obscure insult, turned around and looked down at Kailani, catching her looking at him. He grinned, and her thoughtful look quickly turned into a mortified blush.
“Here.” He offered her a hand up, and she was too embarrassed to do anything but take it, smoothing her skirt down with her other hand as she scrambled to her feet.
“Thanks,” she muttered, glancing up at him briefly. He was handsome from the front view too; Asian, probably Japanese, with long hair pulled back at the nape of his neck, and he didn’t look like he was laughing at her too much.
“No problem.” Without relinquishing her left hand, he offered her his right hand. “I’m Taro.”
“Kailani,” she murmured in response, shaking his hand. Their arms made an awkward cross, and he looked down at that, embarrassed, and released both her hands.
“I was… that is, do you want me to show you around a little?”
“I know where my room is,” she answered, then, seeing the expression on his face souring, she shook her head. “That came out wrong. I mean… urm… sure.”
He smiled at her. “Cool. This is my second year here, so I know my way around pretty well. Let’s go – this way.” He hesitated for a moment and pointed down a hallway away from the dormitory section.
“This place used to be some sort of government facility,” he told her, as he led her back past the auditorium. “There’s the dining hall, but we’ve got nearly an hour before dinner. Dr. Regine bought it when the budgeting ran out or something, and gutted it and rebuilt the whole thing.” He thumped his fist against the painted wall. “It’s all like this – thick carpets and paintings and everything.”
Kailani nodded. The hallways all looked very similar, with only the spacing of the doors to differentiate them, and the carpet under her sandaled toes felt very lush and soft, almost like walking on a feather bed.
“It’s like the inside of a jewelry box.” The thought slipped out before she manage to close her mouth on it, and then, as Taro turned to her with a strange look on his face, she felt the need to explain further. “All velvet-lined and wood-sided and little compartments.” She felt the blush coming to her cheeks and looked down quickly, shielding her face with her hair.
When she peeked up at him, he was looking at her with a small smile. “I’d never thought of that,” he said, sounding very pleased. “That’s kind of neat.”
“Thanks,” she murmured, blushing more fiercely. His smile grew a little wider, and he pointed down the hall at another wide set of double doors.
“That’s the gym. Want to see it?”
“Sure,” she shrugged lightly. “This place has everything, doesn’t it?”
“Just about.” He seemed to find that really amusing, so she tried to explain.
“I mean, for so few students.”
He nodded. “It is pretty cool like that; just wait until I show you the store! I think because there’s nothing else for hundreds of miles, Regine wanted to be sure there was enough to keep us occupied down here.”
He pushed open the door to the gym – which looked more or less like a gym should look, and headed out across the expanse of varnished floorboards. “There’s a weight room over there, and the locker rooms, but the pool is the really amazing thing.”
At that, Kai perked up. “There’s a pool here? Underground?”
“Why not?” Taro shrugged. “It was here when they got the place, I think. It’s just through those doors.” He pointed across the gym.
Her sandals made slapping noises on the wood floor that echoed through the high roof of the gym as she picked up her pace a little, unabashed. Taro was smiling at her, and he obligingly hurried with her to the next door and swung it open for her.
Behind the door was not just a pool – but a series of three pools and two smaller soak tubs, with a cascade of little waterfalls running between them, so that the whole thing looked more like a tropical grotto than a school pool.
Kailani found herself giggling. “Oh, Taro! This is… wow. Wonderful. Wow.” She shook her head and glanced over at him. “Wow…”
“You said that already,” he grinned. “Do you like it?”
“I… wow.” She shook her head again. “This is so cool!”
“If you wanted, we could go swimming now and skip dinner,” he offered. “Or just play in the wading pool until dinner.”
Kailani blinked at him, looking twice to see if he was serious. Although he was smiling, he seemed to not be joking. “You mean it?” she asked, more than a little stunned.
“Yeah,” he chuckled at her. “The wading pool is pretty nice. And I was pretty sure you’d like this.”
She already had one sandal off, but she paused with her foot in her hand to look at him again. “Why’s that?”
“Your name,” he explained, leaning down to pull his own sneakers & socks off. “It means ‘sea and sky.’ I figured there was a pretty good chance this place would appeal to you.”
She chuckled a little, but he wasn’t smiling. “You’re serious? Just because of my name?”
“Well, I was right, wasn’t I?”
“Yeah, but…” she sputtered, still holding her foot in her hand.
“Around here,” he explained, setting his shoes and socks neatly together on the ground, “names really are a clue. You can go a long way with a copy of a baby names book and some patience.”
She blinked, and finally remembered to put her foot down. “What about yours?”
“Taro?” he shrugged. “It means ‘first-born son.’” She smirked a little at that, but he continued. “It wasn’t the name my father gave me, though. My mother didn’t like that one, so she just sort of gave me a label.”
“What did your father call you?” There seemed to be some significance in his sentence that she couldn’t quite grasp, but it didn’t seem right to ask, either.
“Petyr.” His mouth twisted into a bitter little smile.
“Rock,” she translated without thinking. “But what is he building on you?”
“Yeah, exactly. Come on, there’s a neat little stream past the wading pool.”