Rochambeau Middle School was enormous. That was the first thing Flip Top noticed about it. You could fit a whole office supply store in the gymnasium alone. The night of orientation was actually disorienting. But maybe it wouldn't be so bad—sure, they'd have to get used to lockers and six periods a day and no more recess, but they'd make new friends, and new friends were always good, especially when your old ones were an hour away and you only ever got to talk to them anymore on the phone.
Flip Top tried to shove down the feelings of dread coming from the way the other sheets looked at them. It was just because they were new, right?
It would be fine once they'd been there a little longer, they thought. They'd make friends. Back at Flip Top's old school, they'd had a whole ream of friends. There was Tyvek, who always wanted to play outdoors but would then just stick to the side of the building. Wax, who talked about joining the swim team as soon as they were old enough—water really did run off of Wax like a duck's back. Origami, who always did the best impressions of everyone. And Flip Top's best friend had been Construction. Construction was bright and colorful and always up for fun.
No-one at Papyrus Elementary had cared if you were recycled or coated or cotton. If your family worked at the pulp mill or if they worked at the card shop. Heck, they didn't even care if you weren't paper at all. Granite and Safety had even joined Flip Top and friends in the playground sometimes, and everyone got a turn being picked first for touch football.
But then Flip Tops's family had moved the summer before middle school. New town, new school. They hoped that didn't mean everything was about to go straight to the shredder.
On the first day of middle school, Flip Top checked and double checked their fringe to make sure it didn't look like something ripped out of the notebook in a hurry. They were so nervous, they nearly missed the bus because they were trying to decide if their doodle looked too childish.
Flip Top was the only piece of paper on the bus. Everyone else was a rock or a pair of scissors. None of them would let Flip Top sit in the seat with them. They had a sinking feeling Rochambeau was going to be the anti Papyrus. But at least there'd be other sheets at school.
Lefty hoped middle school would suck less than elementary school. They didn't have high hopes for that. It's not like they somehow magically stopped being the odd shear out over the summer or anything. With a sigh of resignation, they did a quick sharpness check on their blades. A little dull, but hey, good enough. They did up their sneakers, did a few quick snips to limber up, grabbed their backpack and headed out.
Old Embroidery next door was trimming their hedges. They waved at Lefty. "Have a good day, Lefty!" they called out. It sounded like they'd forgotten to get themselves oiled again. Lefty would have to let their parents know to check in on the neighbor before they seized up.
It turned out they got a chance to do that sooner than they'd thought. Lefty'd been dragging their feet so long, they'd missed the bus.
"Hello, Rochambeau," Lefty muttered. Edgers and Detail had already snickered when Lefty walked by. "Same old, same old." Lefty really hated being right. They put their backpack in their locker and rounded the corner on the way to gym class.
And there was the Paper Gang, still trying to look rough and tough. Please. Like they wouldn't tear in a fight. Weapon of choice: the spitball. They were so gross. Especially Graph. Graph was so full of themself. Like having a grid made them extra-special. Yeah, no.
Lefty stopped walking. It looked like they'd found a new kid to torment this year, an unfamiliar little slip of spiral who looked completely and totally lost. Graph picked the kid up by the feet and started shaking them. Okay, enough was enough.
Snip. Snip. Snip.
As expected, that sent them running. All talk, no spine. Lefty was pretty sure after six years of knowing them that none of them would ever go off to college and make it into a book.
"You okay?" asked Lefty, offering the sheet up a hand up. Poor kid. They looked like they were about to crumple.
"I think I will be now." The sheet blinked up at them and gave a cautious smile. "I'm Flip Top," they said. "What's your name?"
They returned the smile. "Lefty. Glad to meet you, Flip Top."
Lefty ended up being late to gym class, but that was fine by them. All the exercises were designed for someone else, anyhow.
"Hey, I didn't know you were on my bus!" someone called to Lefty as they got on. It was Flip Top. "I didn't see you this morning."
Lefty sat down on the seat next to them. "I just couldn't get my blades moving this morning," they said. "Which one's your stop?"
"The fire hydrant on the corner of Fourdrinier and Quarry," replied Flip Top.
"Seriously?" Lefty grinned. "That's my stop! Want to walk home together?"
Flip Top's eyes widened. "I'd like that," they said. "If it's okay with your parents, want to come to my house and hang out?"
"Trust me," said Lefty. "My parents will just be happy to see me finally doing something with someone else."
Of course something would come along to ruin Lefty's good mood almost as soon as they got off the bus. Two somethings. "Oh no," they said. Well, this was perfect.
"What's wrong?" Flip Top sounded worried.
"Them," said Lefty, and pointed to where Basalt and Lava were picking on a much smaller third rock. "Oh, snip, I'm gonna get crushed."
Flip Top motioned for Lefty to hang back. Then they charged.
The thing about being small, thought Pebble, and not for the first time, was that everyone either treated you like a little kid or thought you'd be an easy target to pick on. Neither, they thought glumly, was great, but at least the ones who treated you like a little kid didn't think it was funny to steal your backpack.
"Come on, guys!" Pebble squeaked. "It's not funny!"
"You can have it back if you can catch it," said Basalt and threw it back to Lava.
Lava snickered and tossed it back in a perfect arc. "It's for your own good, short stuff. How else are you going to learn to reach the top shelves?" They'd been doing this to Pebble since kindergarten. They'd probably still be doing it until they all graduated high school.
So needless to say, it was kind of a shock when they suddenly just…stopped.
Pebble turned around. Their backpack was on the ground. A sheet of paper was reaching for it and it looked like their day had just gone from bad to worse. They sighed and tried not to cry like a little grain of sand. Time to prepare for a smothering.
But instead of a smothering, the sheet handed them their backpack and motioned to someone behind the fire hydrant. The tips of someone's blades peeked out. They looked familiar. The rest of the scissors appeared from behind the hydrant and, yep, Pebble recognized them. They didn't know their name, but they'd seen them around. Basalt and Lava we always trying to crush them back in elementary school.
"I'm Flip Top," said the sheet and smiled. "I think you're in my geology class. Second period with Granite?"
"Yeah," said Pebble.
"This is Lefty," they said, as the scissors came up.
"Hi," Lefty said shyly. "Sorry I hid when I saw Basalt and Lava." They looked so sad about it that Pebble reached into their moss and gave them a flower.
"I don't blame you," they said. "I've seen the way they used to crush you at recess."
"We're going to my house. Want to come along?"
Pebble looked at Flip Top, then at Lefty, then back at Flip Top again. "Are you sure?" they asked.
"Come on," said Lefty, taking their hand. "It's going to be fun."
It was good to have friends to eat lunch with again, Flip Top thought. Beside them, Lefty was laughing at something Pebble had said and Pebble was laughing back in response. It was different than hanging out with Tyvek and Wax, or playing charades with Construction and Origami. And maybe they hadn't started out with a lot in common but they'd sure made up for that now.
From the corner of their eyes, Flip Top saw a scuffle starting over by the trash cans. It looked like someone was picking on the transfer student in their fifth period. Agate, they thought their name was.
"Heads up, guys," said Flip Top. "I spy trouble by the trash cans."
Lefty gave a few snips. Pebble cracked their knuckles. All three of them stood up.
Team Rochambeau was coming to the rescue.