Monday 5th May 2014
Sitting on the edge of her bed, Marceline stared at her phone, confused. She hadn’t checked it all weekend, but she’d expected more to be honest. Instead, all she had was two messages and a missed call. Where were all the rest? Why wasn’t she swamped in them?
The first text said, Where are you? You’re late. It had been sent after first period on Friday.
The second one, though, was sent after school that day and had shocked her. It asked in what her brain interpreted as a very temperate tone, Are you alright?
She blinked at it again. Nobody ever asked her if she was alright. What was this? Then there was the call she’d received around midday on Saturday. Like the messages, it was from Bonnibel. Those were the only indications that someone had tried to contact her and it… it bothered her.
Sighing, knowing she couldn’t put off going to school, she headed out the door. It hadn’t occurred to her to check the phone until after she was ready and it had wasted a few minutes. Now she was going to be late. For some reason, that didn’t sit well with her either. Marceline wasn’t sure why it made her stomach roil, but it did, so she may have clipped just slightly above the speed limit that morning in her haste to get to school. It was a fine line to… travel, keeping her car quiet in the early morning while trying not to be late.
As it happened, she was overdue by nearly three minutes when she stopped in the outside parking lot. Bonnibel was just stepping onto the grounds and paused when she saw Marceline’s car. She didn’t walk over, but she did wait until Marceline got out. For a moment, they just stared at each other, then Marceline sighed and fell in beside her.
Bonnie glanced at her sideways as if thinking Marceline wouldn’t see. “How was your weekend?” Her voice was soft, almost hesitant; probably worried she’d get a vehement reaction.
“Boring. Just slept mostly.” Several things flashed through her mind then. The first of which was the possibility that she could ask how Bonnie’s weekend was, that was the polite thing to do after all. Her next thought was that Bonnie hadn’t tried to contact her incessantly and she really wanted to know why. And the third was that the first words out of the nosey redhead’s mouth hadn’t been ‘why did you skip on Friday?’ They bounced off the insides of her skull like those horrid elastic rubber balls that just won’t sit still. At length she sighed, “How was your weekend?” in the most resentful way she could manage.
The only immediate response she got for that was a startled expression and a pair of big blinking green eyes. Oh, there were all kinds of things written in them, all over her pretty face things were glaring at Marceline in massive neon letters. They might as well have been in a foreign language for all she understood though. “Uh…” Bonnie ventured finally. “Yeah… it was ok. I went out for lunch with friends on Sunday. Also, I studied. So mine was boring too.” Bonnie turned her face back to the front, staring unnecessarily hard at the façade of the school admin building. “I… I can’t imagine you’d care overly much though.”
Marceline exhaled heavily. “Sounds like fun,” she muttered. When they ducked inside, Bonnibel began to head off to her first class before Marceline had even decided to ask her question. Her fingers stopped tapping on her bag strap as she blurted, “Why didn’t you ask?”
Bonnie froze in the act of walking away and glanced back at her. “Ask what?”
She hunched her shoulders slightly, all of a sudden convinced she didn’t really want to know. But she had to now she supposed. “Ask me where I was on Friday…”
Surprisingly, Bonnie just smiled. “If you were going to tell me, you would. You would have replied to my texts, answered my call. I can’t imagine you’ll tell me, so I won’t ask. Simple.” Then she shut the door and walked off, leaving Marceline feeling empty.
After a few minutes, knowing she’d have to go to class sooner or later, she hauled herself out of her spiralling thoughts and turned down another corridor. Before she even got close to her room, she heard her name called out over the loud speakers.
Of course, she grumbled silently, heels sliding on the waxed floor as she changed directions mid-stride. Yeah, that’s what happens when you skip. Should’ve sent in a doctor’s note. Idiot.
Shoulders slumped in resignation, she tapped sharply on the door to Gregory’s office with her knuckles, hitching her bag higher, feeling the judgemental eyes of passing students on her back. “Come in,” his voice called, muffled behind the thick doors. Carefully, she pushed it in.
The curtains were thrown open today, letting in a stream of obnoxious light from the courtyard. This was the second floor, but she could still see students rushing around down on the pavement. Gregory wasn’t looking at her; he was busy peering at a document over the tops of his glasses.
Then he pushed the paper across his desk, and glanced up. “Well, Miss Abadeer,” he said in that condescending tone all teachers seem to know from birth. “You skipped class.”
Oh how very observant of you, she thought dryly. Once she’d been just brave enough to say one of her so-called ‘smart arse’ remarks to his face. That hadn’t ended well. Now she kept them to herself.
“None of your teachers claim to have seen you and not even Miss Banner could confirm your presence on Friday.” He shifted a pencil on his desk; clearly it had stepped out of line and needed to be prodded back in place. “Why is it that no one remembers you being here?”
“Because I wasn’t,” she ground out.
“Ah.” Gregory steepled his fingers and did that ‘look at how wise I am’ thing where he stares placidly at you through his glasses. “And why was that? We didn’t get a call from a doctor to explain your absence.”
What could she say to him that bordered the truth but didn’t quite make her sound like a loser? Not a great deal, she realised after a moment’s thought. Huh… so what could she say that might excuse her absence?
“My… uh, car,” she said, rubbing her neck. “Got a flat. I took it home to fix it.”
Gregory lifted an eyebrow. “You could’ve walked to school, you know. It’s not that far.”
Marceline hunched her shoulders. “Yeah… I just…”
He sighed. “You just didn’t come in. I know, you do this a lot, Marceline.” All of a sudden the old man looked at least twenty years more ancient than he really was, very much worn down by time and no longer capable of withstanding it. “I vowed I’d get your marks up when you came here,” he said. “I recall that much. Now you have a tutor, by rights such a bright young woman should have laughed at Simon when he suggested she help you. Don’t be skipping any more days, Marceline.” He picked up the paper again. “And you have a detention this afternoon. Let Miss Banner know, she might stay back to give you some extra help since you missed last Friday.” He waved a hand, dismissing her.
She glared at him, performed a mocking half-bow and left before he could extend her detention to all week. Jerk. Marceline shuffled through the school towards her physics class, thinking up belated excuses that might have been more convincing. Things like her dad doing… something or her friends kidnapping her, probable things. Women’s troubles… she could’ve used that as an excuse. Guys never wanted to know about them. She filed it away for next time. Then mentally slapped herself for assuming so cavalierly that there would be a next time.
Hesitating only a moment, Marceline eased the door open and slipped into her physics room. The teacher barely even glanced at her; he was used to her tardy entrances by now. As such, she felt it appropriate to ignore him and crumple into her chair at the back as usual. Eleanor gave her a funny look, but her perma-scowl deterred anyone from actually speaking to her. When that class ended, she dawdled a little longer than normal on her way to maths, not wanting to face Bonnibel again.
So it was with much reluctance that she slumped into a chair beside Bonnie in the back corner. Finn glared at Marceline from Bonnie’s other side, hand tapping the end of his pen against his book incessantly. She wasn’t quite late, but close. The teacher had already started speaking and (like her physics teacher) paid her no real mind for being overdue.
“You haven’t missed much,” Bonnibel said softly. “Just a recap on Pythagorean theorems.” Again, she didn’t ask where Marceline was, why she was late, nothing, just accepted it. Her tolerance was… was… Marceline wanted to call it irritating, but it just made her ache.
“I got detention,” Marceline whispered to her, staring at the notes on Bonnie’s page. “This afternoon, for skipping.”
Marceline sighed, eyes now roving up to the board. “Will…” She thought better of her question. “Never mind.” She didn’t want to be spending time with this girl; it felt wrong that she needed to remind herself of that though. Why did she need to repeat it in her head all the time? Why couldn’t she just… just not want to do something? Why did – deep down – she feel like being tutored wasn’t such a bad idea? It was a terrible idea. Terrible.
“Do you want me to stay this afternoon?” Bonnibel asked her, ripping her from her thoughts. That was unexpected.
Say ‘no’, please, her brain pleaded, knowing what was logical. Instead, her mouth disregarded everything else and said, “Please?” Marceline couldn’t meet Bonnie’s eyes, her mind screaming, overturning furniture at her stupidity, while her heart was silently smiling; obviously delighted by her response. You’re an idiot.
For a long moment, there was quiet between them. Then, in such a soft voice Marceline had to lean closer to hear, Bonnibel murmured, “Alright. I’ll stay. On one condition.”
Great, here we go. Gonna make me give something up, like music or my life. “What’s that?” she asked feeling calm wash over her. Honestly, she should have been panicking, should have cursed and raged and asked who the hell Bonnie thought she was, putting stipulations on something she was probably being paid for.
“Study sessions after school, every day,” Bonnie said flatly. “You can keep your weekends and Friday’s to yourself, but I want work every other day.” She paused then, but her tone left things hanging, clearly something was unsaid. Bonnibel munched on that something for a good half minute before exhaling, “And for goodness’ sake, bring a notebook to class.”
Her brain stopped breaking the metaphorical furnishings of her mind and blinked, very confused. Of course, Marceline was currently anthropomorphising her brain, so she was probably crazy. That didn’t stop her from conjuring an image of a tiny version of herself about to smash a lamp in a rather dishevelled living room looking stunned. What did she just say? the Mini-Marceline asked her.
Again, worry oozed from her shoulders and she slumped back against the chair. Mini-Marceline was torn between being furious at having her afternoons encroached upon, and being relieved that Bonnie hadn’t demanded more. Logically, she should be ok with what was requested of her, and… and she was.
Smiling, setting her emotionally confused internal battle aside for now, Marceline reached into her bag and pulled out a notepad and pen. “Gotcha covered,” she said, still without looking at Bonnibel. “Where are we going for these sessions,” she inquired. “Library?”
In her peripheral vision, Marceline saw Bonnie shake her head. “No, my place. I would suggest the library, but I like controlled environments and since the library isn’t mine to control, it’s not viable.”
Marceline rolled her eyes. Of course, yes, that made perfect sense. “Well, you’ll have to be flexible on Tuesdays and Wednesdays,” she informed her companion, absently drawing little Mayan things in the borders of her book. “I work those days in the afternoon, so you can tag along with me to the café. And no, you can’t suggest I have those afternoons off and study on the weekends cause I work then too.”
“What about Friday afternoon then?”
“No dice, brainiac,” Marceline chortled, feeling her mood lighten inexplicably. “I have band practice. Take what you can get yeah? I used to have band on Thursday as well, though, just for you, I’ll cancel. I can compromise.”
“Touching. Now stop doodling and pay attention.”
As usual, Finn was irritating and amusing to rile up. His hero-complex made that far too easy. All through maths he looked like he wanted to throw himself between them and save Bonnibel from some hideous fate. Even though it was kind of frustrating, the way he would try to prove she was wrong about things, Bonnie didn’t mind. She’d just smile at the far too zealous boy and he’d go bright red and the whole thing made Marceline feel sick. She was of the very firm opinion that Bonnie and Finn should get a room and spare her their squishiness.
He even tried to follow them in their spare (until Bonnie reminded him of his own lesson anyway). Marceline still went to extreme lengths to make sure he was thoroughly ditched and even then she wasn’t sure if she’d been successful. Almost, she was convinced Bonnie had told him where they’d be and spent the first fifteen minutes of the class peeking round the corner of the music building apprehensively. Bonnibel had been exceedingly stunned the first time Marceline told her she sat behind that building instead of the library for spares because it was a nicer environment. He never appeared; Bonnie smiled at her the whole time as though she found the situation hilarious. She probably did, at that.
“He’s not going to materialise, you know,” Bonnibel eventually informed her.
“Because I didn’t tell him where you go for your free periods.”
Marceline frowned, finding the expression on Bonnie’s face immensely frustrating. Again she queried, “Why not?”
Bonnie sighed. “This is your thing. You sit here and listen to the music kids while you work. I figured you didn’t want people knowing.”
Her frown creased deeper. “So what? You’re just going to keep all my dirty little secrets now?”
Bonnibel’s smile took on a sarcastic tilt. “I hardly think sitting behind the music building to study counts as a secret,” she said dryly.
Still, Marceline felt her suspicious glare melt away, erased, only to be replaced by a smile of her own. A warm, stuttering one that made her heart lurch.
At lunch, they avoided each other as always. Marceline wouldn’t be caught dead with Bonnie and her peppy friends; she had her suspicions that Bonnie felt the same, no matter how often she smiled. Sitting on her wall with her current book, she realised precisely how boring she found school. With its cliques and its judgemental students and its inconsolably disappointed staff, she wondered why she even bothered turning up. Wasn’t Ash right on that point at least? She hated school, hated how hard she tried to be normal, positively loathed herself for her carefully cultivated ‘slightly below average’ numbers. Why bother?
She sighed repeatedly at lunch, not actually absorbing any of the words in her novel. When the bell rang for class, it was with dejected resignation that she slouched to literature. Maybe she would drop out. That would solve all her problems. Staring at the board, listening to the teacher drone on about Shakespearean writing tropes that influenced countless modern works, she realised how much she didn’t care.
But then Bonnie would smile at her, noticing that she’d absently answered a question correctly on her book and a shiver would run across Marceline’s shoulders. Bonnibel superficially cared how she did in school. Whether it was because she was being paid or whatever, she still smiled every time Marceline did something ‘proper’. Seeing that chased away all the thoughts about dropping out she’d been entertaining.
As the afternoon wore on – classes wrapped up and Marceline wandered, hands deep in her pockets, to the library for her detention – she questioned herself. Questioned it like she hadn’t in a long time. Bonnie was already at a desk, books spilled across the wood, buried in some research task. When she realised Marceline was walking towards her, she glanced up, smiling that bright and cheery smile she always wore trying to replace the sun as the primary source of warmth.
“What?” Marceline asked waspishly, sliding down across from her. “Didn’t you think I’d turn up?” She flashed a smile, hoping it looked at least a tad arrogant.
“I will admit to being sceptical that you’d show,” Bonnie confessed carefully. “I assumed you’d be a little miffed that I asked for most of your afternoons…”
Marceline waved her concerns away with good-cheer she wasn’t quite feeling. Clearly, her confrontation with Ash was still bothering her. She would be vigilant and avoid him in future. He was acid in her stomach, bubbling, dissolving until nothing was left but her insecurities. “I don’t mind,” she said around that same pseudo-obnoxious smile. “Not like I have much to do anyway.”
Bonnie scooted her chair around the table, closer, then, visibly relaxing. “You said you have a job.” It was a prompt even Oblivious Marceline could see.
She swallowed before responding, “Yeah, at the café out by the highway. You know? The one just before the highway turnoff to Blackwater.”
The other girl’s brow furrowed in that gentle way it had when she was thinking, cogs behind her green eyes firing up as though extra brain power was required to locate something hidden in her mind. “Oh,” she said after a long pause. Marceline imagined a light bulb flickering to life and her processors whirring down to an idle state now that an answer had been found. “Yeah, I know the one. They have that big billboard out the front that looks like a pie.”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” she agreed. “The Apple Café. The owner, Ivy, makes the best apple pies for miles. And she gave me a job even though I’ve had no training. She’s nice, you know. It’s good.” She ducked her head, suddenly feeling self-conscious and exposed.
And that was it, all she had to say. Marceline blinked. How could she possibly not want to bug her about her whereabouts on Friday? Why was the controlling know-it-all not tearing her hair out because of this? Marceline frowned at her brain’s ramblings. Wait, hold the phone. Why did Bonnibel’s lack of curiosity bother her so much? Shouldn’t she be dancing around just glad that no prying into her personal life was being done? Yes. Hell yes, that’s what she should be doing. She shook her head. Stupid brain.
Two hours passed in which they sat mostly in silence and studied. Bonnie was certain to make sure Marceline was caught up on all her subjects and well on track to becoming an overachiever, same as her perfect tutor. Every time Marceline asked a particularly insightful question, or completed a sentence for her, or got an answer right without asking first, Bonnibel would beam at her, face positively lighting up. Marceline was reminded of before, how Bonnie had seemed to actually care about how she did, how she legitimately wanted Marceline to do well. With every smile, every little sparkle – even without words – that Bonnie gave her, Marceline could feel her anxiety and doubt crack just a little, giving way beneath too much pressure.
When she was at last released from the library (detention concluded), her feet dragged, her mind telling her she should pick up her feet and skip home, but something deep in her chest dug its heels in and prevented her from leaving.
After a somewhat lengthy internal struggle, Marceline sighed, hitched her bag up and turned slightly to peek out of the corner of her eyes at Bonnibel. “Hey… um… do you want a lift home?” she asked, one finger raised to half-heartedly point out the window. “It’s kinda late and getting dark.”
Bonnie glanced over her shoulder and stared almost uncomprehendingly at the darkening sky. For a moment, Marceline thought she wouldn’t answer, should just go quietly before anything happened. Then her cowardly contemplations were interrupted, “Yeah, sure, why not? Maybe you can drive in the afternoons and I’ll walk in the morning.”
It sounded like she was thinking aloud more than making a suggestion. Marceline nodded anyway, accepting that. “Makes sense. I guess.” Bonnie smiled at her again, hurriedly stuffing books back into her bag and hastening across the carpet.
“Come on then, let’s get home,” Bonnie declared, strolling right on past Marceline and out the door. “Where are you parked today?”
She let go. All the junk cluttering up her head, making her feel gross and anxious eased away, sloughed off. Just gone. It was so easy to smile, to feel… lighter, when she had cheerful company. She flashed a grin, trotting to catch up to her vivacious companion; that was something to file away for later. Bonnibel Banner was Ash’s antithesis, and she had faith.
If for no other reason than to prove her jerk of an ex-boyfriend wrong, she would pass all her subjects. She would get good grades all year. Consequences be damned. And she wouldn’t be alone. Marceline left the last of her reservations lying in the corridor of the school, feeling much better than she had in a long time.