Friday 12th December 2014
“The school feels empty,” Finn muttered, fidgeting in his seat. “The hall has, like, no one in it. It’s so weird.”
“Well,” Ellen said wryly. “Since the seniors have been gone a week, I think you should’ve noticed before now.”
“It was only about thirty kids anyway,” Pippa added. “It’s not that much emptier.”
Finn rolled his shoulders. “Just feels that way. Now I feel exposed.”
“Halte is looking at us,” Keila grumbled under her breath. “And I think I’ve just about used up all my free passes out of his office. End of the year or no.”
That was all it took to get them to stop whispering, Bonnie noticed with a smile. Halte had that kind of reputation with his pupils. Of course, being able to instil fear into his subjects didn’t make listening to him speak any less mind-numbing.
Or headache inducing. Depending on his mood.
Halte had two settings; low monotone and shrill ear-splitting shriek. During assemblies such as this one, thankfully, he used the monotone. According to Pippa though, he’d been known to shriek at them during assembly too. Just depended on what side of the bed he’d rolled out of.
“To next year’s seniors,” Halte was intoning. “Do not let yourselves slip over the break. Your last year will be more gruelling than you can possibly imagine. All students must also be reminded that your end of year results will be mailed out to you nearer the end of the month. Don’t miss them.”
“So motivational,” Marceline sighed. “As always.”
“I’m going to come back after Christmas so pumped,” Jake agreed in tones dripping with sarcasm.
“He is our glorious leader and were we his medieval troops, we’d be so ready for a war,” Finn concurred.
“You guys are so dramatic,” Pippa chortled.
On stage, Halte surrendered his spot at the podium to his deputy. Gregory smiled at him in a way really only he could ever muster, before turning back to face the gathered students.
“Well, kids,” he laughed. “Another year is done. Thank God. Enjoy your Christmas, don’t forget to have your class selections back in and fill out the study group forms you’ve all been sent in emails. Have those back before the twentieth if can manage that. And now, school’s out for summer.”
The last words were met with a collective whoop from the student body and many of them flew from their chairs. Gregory always had a much nicer way of ending the year than Halte, so the stampede for the exit wasn’t at all surprising. He really was more of a ‘people person’ than the principal.
“What do you guys think about a pit party this afternoon?” Ellen called over the shouting students. “To celebrate the fact that we’re the seniors of the school and all that.”
“I don’t think we’re technically seniors for another two months, Eleanor,” Marceline said bluntly. “But count me out either way.”
“Yeah,” Bonnie whined. “No, I’m out too. I don’t like the ditch.”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “I thought you were all into the drinking scene, Abadeer,” she accused. “Bonnie is boring, we all know that. But I figured you’d be all over a party.”
Marceline hunched her shoulders. “I guess you don’t know me very well then, huh, Scott-Parker?”
“Oh dear,” Ellen sighed, deflating. “If only I could muster up the energy to care.”
“I’m all for a ditch party,” Jake leapt in before Marceline could provoke the other girl some more. “If you get the drinks, I’ll get the food. Finn, you in?”
“What’s a pit party?” Hayden asked Bonnie softly, sidling up.
“There’s a big hole in the ground outside of town,” she replied. “They race tractors, spike the punch bowl and generally act like idiotic teenagers.”
“It’s a real hoot,” Marceline added.
“There’s alcohol?” Hayden actually sounded surprised by the notion.
Laughing, Marceline told her, “No advertised alcohol. But some of the ex-students from a few years ago will turn up and add it to the juice or whatever. Sometimes Ellen or Keila will magically get their hands on some.” She shrugged. “It happens.”
“If you go with them,” Bonnie warned. “Maybe take your own drink.”
“You’re not going to tell me not to go?” she asked, arching an eyebrow.
“Nope. Do what you like.” Marceline stuffed her hands in her pockets and glared at the sky. “I’m going to eat pizza tonight and play my music too loud just to piss my dad off.”
“If you did that at my place you wouldn’t have to listen to his lectures,” Bonnie pointed out as casually as she could manage.
Marceline made a funny face, rolled her eyes and heaved her shoulders in a great big shrug. “Not tonight, Banner. I don’t think. I guess it depends on what kind of mood dad’s in. I’m sort of vaguely hoping I’ll get a chat with my brother in though.”
“Sure you’re not coming with, Bonnie?” Finn hollered, walking backwards alongside Jake. “Last chance.”
“I’m good. See you next week sometime.”
He waved and raced off to keep up with his cousin. With one final glance at Bonnie and Marceline, Hayden bid them both a quiet farewell and hastened after them. Marceline’s brilliant eyes followed them for a moment before slipping back to Bonnibel. The pensive expression that had been there moments ago was swapped out for something soft, a smile and… maybe a little bit of another thing too. Bonnie didn’t know what it was, but it made her heart flutter.
“Sounds like a good plan. Maybe I’ll chat with some long-distance friends too,” Bonnibel muttered. “Find out if Keila’s going to the ditch,” she suggested. “You never know, she might stop by.”
With her thumb and pinkie extended, all other fingers folded, Marceline held up a mock phone to her ear, backpedalling carefully. “I’ll be on call as the sober sister tonight,” she laughed. “The one who picks her up when she’s hammered. You feel free to text me though.”
And Bonnie beamed at her. “Duh.”
Honestly, the simple fact that her chest was still thrumming with some unidentified energy three hours later was the most confusing thing. For the last few months, she and Marceline had maintained a sort of semi-regular text communications thing. It was like having a little music aficionado in her pocket. The point of that thought was that it wasn’t the nearly instantaneous responses she always got that made her ribcage vibrate like it was. It was definitely something else.
Probably the exact same something that kept causing her focus to slip.
Snapping sounds brought her back to reality.
“Oh, Bonnibel,” sang her friend, clicking her fingers at the screen. “Where’d you disappear off to there?”
“Hum? Oh, no idea. Maybe I’m tired.”
Cherry chuckled, russet curls waving as she tilted her head. The image was slightly grainy, but not enough to distort the image unbearably. And wasn’t it so nice to see her friend’s face.
“You do have a tendency to run yourself ragged during exam block,” Cherry noted wryly. “Did you sleep at all last week?”
“Yes, in fact. One of my delightful new friends burst in and told me I had to sleep or bad things would happen,” Bonnie retorted, somewhat more sharply than she would normally let herself. “She would’ve done you so proud.”
“How does it feel to have only one year to go,” Cherry enquired, knowing Bonnie well enough to sense when a topic change might be necessary.
Bonnibel arched one shoulder lethargically. “Eh,” was her eloquent reply. “I guess it’s alright. It’ll be much the same as this year was, I suppose.”
“So fervent, aren’t you? Do you think you’ll move back to Ormeau after?” She sounded very nearly like she was begging the answer to be an affirmative.
“Probably. You know I’ve been set on Driscoll for a very long time,” Bonnie said. “I’ll try to get an on campus apartment, most likely. Failing that I’ll move in with you.”
Cherry laughed again, a proper ringing sound this time. “Not even going to ask?”
“Nah, I figure I’ll turn up on your doorstep with my luggage and you’ll let me stay. As if your mother could resist.”
With one finger raised and then dropped again, Cherry sighed. “The worst part is you’re right.”
“Ouch,” Bonnie whined, clapping hands to her chest. “You really wouldn’t want to live with me? But I’m a delight.”
“Con someone who doesn’t know better.” Cherry’s face took on a dark cast then. “Unless you’ve managed to convince someone you’re an angel?”
Thankfully, before Bonnie could do more than flounder for a response that wasn’t condemning, there was a ruckus behind the camera on Cherry’s end. A massive bang that was probably a door slamming crackled down the line. It was followed by a flurry of movement and something shaking the camera.
“Cherry Wilde!” a booming voice exclaimed. “How dare you video call Bonnibel and not invite me.”
After that, Norman’s stocky frame entered the picture. He squished himself onto the chair beside Cherry and waved at the web cam, smiling so brilliantly there should’ve been lens flare. Being deliberately nasty, he shuffled around on the cushions until he got an eye roll out of his companion.
“How are you, Bonnie?” he screeched, elbowing Cherry in the ribs. “One year down, one to go?”
Completely unable to help herself, Bonnibel smiled back at him. “Sounds about right. You guys really aren’t going to visit over Christmas?”
Another person moved in the background, stepped closer, ducked down until they were at eye level and smiled, waving one hand. “Hello, Bonnie,” Bernadine Wilde chirped. “No, we’re not coming to visit, I’m sorry. The travel arrangements would be a nightmare and I don’t have anyone to watch the dog.”
“Hey, Mrs Wilde,” Bonnie replied in kind. “That’s okay. I guess I can live without them for another twelve months. Unless you’d be alright with me moving in?”
Bernadine giggled (which wasn’t particularly unusual). “By all means move in, dear. You know I’d love to have you.”
Cherry tched. “We don’t have room, mum,” she sighed.
“I’ll buy a fold out sofa.”
“That’s hardly a nice way to live for twelve months,” Cherry argued. “Or… you know, indefinitely.”
Norman jerked a thumb at them. “While they’re arguing about you, I just want to say that you can always move in with me. Or Uncle Eric.”
“I think Eric might be a little too far outside the city to be convenient,” Bernadine put in. “But that’s a valid solution.”
“Mum,” Cherry scolded. “Let her spend another year in Woop Woop and then she can move back to Ormeau. Maybe she’ll bring a few of her new friends with. Maybe she’ll even bring someone special.”
“Now you’re just being ridiculous,” Bonnie said flatly. “She is right though. I’m not moving again so soon, that’s stupid. And I’d hate to inconvenience any of you and,” she added before Norman could interrupt, “I’d hate to go back to Saint Anne’s.”
Bernadine’s face fell. “She’s got a point,” she muttered to Norman. “They weren’t exactly nice to her.”
Norman wasn’t listening to Bernadine’s observation however. He appeared to have stalled on Cherry’s ‘someone special’ comment. His face ran through a couple of strange expressions before settling on confused.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” he asked quietly, brows furrowed in that adorable way he had. Honestly, why he didn’t have a significant other was still a mystery. “Or did someone catch your eye?”
“No,” Bonnie snorted. “I don’t. Where would I get one of those?”
“Oh… I don’t know,” Cherry sang in a tone that conveyed the exact opposite sentiment. “I’m sure there’re some cute girls out in the middle of nowhere. No self-respecting guy would ever think to look there.”
Bonnibel gave her the very best ‘are you serious’ expression she could muster. “Then by your logic, there would naturally be some cute boys out here too that no one would think to look for. And therefore they’d all be perfectly matched up.”
“Like that Pippa girl and her boyfriend you told us about,” Norman added, smiling. His face fell when he was smacked by one of Cherry’s ‘not helping’ looks. Those things could cut through a two-by-four.
“Exactly like them. Besides,” Bonnie went on. “Church town. I’d have to be stupid.” She couldn’t help the smile that burst to life then though. “How about Stanley, Cherry? Is he doing okay?”
Norman’s brown eyes lit up at the very suggestion. “Oh, please tell her.” He was practically bouncing in his seat, hands clasped in his lap. “Please?”
Cherry sighed. “He asked me out,” she grumbled. “We’re been dating for about a month now.”
Bonnie adopted her scarily precise mock-indignant expression and gasped. “I’m hurt, Cherry. Why didn’t I get an elated text message?”
“Because it’s not a big deal.”
“And yet…” Bonnibel mused. “If I said I’d been seeing someone for a month and hadn’t told you, I’d get the serrated edge of your tongue. Oh the injustice.”
“It’s the rough edge,” she corrected tartly. “And that’s different. You never even show a vague interest in anybody. I at least flirt. I have options, you might as well swear yourself celibate now and save us the trauma.”
A sour note ran thick through Cherry’s words and it gave Bonnie pause. “Are you alright,” she asked her friend quietly. Not wanting to push because Bonnibel had a strong grasp on the significance of personal space, but Cherry rarely sounded so… so irritated.
“Yeah,” she exhaled. “I just worry about you, Bonnie,” she lamented.
Offering her best (although tinted somewhat tentative) smile, Bonnie could only huff out a strangled laugh. “Please just let me live vicariously through you. There’s no need to bust out the big guns and cut me deep.”
Cherry nodded. “I kind of wish you were the same trusting Bonnibel I used to know. You don’t open up easily anymore and I hate Georgia for that. Can you honestly say you’re making friends?”
“Duh, Cherry,” Bonnie laughed; properly this time. “I have friends. I’m probably hitting doubles figures now.”
“Wait, wait,” Norman cried enthusiastically. “Can I do a headcount?”
“Go for it.”
Lifting one finger for each person, he rattled off the names of all the people Bonnie had mentioned meeting (and not disliking) in Reich. “That’s seven, right?” he checked. “Plus us is nine. Not quite double figures.”
She waved him off. “Whatever. Close enough. It’s not like I get a life achievement for having ten friends.”
“See,” Bernadine burbled, passing through the room and patting Cherry on the head. “She’s a fully functioning human bean. So you can stop worrying now.”
“God, mother,” Cherry groaned. “Just go away. Do some reading.”
Once Bernadine had pottered out of the room, Cherry rolled her eyes. “And you’ve told them about… stuff… right?” she pressed.
“With the exception of the local gossip mill,” Bonnie told them drily. “They all know which team I bat for and that my family… passed away. I only told one of them about the drama with Saint Anne’s. And then only the abridged version.”
“And what about…” Norman hedged, gesturing vaguely. “You know… the other thing with your parents?”
Bonnibel lifted an eyebrow. “You really think I’d tell them that? Oh, hell no. Although,” she realised, hesitating. “I may have abused the powers they left me with just the once in October. And… it might’ve had something to do with a bag of non-existent marshmallows.”
Norman’s jaw dangled. “You… Really?” he asked, a little breathless. “Wow. Why?”
“Birthday present for a chronically self-deprecating friend,” she replied flatly. “I figured she needed a bit of good cheer in her otherwise really depressing life. And no,” she added, eyes cutting to Cherry who’s mouth had quirked up in a conspiratorial smile. “There’s no romantic sub-plot going on. Promise.”
Cherry threw her hands in the air. “There freaking should be.”
“Well there’s not.”
“Okay, fine. How about a compromise?”
Bonnie narrowed her eyes. “Depends. What sort of compromise?”
“I’ll promise not to pester you about getting a significant other until you decide to tell me you’re seeing someone,” Cherry began blithely. “If you tell me right now if you’ve ever been attracted to someone. And I mean in the kind of sense where you’d actually date them. Not a passing fancy.”
But it is just a fleeting infatuation, Bonnibel reminded herself. A silly thing that won’t go anywhere. Something that would have to start with her or… No. It’s stupid.
She considered the question, wondering if she could work herself a way out of it. “I will admit that I’ve found someone attractive in the sense that I’d date them,” she responded cautiously. “But I won’t admit that it’s more than a passing fancy, because that’s what it is. Nothing more. Any attraction to a straight girl can only ever be that and I’ll get over it.”
I hope I’ll get over it, she silently amended. Besides, she couldn’t live in a downward spiral where everything revolved around Marceline starting (or ending) something. That wasn’t healthy.
Cherry released an almost unearthly groan at that. “But that’s mean, Bonnibel,” she whined. “Now that I know you’re not a robot incapable of experiencing emotion I need to know who is behind this.” She threw herself into the back of the sofa. “So unfair.”
“We had a deal,” Bonnie warned. “Don’t you forget it.”
Norman patted Cherry’s knee. “I’m sure we can work it out through a process of elimination,” he consoled. “She’s never had that many friends.”
“Yeah,” she complained. “But she’s had tons of acquaintances. This is a disaster. How dare you find someone attractive in any way.”
Bonnie could only shrug again and fight back her growing grin. “Why don’t you tell me about Stanley now? Is he amazing or only mediocre?”
It took a moment of wheedling to get that topic to loosen Cherry up, but once she started, she positively gushed about the poor boy. It was like listening to Ellen discuss Brad (while they were dating, she usually ranted vehemently when they weren’t). Stanley was a romantic at heart, the kind of guy who tries not to let on and has all these friends who play soccer with him and there’s some form of video game tournament involved. But once you look past his fairly typical male exterior, he’s a genuine pearl beneath. And Cherry was smitten.
Bonnie tried not to let the dialogue affect her too much, and pressed away the little voice telling her that there was more to the hollow ache left lingering in her heart whenever she thought about Marceline. The little voice pointing out that the other night when Marceline had stayed over while she cried was just her being a good friend. The voice telling her that this wonderful relationship Cherry had with Stanley was the kind of thing she wouldn’t get. Not how she was beginning to think she wanted to, at least. She supposed that’s what the burning in her gut was. What else could it be?
And when she signed off, flopping onto her bed a few hours later, that weird compressing pain still hovered about her lungs, taunting her with reminders that she was in well over her head. Apparently simply promising herself she wouldn’t develop some form of emotional attachment to a straight girl didn’t quite work. Being friends with her sure didn’t help that any, either. At least she had enough self-control to keep the warm and fuzzies to herself.
Maybe she could even fool herself into believing it was a passing fancy.
Sleep was a long time coming that night.