Grey clouds began to swirl outside the classroom window, or at least, that’s how it seemed, mostly because Zoey felt like the world was completely against her today. The teacher was talking about something historical, probably related to dysentery, but Zoey was taking a moment to wallow in her own personal sorrow.
Today, she had dared to ask freaking Tim to the dance coming up, and that was the beginning of the horror. She absentmindedly drew a circle on some loose-leaf in her binder until it ripped through the paper. She sighed, remembering. He had laughed right in her face, and she heard him telling his friends about it later, too. I mean, they had English class together, and sometimes she overheard him telling jokes and they were sometimes funny, so she had thought that maybe that meant he was nice, but all of those thoughts had been destroyed like the paper she was scratching at.
She knew she could always just go with her friends, like normal, but she knew some of them were thinking about asking people to go, and she didn’t want to be the only one going alone. After that fiasco had passed, she had also accidentally drank a sip of spoiled milk at lunch time, and her pen had bled into her jean pocket so now she had a huge blue splotch across her paler blue jeans. At least, being near the pocket it didn’t look like she had peed herself or anything, it just looked like she was super clumsy. She pulled her hand through a knot in her hair, wincing as it stuck before giving way.
“Would you like to answer the question, Zoey?” her teacher announced, propelling her back to the current moment. She was pointing to a huge paragraph of text on the smartboard, and the answer was probably contained somewhere in it, if Zoey had been reading along to actually find it.
She felt her stomach drop. “ahhh…” she started. She could hear Zabrina, her best friend, trying to whisper something to her, but her friend also had a dentist’s appointment later to fix a loose filling in her mouth, and so speaking clearly was a bit of a challenge. She locked eyes with Zoey, looking panicked and casting glances at her own notebook with increasing fervor. The teacher waited another beat before sighing dramatically and moving on, clearly disappointed in Zoey. She felt something bump her arm, from Zabrina next to her. Carefully peeking at the note, she saw Zabrina had written a little, “Things will get better” note, and attached a small sachet containing Meyer Lemon tea. Her friend adored tea, and was big into thinking it could fix almost any bad situation. Zoey did not share her friend’s miraculous views on tea, but smiled at her weakly, pocketing the tea and the note. Just then, the bell rang, and Zoey remembered Zabrina wouldn’t be in their next class, Oceanology, due to her aforementioned dentist’s appointment. She hoped quickly that it wouldn’t rain today. Usually if Zabrina was unable to drive her home, she normally walked. Those clouds, however, were telling an unfortunate future, and she realized with another pang of dread that she hadn’t thought to bring an umbrella this morning. She turned to say goodbye to her friend, and found her already by the door, waving. Quickly collecting her stuff, she tried not to hear the other students talking about her being unable to answer the question earlier posed by the teacher and sped away.
The Ocean class was quite large, but tucked away in the corner of the school, with posters of dolphins and leatherback turtles covering the walls and some of the windows, probably breaking half of the fire marshals rules. Zoey was fairly sure most people forgot about this classroom though. Despite the large class size, the only person she actually spoke to in this class was Zabrina, as most people took this class with their own groups of friends, and stuck to themselves. It was known for being an interesting class, as it was one of the few more specific sciences and the workload wasn’t over the top. The teacher of this class, Mrs. Beatrice, was a bit more absentminded than most of the other teachers, but as she strode into class with a stack full of papers, something seemed a bit different than normal, even though she still wore a fluttery geometrical print skirt and a bright blouse. The papers almost fluttered away from her, but she caught them with a slam from her grey painted finger nails and then set them on her desk. Running one hand through her frizzy hair, she smiled out in the crowd of students staring at her warily.
“It’s time to do a group project, and I’ve come up with a really fun one!” she cheered enthusiastically. At least four people let out audible groans, the rest of the class was dead silent, except for one girl in the class, named Melanie. She let out a cheer, and began bouncing in her seat, and talking animatedly to the people around her even when they obviously did not share her enthusiasm.
Zoey was always a bit taken aback by her energy, but had nothing against it either. She wondered if the girl was this excitable about other areas of her life, or if it was isolated just to the ocean. She also found herself a bit envious of the confidence the girl had to be talking to people she wasn’t friends with. Well, talking at them, because they clearly didn’t share her glee, and were trying to avoid eye contact with her while she chattered.
Mrs. Beatrice didn’t let the rest of the class curb her vigor, continuing by explaining, “I’ve separated you out into groups of two, because you all need to get to know other people in this class, and that will be expected of you when you get out of school and get into the ‘real world’. This project is on a specific species of marine life, and I want you to find out everything you can about its habitat and life cycle, and make a poster and write up about it. Find out if this species is endangered, or how it interacts with humans as our world gets more and more polluted by the day!” The last part sounded stressed, as the teacher wanted the teens to understand the gravity behind what she was saying, but Zoey felt a little nauseated wondering who she would be working with instead of Zabrina.
Mrs. Beatrice started reading off names, and Zoey did have the sense to text Zabrina the name of her partner, still nervously awaiting her own. She found herself, not horrifically, paired with Doug, who she knew of, but didn’t really know. She knew she had no right to judge people for sticking with their same friend group, as she did so herself too. She sighed a little breath of relief as he was known for being nice, even if they didn’t really have any mutual friends to know each other through. Looking up, she saw that he was smiling at her, which was quickly interrupted as the teacher told them to partner up and head to the computer lab to start working. That wasn’t the interruption though, as that was caused by his friend Melanie, a known lover of all things relating to marine life, and current cheerleader to this whole group project, lunging out of her desk to grab the hand out.
The handout corresponded with the project at hand, and she barely had to look at it before continuing to talk animatedly to her boyfriend Ben, who she had miraculously got partnered up with. Maybe the teacher thought that whoever got partnered up with Melanie would rely on her to do most of the work, whereas Ben would actually help out. Ben was on the swim team and Zoey had always wondered if they had gotten together because of her love of the water or just out of pure luck. Gathering her things, she grabbed a slip of paper too and headed out behind Melanie, with Doug trailing behind her.
In the computer lab which was on the first floor, with large windows and the oldest computers in the school, Zoey settled at one with Doug, two chairs to each computer. It was a large enough room that they weren’t particularly close to any other group, but still two computers back from Melanie and Ben, where they could still hear Melanie chattering away, as Ben struggled to type as quickly as she spoke. Zoey turned on the ancient computer, hearing it begin to hum to life. As the screen slowly lit up, she turned to Doug, feeling super awkward as she waited to be able to work on the ancient computer.
“So, hey…How are you?” she asked, looking directly in his eyes and realising just how green they were. She drew her eyes away quickly, telling herself it would be weird to comment on how green someone’s eyes were. He knows they are green, she chastised, I don’t need to stare.
“I’m pretty good,” he responded with smile, “a little nervous about this project, seeing as how we got molluscs, but I know that if we get stuck we can ask Mel for help.” He moved his nose towards the couple sitting ahead of them, before continuing with, “unless, of course, you are a fountain of knowledge about Mollusca?” She bit her cheek, happy that he was trying to be nice to her, despite this terrible project already weighing on her equally terrible day.
“Well, if this computer ever turns on, we can see how little I actually know about molluscs. I am not even sure what a mollusc is, but I guess they live in the ocean. I have been wrong before though, so don’t take my word for it” she joked, turning back to the computer. She swore she saw something move outside the window, but brushed it off as one of the younger grades outside for lunch, despite the skies forecasting rain. She tried to focus on talking to Doug and more importantly, their project.
“If we run into trouble here and you aren’t busy after school, we can always work on it at my house. My friends often come over there after class, but it is my place, so if I need to do homework I’m certain we could work on it there.” He told her nonchalantly, reaching across her to try wiggling the mouse, then double checking to make sure it was even attached to the computer. He then turned the mouse upside down and looked to see if it was working. When it appeared that it was, he gave the mouse a pitying look, and turned it back over.
Melanie bounced over at that moment, taking the paper from him and looking over their assignment.
“Molluscs are so interesting!” she exclaimed, “Did you know that they have a space in between their shell and their body called the mantle cavity? And they used to be crushed up to make purple dye for clothes like, long ago.” She might have mentioned a few more ‘fun’ facts, but she was prattling them off so quickly and excitedly that Zoey found herself a bit lost. Okay, more than a bit lost, as she didn’t know what the words meant even though Melanie was saying them with so much enthusiasm. She looked at Doug for guidance but he was looking just as lost as she was in his friend’s words. She found herself smiling though, at how animated the girl was over these topics. She tried to write down some of the words, guessing at how they were spelled, for things to look up later, but also worried that maybe some of what Melanie was saying was a bit too in depth for this project.
“I can honestly say I had no idea, Mel.” Doug replied, taking back their paper gently from her as she began to rattle off other facts about the animal. She could see that Melanie had started to crumple the corner of the paper in her excitement, and that Doug was trying to quietly flatten it out without bringing attention to it. Ben seemed to finish whatever he was typing and stride over to intervene. Zoey hoped he had some understanding of what he had just typed, as the word cloud on her notebook of what Melanie had spouted looked like mashed up letters to her.
“Mel, what was that thing you were telling me about sea anemone and tooth paste?” he asked quietly, placing his hand on her shoulder. She spun around swiftly like she was on a mission, and began to talk about that, just as animated as before. Ben led her back to their desk while trying to process what she was saying with so much vigor.
Zoey had begun typing a few notes into the computer, and also started a few web searches for sites they could use, trying a few of the words Melanie had told them. They worked well together, chatting quietly about the project at hand and making a few jokes about the molluscs in the meantime as well, mostly about how boring they seemed in their opinions, but that they couldn’t let Melanie know that. As she noticed the time began to dwindle, she reached over him, trying to grab her notebook to write down the names of the sites they were currently using. While reaching, the flat bottom of her ballet styled shoe slipped, her feet crossed under the chair she sat on, which sent her forward, her hands flying out to catch her. Her hands landed on his knees, while her cheek brushed his very lightly, and finally, her face careened into the corner of the back of his chair with an audible thunk. She sat up very quickly, and pulled her hands back just as swift. Heat rushed to her face as she realized how invasive that had been to his personal space, and also how embarrassing it looked.
“I am so, so sorry!-“ she began, but he interrupted with :
“Are you alright? You hit your nose right on my chair!”
“Oh. Yeah. It’s probably okay, I just slipped” she replied, noticing only a slight sting in her nose, a little surprised at his concern. She resisted the urge to touch her nose in front of him, but was secretly screaming in her head that it better not be bleeding or have a mark. This day was a complete disaster enough without that. His eyes suddenly went from kindness to distracted, focusing on something behind her, but when she turned she didn’t see anything. This was punctuated by a text at his side, buzzing. She focused on writing down the websites in her now-retrieved notebook while he read it, but she noticed his shoulders sag and he texted something back rather quickly.
“Is everything okay?” she asked, noticing him exchange a look with his friends ahead of him.
“Oh-yeah, that was just my friend Ferris, I’m driving him to my place after class. Speaking of which, the bell is about to ring soon, do you want to work on the project at my place after? I can drive you too” He offered, returning to the same demeanor she had been talking to all class.
After a quick text to her parents, she agreed to going, and packed up her book bag. She even found herself talking to Melanie by her locker as she grabbed the rest of her things that she needed to go home with. With this conversation, Zoey realized that Melanie was just as animated about real life topics as she was about the ocean, and found herself being a little chattier just by being around her. Ben soon joined them, bringing Melanie’s back pack, and Zoey exchanged a quick hello with her friend Aisha who walked past them, heading towards the buses. She wondered for a moment why Melanie was loitering around her, even though it looked like she was just talking to Ben. However, they had their things, and could be leaving at this point, unless they were staying behind to talk to a teacher, which they weren’t doing either. She didn’t have to think about it for long, however, as they started to walk away after a few minutes, with a quick wave in her direction.
Ferris, Doug’s best friend, walked up to her just as Ben and Melanie walked away, glumly looking at her. See, she knew of Ferris as well, and had heard that he was quite grumpy for every bit that Doug was kind. Zoey had secretly heard people talk about how Ferris probably wouldn’t have made half the friends he currently had if it wasn’t for Doug. She hoped that wasn’t the case, but he didn’t look all that excited to see her either, and didn’t even seem to try to hide his discomfort with her being there.
“So, you’re coming with us today?” he asked, but it sounded more accusatory. He shuffled his feet and looked to the side while he spoke. He always kept his dark hair in a braid, which he tucked under the back of his shirt collar as he spoke, probably to avoid soaking it in the rain.
“Uh, yeah, I am. Doug and I have to work on a project together… for Oceans.” She felt as if she had to explain herself, but she also got the feeling that he really didn’t care if she did, either. It was perplexing. She shut her locker and locked it, slinging her book bag over one shoulder, “so, where is Doug?” she asked.
“Since it’s raining, he’s bringing his car from the parking lot over to the side entrance over there, so we don’t have to stand in the rain like wet cats,” Ferris muttered, almost sounding like he was complaining about it. Since this day had been terrible enough already, that act of kindness really stood out to Zoey, and she wondered how good an act of kindness had to be in order to impress Ferris.
“Follow me, he says he’s here,” Ferris said interrupting her thoughts, all the while glancing at his phone screen, beginning to walk away from Zoey. She quickly followed, thinking to herself about how she probably at least had a better chance than Ferris of getting a date to the dance, although she didn’t even know who she could ask at this point. She reminded herself that it was still two weeks away, and that she could go with a friend if she didn’t feel comfortable asking someone as a date again.
Outside, the rain had definitely started, and Doug was waiting there in a dark green truck, into which Zoey climbed in right after Ferris. Ferris had taken to glaring at her at this point, so when Doug wasn’t looking she stuck her tongue out at him. This caused him to give her an odd look, which made her worry that the glare was maybe his actual resting face and she had just made a face at him for no reason.
She turned her attention towards the road, feeling her ears redden. She noticed that Doug’s house was a bit off the beaten path as they headed down a dirt road shaded by lots of trees and foliage. She stared ahead, trying not to notice if either were glaring at her. She texted Zabrina a few times in order to see how she was doing, but overall Zoey was glad when they pulled up to the house.
When she stepped outside, she didn’t linger because of the rain dripping down through the trees. The outside of the house had a small porch and was an off white, with dark looking windows, but Zoey could hear his other friends chattering away inside, especially Melanie. Doug steered her towards the kitchen, which was connected slightly through two doorways to the dining room and the living room. She sat down at the dining room table, where his laptop already sat charging.
“Do you mind if I go on this?” she asked, referring to the laptop, while opening her notebook to find the sites that they had been on, “so I can pull up the pages we were last on?”
“Oh sure, let me put the password in.” He replied, leaning over to type in the password while remaining standing, as if he was torn between sitting and saying something to his friends. “I’ll just let them know we’re doing a project, okay?” he asked. “ask them to be quiet or something”
She gave a quick nod; pencil balanced in her mouth as she tried to find the websites, feeling thankful this computer was in better shape than the one at the school. With that permission, she saw him bound out of the room for a moment, and the voices hushed, only to return to their previous volume. She wasn’t trying to listen in on their conversation, but they did seem anxious or agitated about something. Not my business she thought, scribbling down another note about Molluscs.
“Is the internet working alright? Sometimes the signal is pretty bad in this room.” Doug asked, having returned from the living room, setting down two glasses of water and peering out the window before he sat down beside her.
“It’s good, I found some more information we should use regarding habitats but I was wondering if you wanted to focus in on certain species or maybe show a map of all the different places you can find molluscs?” she asked, trying to get him to focus on the project. He seemed a little uneasy, and considering this was his own house, he really shouldn’t feel that way. She wondered if his friends had been pushing him around about some matter. She wasn’t close to anyone in the group, but out of all of them, he seemed to be the shyest and most passive.
“We could do both,” he suggested, finally focusing his attention on the matter at hand.
They continued to work on the project for a solid 45 minutes before the voices in the living room grew antsy again. Doug began to look more and more embarrassed, and even though Zoey wasn’t trying to hear what was being said, she picked up on a few pieces quite clearly.
“Atlas, you seriously need to calm down. It’s not as if anything has happened yet.”
That was Ferris, sounding more annoyed than some of the other voices but also more calm than the others. Doug seemed to be holding his breath. He went to point to a picture on the screen, probably to distract her from the conversation, but his hand faltered when the angriest voice piped up again.
“I need to calm down? Excuse me, but I think for once I am the perfect amount of alarmed here, and for some odd reason none of you are panicking enough!” Atlas seemed to growl. “Ferris, I know you have nothing to lose, but cut the others some slack here!” A few gasps came from the living room and some unimpressed murmurs, while Doug let out that breath he had been holding in quite sharply. She hadn’t expected Doug to sound that angry, but that momentary flash of emotion was quickly taken back down by anxiety again.
Back in the kitchen, Zoey tentatively put a hand on his shoulder and he gave her a pained look. “Listen, if this is a bad time…” she started, but stopped when she heard heavy footsteps heading towards the kitchen.
Atlas turned the corner sharply, his eyes blazing, and Ferris on his heels, looking equally unimpressed, but directed towards Atlas instead of Doug.
“Doug, you aren’t taking this seriously enough, and it’s an issue that affects us all in case you hadn’t noticed?!” Atlas boomed, pointing a finger towards Doug in anger. Ferris grabbed Atlas by the arm and yanked him back with surprising strength, considering Ferris was a good foot shorter than Atlas, who was broad shouldered to match his height.
“Atlas, you need to cool it. Your actions affect us just as much, if not more often, and Doug is trying to work on a project. He isn’t planning your demise, and right now you look like a huge tool.” Ferris snarled, trying to remove Atlas from the kitchen.
Zoey had her hands clenched together, staring at the scene with some aghast horror, sneaking a peek at Doug who looked nearly ill at the whole thing. Suddenly tired of being pulled along, Atlas ripped his hand free of Ferris and shot both him and Doug a deadly look, gritting his teeth.
“She’s already involved, she might as well know what’s coming her way!” He griped.
This caused Zoey to shoot another look at Doug, while Ferris made for another grab at Atlas, this time getting a grip on his shirt collar. Atlas pulled back instinctively and dragged Ferris a few inches, inclining his head in a way that made Zoey mentally note to never get in a fight with Atlas EVER. Ferris seemed to maintain his unimpressed look at the whole uproar, which Zoey also found concerning but was fairly glad he appeared to be on her side… she thought. It was really hard to tell when they were talking in half sentences like they were.
Doug stood up for a second, pushing in his chair but remaining near the table. “Atlas, that is not your decision to make either, and if you don’t get out of the kitchen and calm down I swear-, he said, managing to sound level headed but still sending off a tone of warning. He glanced at Zoey, and saw she was obviously quite upset before continuing in a softer tone, “look, we are just trying to do a project, what’s bothering you will have to wait.”
“Let go of me, before I make you eat your own fist,” Atlas growled, shoving at Ferris and ignoring Doug completely. When Ferris didn’t move he let out an actual roar of anger, to which Ferris let go and gave him the most unimpressed look imaginable.
“Seriously? You’re going to act like a toddler?” Ferris scoffed, and Atlas went up in smoke, lunging at him.
When he lunged however, he changed in a matter of seconds. There wasn’t a huge change in the size of Atlas, as he was already quite tall and brawny, but suddenly, Atlas was a dragon, changing smoothly and swiftly, with horns and brick red scales and wings tucked neatly at his side, slamming Ferris back, tail swishing just as ferociously. Zoey may have let out a squeak, but it was covered up by the sounds that Atlas was making, even though the voice coming from him sounded strangely close enough to still be him.
Ferris’ change was just as sudden, although his scales were more of a sandy grey color, and he seemed more focused as he slammed his body into Atlas. Fed up with the shoving back and forth, the two dragons raised their claws and began to swipe at each other, the colliding hits making heavy sounds against their heavily armored bodies.
“ATLAS I AM GOING TO SCREAM,” came a voice from the entrance of the kitchen. He was still snarling as his girlfriend Blythe strode swiftly across the tiled floor, grabbing him by one of the horns on the side of his head and dragging his face down to hers. Ferris backed off immediately, almost seeming ashamed of his behaviour, turning swiftly back into a human, clothes still intact, except for socks, which were lying tattered on the floor. Blythe was furious, and her voice was fairly low, but very dangerous sounding.
“Look, you scared her, you embarrassed Doug, and you were super rude to Ferris. You had better calm down, and you had better apologise, and I am NOT joking,” she snapped, turning to Ferris, “I am so sorry for this, but I am glad the only thing you didn’t have enchanted was your socks”.
Atlas turned back to a human, looking crestfallen. “Listen, what I said earlier…” he started, but Ferris interrupted with:
“Its fine, we should really focus on the bigger issue at hand, Zoey is literally about to faint.” Even his interruptions seemed offhanded. Doug, who had sat back down in order to put his face directly on the table, looked up suddenly, worry in his eyes.
Zoey hadn’t realized how much she had paled, and she tried to let out a small laugh but it died in her throat. Breathing in deeply, she managed to say, “N-no I am not going to faint…..”, before the room swirled as she passed out, noticing Doug reach out to catch her as she fell.