“Sullivan!” Oscar cried out, scrambling clumsily to his hands and knees and crawling closer, tears starting to form in his eyes. When he did so, his arm gave out under him and his chin would have hit the ground, if not for Lynda barely managing to catch his torso as gently as she could.
“You’re okay, it’s okay” Sullivan told him quietly, reaching out and placing a hand on his uninjured shoulder. Sullivan still sounded groggy but his voice cracked more with emotion than anything else.
“I’m so sorry… to all of you.” Oscar tried again, looking around with wide, scared eyes.
“It’s okay, Oscar.” Brinly told him, bending down to where he was, looking more concerned about the wound on his face, despite its bandages. “Do you want any ice for your injuries?”
“You’re fine, buddy! No need to apologise. Let’s get up.” Atlas told him jovially, hoisting Oscar off the ground with little more warning than that, and setting him on his unsteady feet.
“Atlas he just woke up!” chided Blythe as Atlas turned away and Oscar swayed, being caught only by a dutiful Calder.
Ben and Skyler handled supporting Sullivan as they made their way back to their camp, and everyone agreed that they have a little rest before supper that evening. Zoey lay down for a little while in the same tent as Doug, Ferris, and Rebecca. When she thought they were all asleep, she reached over and took Doug’s hand again, gently, hoping he didn’t wake up. She felt him stir a little so she pretended to be asleep herself, trying to steady her breathing and look relaxed. She figured it must have worked, as she didn’t hear him move for awhile. Although, when she opened her eyes a crack she saw one of his green eyes looking at her and he was smiling. She nearly pulled her hand away in embarrassment but he held it a little tighter and then closed his eyes. She relaxed into this affectionate and reassuring gesture, and she wasn’t sure when exactly, but she fell asleep too.
The time away from school always seemed to fly by, but the meeting had been anything but restful so everyone seemed pretty excited to be back. The only eventful thing to happen back in their school while they were gone was that a new student had moved in, and sat directly behind Zoey in her homeroom. His name was Dominic and he seemed a little shy so Zoey offered to show him around to his classes, as they shared a few. He asked every question as if he felt bad about asking for the first half an hour, but relaxed as the day went on.
“You’re being really nice to me, thank you. I know I seem really confused, but I’ve honestly never been in a school this big before.” he told her, glancing once more at the map of the school. Zoey had tried highlighting which classrooms corresponded with his classes in different colored pens, but he still needed to double check with her every time. “I’ll be really honest, I was homeschooled. I don’t want people to treat me differently, but I am so lost… where is Chemistry again?” he asked.
Zoey smiled, and pointed out the classroom highlighted in orange. “that one. It’s okay, being in a new school of any kind can be hard to adjust to. Especially if this is your first time going to one before. Do you want to sit with my friends at lunch?” She asked him, programming her cell number into his phone. “if you get lost again, text me, and I’ll try to find wherever you are.”
“Thanks again, and yeah, I probably will sit with you guys at lunch.” he told her, taking back his phone and nearly ducking into the wrong classroom, but she spun him around and directed him to the right one.
Zoey sent out a quick text to her friends to let them know, and dashed off to her classroom, a little harried by the fact that his class was on the opposite side of the school than hers. She dashed across the courtyard in order to take a shortcut, hoping to be on time. She made it just in time, earning only a slight glare from the teacher before sliding into her seat, next to Zabrina.
“Where was this new guy’s class anyway?” Zabrina asked, referring to her out of breath friend.
“He had a chemistry class on the other side, and he’s so overwhelmed here- I couldn’t not walk him there.” Zoey told her, panting a little. She looked over at Doug who looked concerned and sent him two thumbs up in the cheesiest way to reassure him. He gave her a quick smile and then turned to listen to the teacher.
At lunch, Dominic sat with them all and Brie tried her best to capture his attention, but he was trying so hard to remember everyone’s name that she didn’t seem to get anyone’s attention more than the rest. He was nice enough though, and everyone seemed to get along.
“What kind of sports or clubs does this school have? I’d like to try and join a couple activities” Dominic told them, and they prattled off the ones they thought he might be interested in. He wrote them all down with gusto, looking up every few seconds to make sure he caught it all. Doug gave him Ben and Calder’s emails in case he wanted to ask them if the swim team and the track team were still accepting new members.
“I wish there was a club where you could play with puppies all day” Zabrina told Zoey, and they both nodded in unison. “I guess we could volunteer at the shelter nearby sometimes. That’s almost like a club.” she added. Zoey couldn’t argue with that logic either, and she was glad to be having some regular school conversations after the previous events she’d been through.
They continued to have Dominic sit with them at lunch even as he began to make his way to his classes on his own, and he started to come out of his shell. Sometimes others from Doug’s friend group would join them too, and soon Dominic was feeling very welcome in the school. He went to a few of Ben’s swim meets even, to socialize, and joined the school yearbook committee and soccer team.
During his second week at their school, he stopped by his locker to grab a book while walking with Zoey to English class. Feeling her hair doing something weird on her head but not able to tell exactly what it was, Zoey ducked into the washroom, promising to only be there a second. She was startled to see Blythe in there, absolutely soaked from head to toe, trying to dry herself off with paper towel, fairly unsuccessfully.
Blythe looked up, and, seeing it was Zoey, dryly remarked, “did you know it started raining outside?”
Zoey stared at her for a moment, before grabbing a piece of paper towel and starting to pat dry Blythe’s hair “why were you outside?” she asked.
Blythe sighed, and glanced to the side, feeling silly “My brother forgot his lunch today, so I brought him enough money to buy something. I thought I would take a shortcut to my next class by running across the school yard. It was a bad choice. I didn’t check the weather this morning because my siblings were watching cartoons” she started to shiver. “Okay, where is my boyfriend, I’m freezing.” she announced suddenly, throwing the paper towel away and striding out.
Zoey checked her hair quickly, trying to stick it back into place without luck. She tried tucking the piece of hair under some more hair, and it slid out, springing back into its strange position. She wished for a moment that Tarian was there, then chucked her piece of paper towel away and left, hoping to catch up to Blythe and Dominic.
They were waiting outside the classroom, and just as Atlas and Oscar approached, Blythe took off towards them, leaping into Atlas’ arms. Luckily, he had fast enough reflexes to catch her, otherwise she would have fallen straight to the ground. Still, he looked surprised, until she complained, “I’m freezing.”
Atlas laughed, and Blythe pressed her face into his shoulder. As a fire dragon, he was probably subtly increasing his body temperature slightly, and Zoey glanced over at Dominic to make sure he wasn’t looking suspicious. Thanks to good timing, Zabrina and Brie had just joined their group, and they were telling him about hearing that soccer practice was cancelled due to the rain.
The warning bell rang for class and they started to file into the classroom. Blythe let out a quiet, disgruntled groan, pulling away from Atlas. Zoey shot her a sympathetic look, as she was so drenched she had left a damp outline on his shirt. They were the only ones still outside the class, so in a hushed voice, Atlas told her to sit by him, and he would heat up not enough to melt the chair, but enough to give off heat. It still surprised Zoey that this wouldn’t actually hurt him, but if he held fire in his hands without problem then he must be fine. They hurried into the classroom, seeing their teacher walk down the hallway.
A few days after this, when the weather had cleared up, Melanie suggested they all take a day trip to the water park a few towns over. They had all had a few tests recently, or a project due, and she thought they needed to blow off a little steam. Melanie suggested that Zoey invite her other friends, which Zoey was happy to oblige with, even if she was secretly wondering if she had time to go get a new swimsuit before their trip, as she hadn’t been to the water park in a couple of years.
She sent a quick text to Zabrina to see if she could go but also to see if they could fit in a shopping session first. Everyone who had part time jobs managed to book off that time with their managers and they planned the whole event through the ever popular but annoying group message system.
When she met with Zabrina and Dominic to search for suits, Zoey realized she had not been around suits in a long time, instead having spent her summers camping in the woods with her parents. Suits had changed, probably to be the brightest or wildest print, or with modern looking cut outs. Zoey liked to dress comfortably, and figured she was pretty stylish, but these suits all looked so unique, she wasn’t sure if she should wear them near water or near a museum of art.
Zabrina was holding up different ones that she thought Zoey would look good in at an alarmingly fast pace. Each one she threw into Zoey’s arms until Zoey could no longer see the suits Zabrina was holding up.
“Zabrina…,” Zoey tried, and felt two more suits join the fray, one landing neatly on Zoey’s head. Now she really couldn’t see, “Zabrina!” she tried again, much louder this time. Her friend’s happy humming stopped and she seemed to notice Zoey.
“My, Zo, where did you go?” Zabrina asked, and Zoey felt half of the weight lift off of her arms.
Zoey smiled at her enthusiastic friend, and then selected a few pieces to try on, putting the rest back, much to Zabrina’s dismay. Once the suits had been properly assessed, she decided on a teal bikini with white sea stars printed on it. She figured, if anything, Melanie was going to love the suit. Zabrina had already purchased one in a shocking pink, which Zoey commented that Lynda was going to love.
Zoey bought a new bottle of sunscreen while she was out as well, just in case the one she had at home was outdated, because who actually remembered to check the dates on those things anyway? She wasn’t actually sure if those things really went bad, or if the date on them was just a suggestion, but if she was going to try to avoid a sun burn, why use stuff that wasn’t possibly going to work?
Zabrina suggested they go get lunch before they head back home, and Zoey had to agree. Her parents were away on yet another business trip, and cooking for herself got old after awhile. She always ended up with a bunch of leftovers she couldn’t eat fast enough. She guessed this might come in handy with the fact that she had a somewhat magic boyfriend and an evil corporation after them, but then again, maybe JARGON would leave her alone if they thought her parents were around to catch them being horrendous. That hadn’t stopped them before though, and she didn’t want to think about it, so she pushed it from her mind and followed Zabrina into a sushi restaurant. Dominic was the only other one from her main group of friends who was able to go, as Aisha was visiting Stacy that day, and he assured them that he already owned a swimsuit when they had asked if he needed to go with them.
Dominic was trying to play it cool, but honestly admitted after a little prodding that he had never eaten sushi and was somewhat nervous about the whole ordeal. To his best knowledge, he didn’t have an allergy to fish, but what if he was allergic to some rare type of fish that was served here? When he brought up this seemingly brilliant thought, Zabrina told him to order one of the rolls that contained a fish he knew. His plan foiled, he scoured the menu for something the least frightening.
“Try getting one of the crispy rolls of some sort” Zoey recommended, pointing out one containing salmon on his menu. He decided to risk it.
Once they had all placed their orders, Zabrina turned to Zoey expectantly, but tried to make her voice seem nonchalant. “so, how is everything between you and Doug?” she asked, her smile trying to break through.
Zoey gave her a long look, trying to figure out the angle her friend was playing at. Dominic was looking out the window as if he was bored, and possibly because he was regretting his life choice of going into a sushi restaurant. Zoey turned back to Zabrina. “it’s going fine, but I don’t know why you’re asking, we haven’t been going out that long.” Zoey told her honestly.
“I am your best friend, I’m just making sure I get my periodic updates” Zabrina told her smugly, taking a sip of her green tea.
“Well then, how are things going with Ted?” Zoey countered, making her friend blush. Her friend had been on a few dates with him, but wasn’t sure if they were actually dating yet. Zoey had been pressuring her to find out some way, preferably just by asking but she wasn’t ruling out a stealth mission that they could both do.
“I promise I’m going to talk to him on Monday I swear” Zabrina told her unconvincingly. She began to play with the napkin placed beside her.
Zoey gave her a serious look. “hey, you encouraged me before, and now I’m doing the same for you. If you don’t ask, you’re going to be sad that you didn’t.” she told her pleadingly.
Zabrina sighed, and then looked up at Dominic. “What do you think?” She asked him. He looked startled for a second, but then gave her a sympathetic smile. “I agree with Zoey. It might be hard now, but you know he likes you, so you can calm down a little bit.” He told her, and she seemed to think about that for a moment.
“I guess you guys are right. I really will try Monday then, and Zoey, if I don’t, take away my travel mug for a week as punishment.” Zabrina told her.
Zoey gave her a quick nod. “Understood.” She replied, following the seriousness of that statement.
Dominic looked a little alarmed. “Come on, Zabrina. Don’t you think that is a bit harsh?”
“If I am not hard on myself, I won’t go through with it” she admitted.
He shook his head in confusion, and then in distress as he saw the waiter returning with their food. He wasn’t mentally prepared enough for this. Did the window open? Could he hop out? He had no doubt that he could jump down from this height, roll and start running. He decided that was too alarming to do. Instead, he faced the sushi head on. Upon trying it, he decided that he liked sushi and should probably not have been so alarmed about the whole thing. Maybe this town was making him jumpy. There were a lot of strange things going on, and although he didn’t know quite what it was yet, he got these moments of nervousness every once in awhile. It probably didn’t help that two people had been kidnapped from their school, including his new friend Zoey. They had been rescued, sure, but wasn’t it strange that nobody had been charged with anything yet?