Chai and I walked to history class at a more sluggish pace than normal. Though we were taking an advanced version of the class, Chai still found it unsatisfactory, and dragged her feet all the way there. She held the book she grabbed from work this morning against her chest, cover facing out with the goal of sassing our teacher upon entry. To her dismay, we had a substitute today.
“Ugh, the one day I’m ready to take over the class, they bring in a sub,” Chai said grumpily, making me laugh. It was her personal goal to teach our teacher about history, since she spent her free time studying the stories and events not covered in class.
We sat down side by side at a table, watching the other students file in and take their seats. “Oh Valeria and her politically charged partner are here,” Chai whispered, not even looking up from her book. Valeria Holland and Winston Park came in together, both shouting playfully at each other. Winston was dropping his iconic political propaganda on students’ desks indiscriminately, though he ran out before he got to our table. Valeria was a whirlwind of energy as she sat at her table, immediately going into the details of a story, her tablemates tuning her out. Winston sat beside her, elaborating on various points with the tone of a presidential speech. Those two were great at attracting attention, as all the class turned to observe them.
Chai rolled her eyes and turned to me quickly. “Valeria drives me crazy sometimes,” She looked over at their table, Winston and Valeria having a conversation via Valeria’s notebook, nearly covering the page in messy penmanship and lengthy anecdotes. Watching them was almost comedic at times, like they were on center stage, putting on a show for the rest of the class.
“She sometimes reminds me of you, Chai,” I said, looking up from Chai to see Skye sit down across from us. They gently set down their bag on the floor and sat down, making hardly any noise, especially compared to Valeria and Winston across the room.
“Is it okay if I sit with you guys? I need a break from Val today,” Skye smiled at us, and Chai melted in her seat a little. Something about Skye was just beyond charming, but not in a charlatan kind of way.
“Of course, Skye. I’m pretty sure everyone deserves a break from Valeria.”
Skye opened their notebook, pages of scribbled sheet music sliding from the pages. Scores for band that they’d written were covered in revisions and recommendations in colored pen. “It’s not like that, I just need time to actually work this hour,” They looked up at me and Chai, their calculating gaze bouncing between the two of us. “You’re Diantha, right?” They pointed to me, to which I nodded. “And I believe you’re Paulette-,”
“Chai! My name is Chai!” Chai exclaimed, breaking the din of the room. “I don’t go by that name that shall not be said, but it’s okay I forgive you. I’ve spent my life correcting people, so don’t stress about it.”
“How’d you get your nickname?” Skye inquiered.
“It’s a funny story really,” Chai chuckled softly to herself. I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh, doing my best to not interrupt her. “So I work at a bookstore with Diantha, and we’ve worked there for the longest time now. But on one of my first days working there, Diantha here caught me trying to make a break with all the chai tea during closing.”
Chai paused, likely for dramatic effect, and I cut in. “I couldn’t remember her name, so I just yelled ‘Chai’! She actually responded, and we’ve been calling her Chai ever since. That night I’d both managed to stop an epic chai tea heist and made a lifelong friend.”
“Paulette makes me sound like a victorian countess who hates her husband,” Chai cut in.
Skye laughed, their red hair swaying as they did. “Well then Chai, Diantha,” they said between laughs. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”
“You’re friends with Ainsley, the kid with the pink hair, right?” I questioned Skye after a moment.
They nodded. “Yes, he’s a great friend of mine. We met a long time ago, before he even started working at the print shop. How do you know him, Diantha?”
“Oh, Ainsley and I were friends in middle school at one point. He’s pretty cool.”
Chai snorted and began to say something when our teacher decided to start class, silencing her witty attempt. She buried her nose in her own history book while me and Skye got out our notebooks. The sub turned on the projector, and smiled as we put all our things away. I love when the sub puts on a video instead of attempting to teach the class.
Sunny and I got to Creature Biology class late, shuffling in the door to avoid making a scene. We took the only empty seats at the back of the room, all of Sunny’s keychains rattling against the floor as she set down her bag. Our teacher rolled her eyes at us as we settled in, her disappointment clear as she resumed her lesson on various plants used in spells and alchemy.
Mercedes Archer turned around in front of me, her long hair swishing like that of a princess. I didn’t even realize I had chosen the seat behind her. “Oh, hi Ainsley, Sunny, where were you for the first part of class?” She spoke to us with such a gentle tone that I almost felt like divulging my entire life story right there. I didn’t, obviously, but something about her look charmed me, and not in the way Val does when she’s in a spellcasting mood.
Sunny spoke before I had formulated a coherent thought. “We went out for lunch and decided to not come back on time. Ainsley didn’t think we needed to be here for the beginning of the lesson today.”
“Hey that’s not what I said. You’re the one who wanted to run your monologue like, fourteen times during lunch,” I retorted playfully. “You’re president of the theater, you’re going to get the part more likely than not. You’re just that amazing.”
Mercedes smiled. “Well we’re glad you’re here now,” She turned and poked the guy next to her, which turned out to be Hayes Heardwell, one of the most charismatic athletes at Hawthorn. A lovely person, especially when compared to some of the other hardcore atheletic types, who spent at least eighty percent of their time either playing or deeply analyzing their sports.
Our teacher called out to the class and to get into groups of two, based on the loose groups of four we were already in. I ended up with Mercedes, and Sunny with Hayes, which was a pleasing outcome for all of us. Mercedes and Sunny switched seats, Mercedes adjusting her skirt as she sat down beside me. Hayes started chatting to Sunny about theater, surprisingly. He even let slip that he auditioned for one of the plays and got the part, but couldn’t take it because it interfered with his sports at the time. It was pretty cool to listen to them chat, shining a totally different light on Hayes.
I paused after Mercedes got situated. A questions popped into my mind. “Do you know this kid in our art class, Salem?”
“Yes, with the dark blue hair right? He’s lovely, but I think he’s been really stressed lately. Probably over college stuff. Wouldn’t blame him, magical colleges these days are beyond competitive.”
“Val introduced him to me recently, and I think he’s pretty cool. Val mentioned something about him being on the newspaper staff too,” He was such an elusive character in my mind’s eye, and confirming that he actually exists via Mercedes knowing him helped alleviate that feeling a little.
Mercedes nodded. “He visits the bookstore Diantha and Chai work at sometimes. I’ve gone in to pick up a tea before work and seen him there, digging through the history and research shelves,” Her voice was so soft when talking about Diantha, her tone changing upon mentioning Salem. She paused a moment, thinking to herself. “You know Diantha right? Blonde hair, brown eyes, in spellcasting class she’s really good at conjuring,” she trailed off.
“Oh yeah, I know Diantha. We were neighbours at one point,” I could remember when my family first moved in across the street, Diantha’s mom brought us a whole tray of assorted cookies as a housewarming gift. She told us when I was halfway through my third cookie that they were vegan, organic, and gluten free, which confused my mom but I felt like just from her tone that it was a good thing. Sometimes I’d see flares of magic in their backyard, more likely than not resulting from Diantha’s practice. She was diligent with her magic, even back then.
Mercedes slid a piece of paper in front of me. “Since you know Diantha, you should swing by the bookstore sometime. I spend time there before I go to work, and it’d be cool to see you,” The piece of paper had the address for the bookstore written on it in lavender purple ink, a phone number underneath it. “Text me when you find time to visit.”
Our teacher called for our attention, and I stashed the slip of paper away in my bag, smiling to myself as I looked up to the front of the room.