Pierre walked through the hallway and mindlessly looked around him, silently appreciating some of the school's best architecture designs and Greek marble statues.
The first few period that morning had been alright for him, although he was bored when it came to Calculus. The teacher's tone was just so flat and dull, he could barely focus on the lesson. It certainly made him want to beg for aspirin for the throbbing headache the old lecturer had unknowingly caused.
He reached his locker and turned in the combinations, setting his things in it when he spotted Lionel out of the corner of his eyes.
The boy had come up to him last week and told him that a teacher wanted his help on some papers. He had seemed fidgety on his way to the office, making Pierre think he was the one meeting the teacher instead of him. When they came to a stop, Lionel told him that he had to be somewhere and that Pierre should wait until the secretary called on him. He only raised an eyebrow at that and watched as the boy whimpered at his look before scurrying off.
Pierre could only shake his head at the oddity that was Lionel.
He couldn't meet with Mr. Hoffman that day because soon after he was being summoned, the teacher had suddenly left on an emergency and he was told that he would only be back by the week after.
And so right after class he had met with Mr. Hoffman, a gruff looking man in his forties to discuss some paper forms.
The only thing that was needed to fill was the second residence section. In other circumstances, this section could be overlooked but since he wasn't originally from the States, the teacher needed to know if there was another residence they could reach. According to Mr. Hoffman who was in charge of filing the forms for transfer students coming in or out, this was necessary in case they need to inform the involved parties of students' academic or athletic progress and such.
In the form, Pierre noted that the main residential area was the place his father was currently residing, but since they also have a second residence, Pierre couldn't comprehend why his normally astute father would just leave it blank.
Unless, he did it deliberately…which would seem like something Jonathan Lachlan would do.
Pierre had lost their argument and thus reluctantly agreed to come to the academy. Looking at things now, he realized that nothing, no matter what kind of sacrifice he had made would ever be enough to satisfy his father, and that fueled his anger. 'Seems like he's trying to make me stay here for good.' Pierre thought with scorn. That thought led to another, and he thought it ironic that he felt strongly against that when he wasn't keen on coming here in the first place.
He took the form and scribbled another address – his uncle's residence in Scotland and gave it to Mr. Hoffman. Going through every column and making sure there were no more empty spaces, the man nodded in satisfaction and excused Pierre from his office.
Scotland. At the thought of the beautiful country with its stunning scenic, wonderful nature and hardworking people made him feel homesick.
He had a home there, he thought, with his cousins who made him feel more at place than he had ever been anywhere else. There was also his uncle and aunt, who both possessed a warm nature that was genuine and full of warmth. He had felt out of place at first but in time, that began to fade. There was just a sense of contentment in watching them joking and laughing with their loved ones, so open and carefree. They treated him like one of their own, with nothing holding them back.
It was completely different compared to his own father's aloof and cold composure; distant and restrained.
At thirteen, Pierre had stayed with his uncle and aunt, visiting them at times until he eventually lived with them. His father was a businessman and scarcely had any time for him, although he could give his old man some credit for the brief effort he made. He had been living in different places throughout the continent due to his father's profession but he wanted more than that.
Pierre wanted to reside permanently and not have to pack up his things on a short notice. He wanted to laugh and joke around with his family, living the lifestyle he'd seen his cousin's.
He wanted things to be how they used to be. How his family used to be.
But things had changed and without notice or time to heal himself, Pierre had been living like a baggage with his father.
Until one day he decided to approach a subject.
Jonathan Lachlan was busy sorting out some documents in his townhouse study, frowning at some of it when he heard a knock on the door. "Come in."
Pierre opened the door and entered, carefully treading the topic he wanted to say. "Father, may I speak to you for a moment?"
"Hmm?" His father mindlessly said before he took notice of his son standing in front of his desk, a determination look on his face. Jonathan raised an eyebrow. "What is it?"
Pierre nodded. "I've been thinking about something. That is, it would be better… if I…well-"
He had been speaking in English but alternating it to a language that he was taught since he was little thus his words seemed jumbled and a little incomprehensible. His father's jaw ticked as he snapped, "Speak clearly, boy. I don't understand what you're trying to say."
Thirteen year old Pierre stilled at his father's tone and felt annoyed that he couldn't get the matter across. He knew why, of course. He wasn't sure how his father would react to what he was going to say.
He swallowed and said, "I...thought that since you're busy with work all the time, I could just stay here in Scotland. Uncle Callan said I could live there with him and Aunt Louisa if I wanted to."
Jonathan's eyes darkened with anger. Pierre never understood why his old man seemed to abhor the beautifully landscaped country as they never really stayed there long – a month at most. It was his hometown, where he had grown up.
And he wasn't oblivious to know that the relationship to his own brother almost bordered to nonexistent as well.
"Why didn't I hear this from him myself?" He snapped.
Pierre stood rigid and almost hesitate when he said, "He was only suggesting this. And…I think I wanted to."
At his father's glowering look, he said hastily, "I didn't want to be a burden and keep going to different schools and eventually leaving when I had to. The school here isn't bad, either."
Besides, Pierre thought, you don't seemed to know that I even exist when I lived with you.
When his father only looked at him blandly, Pierre decided to take a different approach as he said diplomatically, "I was also thinking that instead of spending the money to my adjustment to different schools and places, I think that would be better used for the company's investment and when I take it over."
Jonathan Lachlan seemed to pause over those words. Pierre felt his heart beat accelerate as he waited for his father's answer.
"I'll think about it." Came his father's curt reply.
Relief flooded his chest then. Jonathan nodded to Pierre towards the door and he knew that the discussion was over.
Pierre kept his joy carefully masked on his face as he walked out of the study. Whenever he needed to amped up a point, he could always use the company as a reason, which Pierre realized long ago seemed to be the only important thing above others to his father. Not his son, nor his family.
He had expected some difficulty to win the discussion, but his father was predictable like that when it came to business. Disappointed though as he was, Pierre hoped the answer would be yes.
The company didn't really matter to him; after all, it was only used as a means to negotiate whenever necessary. It wasn't like he planned to take over the business, anyway.
It didn't take long for his father to decide because the day after their discussion, Pierre was told over breakfast that he could stay at his uncle's for a little while until his father decide he should return.
"You'll not be staying there forever, Pierre. There's the company to think about and I want you to learn the ropes of it." His father said sternly.
Pierre tried to keep his patience in check. Of course he knew that, he thought bitterly, since there were nothing else his father could have said to him since their family was torn apart. Still, he decided to placate his father, albeit reluctantly.
Pierre gritted his teeth silently and nodded.
Jonathan Lachlan looked at his son, studying the taut face with stubbornness and determination in it as well. He hid his smile though the wrinkle near his eyes crinkled a little bit as he came to notice that his son, Pierre was already possessing the very traits that he had himself, though the boy might not realize it yet.
He had arrived at his uncle's place the following day, just in time for dinner and he remembered how the buff man in his late thirties fussed over him as they sat in the dining room.
"Don't be shy, lad. You need to put on more meat on your skinny frame. Here, have some more of this." Uncle Callan said as he put another portion of beef steak on his plate.
"Pa's right. I can't finish all of this, you know." His younger cousin by two years, Adaira said with a mouthful, dragging the last word out.
"Ada, chew and swallow your food before you talk." His aunt gently chided her with a look.
She rolled her eyes and grunted childishly, "Yes, mum."
Alastair, who was seven years older than him choked on his food as he laughed. "No one expects you to finish this all by yourself, Ada. That's because mum cooked it all for me and Pierre!" He pinched his sister's cheek.
The eleven year old retaliated by scooping some of the mash potatoes and took a few sticks of asparagus from her brother's plate, making a face at him. They were both reprimanded by their parents.
A warm feeling started to melt the steel in his heart as Pierre watched them, and his eyes became glazed over the memories that flooded through his mind…
…a woman laughing in the garden; her smile brighter than the sun…little children shooting water guns at a slightly older boy…a man setting aside the daily newspaper grinning at his wife and kids…a fetching picture of a perfect family…
He shook his head firmly, forcing the images out of his mind.
Pierre couldn't let himself relive the wonderful memories he had throughout the years when he wasn't aware that reality was a whole different world than he had lived in.
He was naïve back then...but not anymore.
The hallway seemed unbearably long and he couldn't imagine what possessed a person to build such long pathways like these. He must have been walking for fifteen minutes and it didn't seem like he was going anywhere.
Did he ended up in the wrong building somehow?
Pierre was so absorbed in his thoughts that he just only realized the hallway was practically empty. He took note of the barely bare place with grey walls and blue lockers that began to fade a little.
The building he was familiar with was white with green lockers and he sighed in irritation. "How the hell did I ended up here?" He muttered to himself.
The only sound that echoed was his footsteps and it felt uneasily eerie to him. Desperate to find a way out of the long corridor, he hastened his steps and took a turn – immediately spotting a couple of students walking towards him. Their uniform was slightly altered compared to the normal student body and he recognized them to be prefects.
"Uh, could you tell me which way is the main building?" He asked as he reached them.
A friendly looking girl answered with a sorry smile, "Lost, are you? It happens all the time. Dane and I," she gestured to an expressionless looking guy who was busy scrutinizing Pierre, "Couldn't find our way too when we were assigned to patrol here. The main building is just right behind us so you'll be fine." And then, she smiled brightly and added, "This place is the second main building, which is just behind the first one, and it's where most of the club rooms, especially the swimming and archery arena are located."
When he still looked baffled, she continued with an understanding expression, "It looks different, right? That's because on Mondays, the classrooms are held in the main building until noon. Some students might have their club activities then."
Now that made sense. So he wasn't really lost in the first place. With a nod of thanks, which was mostly directed at the very informative girl since Dane the prefect preferred to look down on him and stayed quiet, Pierre thought with some interest and amusement on how they used these buildings for different purposes.
Wouldn't it be better if they just use the clubrooms, and classrooms all in one building? It could have saved a lot of precious time and money too, he thought. The school he had attended in Scotland was nearly as huge as this but at least it didn't confuse their students with empty buildings and long, creepy hallways.
Then Pierre paused in his steps slowly and shook his head. It had just dawned on him that this creepy building was the same one where he was introduced in the clubroom as a member of the Archery club and he felt ridiculous for not thinking nor recognizing it through.
Then again, the building that time didn't seemed so uninhabited.
A sudden weight crashed to his body and he stumbled back. A girl with brown locks was clutching at his front shirt, putting all her weight to him as she tilt her head back with a breathy but weak voice, "Excuse me, do you know where the infirmary is? I don't think I'm feeling well."
Unaware of some juniors making a bet, giggling quietly as they watched their friend from behind a corner, Pierre raised an eyebrow, gently disentangling her off of him and kept her at an arm's length. She was pretty, he noted in a quick scant of assessment. Still, surprised though he was, Pierre didn't know whether he should laugh or be annoyed at the obvious ploy of the girl.
Girls had used their tactics on him but he managed to carefully avoid them. They had flirted with him, some even appeared at places that he might have gone - to some extent, but since his coming here, the best one yet was the current one being pulled.
After all, no one had ever thrown themselves, quite literally, into his arms like this.
He studied the rosy cheeks and bright eyes of the brunette in front of him, and thought that rather the infirmary, she needed some major acting classes instead.
His voice were laced with a thread of amusement as he murmured, "Are you now?"
Misunderstanding his question as a response to her invitation, she trailed her finger down his chest and gave a sultry look. "Of course. It'd be better if you could bring me there…if you know what I mean."
'How could anyone not know what that means?' He thought exasperatedly and refrained from rolling his eyes.
Unfortunately, or fortunately for him, Pierre wasn't in the mood to fool around at the moment.
His expression changed into one of indifference as he deliberately said, "Ah, sadly I'm in a hurry." It was an obvious lie to anyone watching since he had been walking at a tortoise pace. "But if you go straight down this hallway, take a few turns of rights and a left, you'll make it to the infirmary just in time to feel better." With that, he left the stunned brunette behind. He didn't particularly care where she'll ended up since he didn't even know where he directed her.
He was thinking of what to buy for lunch later when he froze in his steps. A few feet across from him, he spotted a tall, familiar figure, talking with a silvery platinum-haired girl which he just knew to be December.
"Maybe I'm mistaken." Pierre said to himself. He shook his head and started to walk ahead when a girl with black hair, almost as tall as the guy appeared from out of a classroom stood beside them.
Pierre knew then that he was not mistaken at all.
He knew very well who the two people standing before him were and he was rendered speechless. After all, how could he not recognized the people he grew up with despite not seeing them for years?
And what do you say to them, anyway?
Fortunately for him, he didn't have to break the ice.
"Hello, Pierre." said Max, his light blue eyes coolly meeting Pierre's hazel green ones when they faced each other.
Katya's lips broke into a small smile as she looked at him. "Did we surprised you?"
Pierre's mind were in a turmoil. Images flashed in his mind, as he were sucked into a whirlwind of memories but he shook them away almost instantly.
Pierre ignored that and asked, "When did you arrived? I wasn't aware that you were both here."
Oblivious of the bystanders observing their exchange, they went about conversing with one another, although anyone who watched could tell there was a tension crackling in the air under the tone of cool formalities.
December was thoroughly puzzled. Here she was, standing a little to the side behind Katya and Max, while they were talking to Pierre, apparently unnoticed. There was something about them that nagged at her, though she couldn't discern what it was.
On top of that, she had no idea what they were talking about since it was in Russian. She had no idea Pierre could speak Russian.
December wasn't sure what expression did the two new students wore but she could see that Pierre looked impatient. Suddenly, everything felt awkward and she couldn't decide whether she should walk away or announce her presence.
Hold up, she thought with annoyance, why would I need to announce my presence? This is none of my business.
With that thought in mind, she decided to just walk away from the scene, but as she turned around quickly, her feet tripped over her step and she lost her balance. December felt herself swaying towards the lockers.
It happened within a blink of an eye. Her body crashed to the lockers – arms hit first, resulting in a loud clang of the metal. She closed her eyes and winced at the sudden hit before finding her grip to steady herself against the lockers.
She took a deep breath. "That was close," she muttered to herself, thinking how she could have fallen on the floor and risk another trip to the infirmary.
December knew she must looked silly right now with her eyes closed, arms spread wide open and palm flat against it. She forced a serene look on herself, pretending the spectators weren't there and she was just meditating…against the lockers.
Her position reminded her of the famous scene in Titanic where Jack was behind Rose as they stood together on the railing of the ship. In this case however, it wasn't 'Jack' supporting her but the metal piece.
She reluctantly opened her eyes. Despite wishing she was invisible at the moment, that bit had already warranted whoever that was in the hallway to witness what happened. That also included the three people which she so discreetly tried to avoid then.
The embarrassment heightened and she felt extremely awkward. Their expressions didn't help either.
She ignored the few students watching, knowing full well that they were either snickering or trying to tell others about it. Max and Katya looked torn between looking incredulous or trying not to laugh. December thought that was Max, since Katya didn't show any outward reaction.
Pierre raised his eyebrow in question and if she didn't know better, she thought he was trying not to laugh. Or smirk.
She rolled her eyes and stepped away from the lockers. With an attempt to cover her embarrassment, she shrugged and said, "It's not really a big deal. The floor must have been slippery or something." To emphasize her meaning, she rolled her eyes in exasperation at the floor.
Pierre smirked then and December wanted to badly wipe that expression off his face. She gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes instead.
Max, having witnessed the exchange between Pierre and December, look back and forth towards them before saying, "Do you know each other?"
Pierre shrugged, as if he had no idea who she was and for some reason, that annoyed her. He proceeded to look bored as if he wanted to be anywhere but there.
Perplexed yet irritated, December took her gaze off him and turned to Max who had a curious look as he stared at Pierre. He looked at her when she answered with a forlorn sigh. "Not by choice."
The bell rang then and Pierre took that chance to walk away from them, walking leisurely with his hands in his pocket as if he had not just met the people from his past.
'What is up with him?' December brooded silently as she watched him.
Katya spoke in English when she said to Max, "I'll see you at lunch," before sauntering away from them. December heard a hint of British accent crept in her voice when she spoke and stared at the figure disappearing around a corner.
She then turned to Max. In a mild tone of curiosity, she said, "Do you know her?"
Max chuckled then nodded. "She's my cousin."
December stared at the space where Katya had turned to, her mind unable to come up with any thought.
When she finally found her voice, all she could say was, "Well…that's lovely."
Classes came and went, and then finally it was lunch break.
December walked into the cafeteria, got her lunch of fusilli pasta and grape juice then went in search of a table. She was surprised to find her friends sitting at a table in the corner near the wide window glass. Serena's gaze mindlessly looked around and when she saw December making her way to them, she waved with a bright smile. Distracted, Raven and Brooke both looked up from their discussions.
Weston had taken his seat, putting his tray down beside Serena just as December approached them.
She sat down beside Brooke and said with a grin, "I thought Mondays sucked because you guys always have something to do, even during lunch break but here you are."
Brooke laughed. "I didn't have to monitor some junior in drama class today and Raven's not tutoring too."
"We're done with our tasks, for now. It's been a while since we have lunch on Mondays." Serena said.
December nodded vigorously. "It definitely has. And this is great! I really hope we could do this often."
Weston raised his eyebrow and smiled. "So what's up? From the grin on your face, I think you're holding back some news, there."
December laughed. "Try guessing."
"You got another detention?" Brooke said.
December chirped, "Nope." before adding in an afterthought, "That was a one-time thing, by the way."
"Did Ms. McLeod finally stop glaring at you?" Serena guessed.
December paused at her action of scooping up the pasta and laughed. "She wasn't in class today. But I doubt she'll stop that, though." She shrugged and took a bite.
Raven and Brooke shared a look before leaning towards December and whispered, loud enough for them who sat at the table to hear. "Did you finally confess your feelings to Zach?"
December would have choked on her food had she not swallowed it a scant before they blurted that out. She averted her gaze from them and gulped her drink, at the same time forcing herself to look nonchalant.
Still, the name of her crush made her cheeks started to flush and that telling reaction was enough to send all of her friends pausing in the midst of the conversation and gaped at her.
If she wasn't so occupied at calming herself down, she would have laughed at their reactions.
When she made sure no one knew what they were talking about, she gave them all an exasperating look. "Come on. You know I'm not that brave when it comes to that. Besides, every guy that I've confessed to just never seemed to fit me." She added with a sigh, oblivious to what she had just insinuated to any passerby.
Brooke was drinking water when December said that. She choked a little as she pointed her spoon at her and said, "You know, if Jethro's here he would not pass up the opportunity to make some sexual joke on that."
December stared at her friends in realization. Though her face started to flush, her lips twitched because it was exactly something that the brunet would do.
Serena then piped up. "Speaking of Jethro, where is he?" Knowing how Jethro was a social butterfly and that he would sit at anyone's table and strike up a conversation, she scanned the tables before her.
Weston laughed when he saw her squinting into the crowd. He spoke to them. "Last I saw him, he was flirting with a girl."
Brooke rolled her eyes and muttered, "Of course."
Raven then turned to December and said, "So what happened, really? I mean, I've heard some bits here and there about Karen, as usual. There's also talk about transfers and some weird girl who got thrown back to the lockers. But they're just rumours…or maybe not."
Raven had noted the stricken and embarrassed look on December's face when she trailed off. She already guessed by the way December tried to focus on her food and bit her lips that one of it was not a hoax.
"The weird girl was you." It was a calm statement.
December sighed and muttered, "Unfortunately. And I wasn't thrown back, not exactly. I was just clumsy."
"Just so you know, those weren't my words." Raven gave her a sheepish look.
December shook her head. "Don't worry about it."
"Do you remember the mysterious guy I met by the lake?" She said a moment after. "I know who he is now. His name, anyway."
Weston wasn't sure what was going on, but as he studied the curious looks of his girlfriend and friends, he decided to follow suit. "What is it?"
The door to the cafeteria opened just as December blurted the name out. "Maksimilian Jovovitsch."
The male under discussion was followed by a tall and gorgeous girl. Usually no one would pay much attention to anyone who came in or went out the cafeteria door that day, but since the students who breezed through it were the current transfers only seen a few times in the academy – not to mention were also part of the sizzling rumours, the hall were hushed with silence as they eagerly tried to catch a look at them.
As soon as the noises in the cafeteria became less deafening, December and her friends looked up to see what caused it. She saw Max stood before the crowd and looked around until their eyes met. His face broke into a grin as both he and Katya made their way towards her table. Her eyes widened then. What is he doing?
Murmurs and hushed whispers followed as the crowd watched them made their way towards December's table. The Russian cousins stood before them, in front of December. He smiled and gestured at some empty seat by the table.
"Is that seat taken?"
December and her friends could only shook their heads mutely. Katya seemed indifferent as usual as though she wasn't affected by everyone's stares. They took their seats beside her, and the quiet girl occupied herself with her phone. Max, on the other hand, smiled at December and at her friends.
December felt some hot stare at her and mindlessly looked up, finding Karen glaring at her not far away. Exhausted with the girl's menacing look, she pointedly ignored her.
December turned to look at her friends, noted that Serena looked serene…but there's a hint of curiosity in her eyes. Weston looked calm as usual as he smiled in greeting to Max. Brooke would have gaped at them if December hadn't elbowed her arm slightly. She kept looking at Max and then to Katya, her expression stunned.
Only Raven seemed to be solely fixed on Max. Of course, her expression was also that of curiosity.
December noticed the tension in the cafeteria began to dissipate. The hushed hall were slowly beginning to come alive with mindless chatter, although the volume wasn't as loud as they were before the cousins came in. She suppose they were trying to hear what was going on around her table. Some students, including Karen Joyce had occasionally glanced at her table while talking amongst others.
She sighed a little and focused on what was happening now.
"Everyone, this is Maksimilian Jovovitsch," At that, December tried to communicate with her friends through the eyes not to say anything that would give away the fact that they were just discussing him, but it was to no avail. They weren't even looking at her.
She decided to turn towards the newcomers and continued, "…and his cousin, Katya."
She realized she didn't know what Katya's surname was but didn't think it mattered then since the girl didn't even glance up at her to provide that bit.
"These are my friends; Raven, Brooke, Serena and Weston. You'll met some of the rest later sometime, since they're not here now." She smiled at them.
"Just Max is fine." He gave December a short chuckle before looking at them, smiling. "Nice meeting you."
Promptly, Katya looked up at her phone and cast them all a cool, but polite look then nodded in greeting. Odd, December thought, thinking to how the girl had suddenly turned to be reserve compared to earlier.
"So, what classes do you take?" Raven, who had just came out of her stupor, asked.
He listed them and Brooke grinned. "Guess you'll be seeing us a lot then." True to her Southern nature, she wanted to make Katya feel welcome since the girl didn't seem incline to join in. "Katya, what subjects do you have?"
The cool Russian beauty looked up from her phone. This time, she made an effort to smile politely though it barely reached her eyes. "The same as Max." Just that like, she tuned out her surroundings and focused on her device.
If anyone thought the girl was being rude, no one commented on it.
During the one hour lunch break, December found out that both Max and Katya were enrolled into the academy a few weeks ago but were given a special permission to leave the school grounds to sort certain affairs. They must be one of the influential people then, she mused to herself, if they could gain leave right in the midst of school. She knew only a few of them here who could get access like that, and Karen was certainly one of them.
Max seemed to hit it off with Weston as soon as they started talking about the things only they both could understand, while Katya was still reserved as ever, although she did make an effort in putting in a few words here and there.
"What do you guys plan to do for next week's break?" December asked, and finished her juice.
The school decided over the intercom to close off the campus for a week due to some maintenance issues. Despite the well-off image the academy portrayed, it was still a half century year old building that needed constant management to improve its condition.
"I thought I'd go back to Canada and visit my family for a while. My mum's been nagging at me over Skype." Raven sighed.
"You're such a bad child." December chided with a look that said she was joking. Raven was, December thought, practically an angel amongst them all. "What about you, Brooke?"
She took the last fry on Serena's plate, the finger food paused in her grip as she answered, "I'm visiting mine too." before stuffing the French fry in her mouth.
It was as if they were playing a game of 'Who's Next?' with the way their gazes stopped and landed on one another. Weston took the cue. "There's a family function coming up for both of our families. So there's that."
"Ah, the Hansen-Campbell alliance. Must be tough, huh." December said with a grimace that belied the glint in her eyes. Weston chuckled and leaned towards Max to say something that made the latter grinned in amusement.
Serena understood the humour since they had once made it a point to make anything related to Weston and her a dreadful thing. Her family and Weston's had been close acquaintances since the heydays of their great-grandparents. Though it was quite demanding to meet their families' expectations, she took it in stride. Unlike some other heirs and heiresses from families with similar wealth, Serena and Weston had both hit it off right on spot when they were little. It was a cliché beginning that her friends never tire of making fun.
She propped her elbow on the table, placing her chin on her fist as she put aside her tray and opted a mock grim look. "Very."
As December turned to Max and started to say something, Max beat her to it with a chuckle then said, "We're going back to our cousin's house for a while."
"Here, in San Fran?" Raven asked, her gray eyes lit up in interest. Max nodded and opened his mouth to answer but December didn't hear what it was.
Along the line across her vision, December spotted Pierre walking towards the serving counter, and felt foolishly surprised when their eyes met briefly. His gaze flicked around her and as quick as a passing glance, he turned away towards the lady serving lunch.
But December had seen something in that brief moment. She wasn't sure what, but it could have been resentment.
She frowned a little. Resentment. Why and at who, exactly?
Most importantly, why was she thinking of such things like these?
She glanced at Max and Katya, while their attention were focused on her friends. She shouldn't care what their relations are to Pierre, December told herself. It was after all, none of her business.
But try as she might, she couldn't stop the dreadful feeling within herself as her gaze mindlessly followed Pierre out of the cafeteria.
She felt someone shook her shoulder. Snapping out of it, she turned towards Brooke who raised an eyebrow in question. She gave a sheepish look and turned to them all. "Sorry, I was distracted. What were you saying just now?"
The rest of the week went by without a hitch. Max and Katya had shared some of her classes, and that include sharing some of Pierre's as well. She still didn't know what the issue with Pierre and the Russian cousins were, and despite trying to play referee for them, she couldn't make the tension dissipate whenever they were put together. They were still polite, but it was just like the time when she first saw them together; their conversations were sometimes laced with toneless and sarcastic remarks, and carried out without expression.
On the third day, she gave up altogether and minded her own business.
Max and Katya were surprisingly becoming a part of her circle of friends. She didn't mind it really because Max was friendly and seemed like a nice person. She also had to give Katya credit as she made some effort, especially with her friends.
She still showed some animosity towards December and it certainly didn't stop her from giving looks whenever she felt like it, but it was tolerable.
They managed to even have a proper conversation once without all that narrowing look and sarcastic remarks. Of course, it only went along the lines of 'Could you pass me the acrylic paint, please?' in Art class and getting a noncommittal hum with a paint slide across the table in response.
Still, for that slight change alone December was almost tempted to change her mind about Katya being the second Karen Joyce. She didn't of course, because one always have to stand on guard when it came to the unpredictable Russian girl.
That Saturday morning was just like any other when the school was closed for a time being; there were no sounds of chatter or laughter from students roaming around; no cheerleaders or other athletes practicing for their upcoming match; no sounds of video games in the lounge dorm, music blaring out or muffled conversations by next door inhabitants.
The only thing that was heard were birds chirping in the early morning hours and the distant sound of cars honking and vehicles wheezing through the street. The pavements were wet, the air was damp and cool and it smelt of the after rain.
It was quiet and peaceful, and certainly enhanced the academy's many charms. Despite that, with the exception of those who stayed behind, it was an unfortunate thing in moments like these that such beauty were missed and underappreciated.
Since the announcement over the intercom on Monday, the hallways had buzzed with excited murmurs over the unexpected break. Almost all the students had already left the campus during the afterschool hours on Friday, including December's friends. Only a few decided they would stay or wait until weekend arrives before they leave.
December emerged from the steaming bathroom, her towel wrapped around her head as she padded towards Raven.
"Hey, do you need some help with this?" She eyed the mountain packed duffel bag, with clothes and items barely fitting in. "Maybe a suit case?"
Raven heard the amusement in her friend's tone and shot her a look. "It's fine. They're mostly just souvenirs." She then looked at the mess around her and furrowed her brows. "I really should have packed yesterday." She muttered.
December heard it and a grin formed on her lips. "Yeah, you probably should. And just souvenirs?" She raised her eyebrows. "When did you shop?"
"Monday after class." Raven replied. She grabbed her phone charger and earbuds and stuffed it into her bag.
"Huh, I didn't know. I would have gone with you if you asked." December said before frowning. She didn't remember seeing Raven getting anything that day. Then again, she also didn't remember what she did after they were done with classes.
"I know but you were so out of it as soon as we got back. I didn't have the heart to wake you up so I went with Serena."
December smoothed her expression into one that had finally figured something out and said, "Oh, I see."
She decided to give Raven a hand in helping and went over to the wardrobe, taking out her travelling suit case and dumped it on Raven's bed. "Yours is too small for all the souvenirs and clothes you packed. Just borrow mine instead."
As Raven looked at her helplessly and began to open her mouth, December held up a finger in front of her and shook her head. "No, no. No excuses."
"Really, it's fine D."
"Uh huh. Nope." Then, she said with a smug smile. "Don't be stubborn. We both know I'm right about this."
With an attempted look of glare that was spoilt by the smile tugging on her lips, Raven relented with a sigh. "Thanks, although I would have been perfectly fine with my own bag."
December laughed. "Raven, no offense but I was seriously worried that yours would tear before you left here."
"You sure you're going to stay?" Raven asked a moment after she double checked her things off the list.
Sitting on a swiveling chair and combing her hair, she winced when it suddenly got caught with the brush. She tugged her hair carefully out of it and answered, "Yeah. There's no one at home and I'd just get bored. At least I could eat off from the vending machines and blare my music out loud. And no one's going to stop me."
"That sounds sad, D."
She put down the hair brush and gave Raven a pout. "No, it's not." Shrugging, she said, "Besides, I'm making it my mission to wander 'round the campus and find more hidden gems. What better time than now? I'm sure there's more than what I've uncovered so far. There's the lake, the gazebo, the small waterfall pond…" She trailed off dreamily. Just at the thought of it, December was already in her own la la land.
Raven noticed the faraway look on December's face and waved a hand in front of her. "Hello? Earth to December. You can daydream later, hun…better yet, go to those places...wherever that is here."
December gave her a look of incredulity. "You think I'm making it up?"
Raven shook her head. "I don't doubt you. You always seemed to find something that we'd probably overlooked. But when we tried to look for it, we ended up going in circles. I don't think you realized that you have a poor sense of direction sometimes, D." She finished it off with an apologetic grin at December's look of disbelief.
December stood up, ready to defend herself about having a poor sense of direction when she found herself lost for words. Her mouth opened then closed, repeating it until she realized she looked like a goldfish.
That, and she had nothing to defend; she did sucked at directions, but like Raven said, only sometimes.
She dropped her case and sighed instead. "Have you got everything you need?"
December saw Raven off at the entrance to Black Bridge Academy. A taxi pulled up to the driveway and they watched as the driver got out to carry Raven's baggage to the trunk.
She turned to December and hugged her. "Well, I'll be going now. Thanks for seeing me off."
December returned the gesture and said, "No problem. I just can't believe everyone's gone for the break and I'm here all alone…." She trailed off in a dramatic sigh before a slow smile spread across her face. "…having the room to myself and enjoying the peaceful environment without all the rackets. Of course, I might just miss you, too." She added with a thoughtful nod.
Raven chuckled. "I'll miss you, D."
December stood outside the entrance, hands in the pocket of her sweatpants. "Say hello to your 'rents and little brother for me, yeah?"
Raven nodded and smiled. "Got cha. I'll call you when I get there." When she was about to enter the cab, she paused and turned to December. "Could you do us both a favour, though?"
Curious at the request, she asked, "What is it?"
Raven's grin was cheeky. "Try not to get lost when you're wandering, will you?"
Her laughter echoed around her as she watched Raven waved while the car pulled around and out of the driveway until it disappeared behind the thick trees. She shook her head and murmured to herself, smiling. "No promises."
December walked back inside and headed to the dormitory on her left. The cobbled pavements were slicked with water due to the rain that morning and she slowed her walking. She thought of how this would be the second time she'd stay at the dorm. The first time, she was sixteen and it had been quite a lonely two week break.
The dormitory back then had her and three other girls as inhabitants but they kept among themselves, and she hers. It was through one boring afternoon that she went on a stroll and stumbled upon the vast lake. That year, she found two more hidden beauty; a lovely gazebo atop a small clearing hill where a short bridge was built over a narrow pond and a beautiful garden with various flowers in it.
This time, she didn't expect anything to be different; she'd spend the one week break reading, listening to music, surfing the net or go on strolling. And maybe she would visit Lara at the music store as well, but that was all there was to her plan.
Her thoughts then shifted to her parents' suburban house in Greenland Rise, located an hour away from Black Bridge Academy. The place was practically empty with the exception of a weekly housekeeper to care for it.
Knowing at this time of the month that her parents were extremely busy with their working schedules, she had understood and didn't mind it at all. Besides, they had already called in to check on her from Hungary the month before and had a long, satisfying conversation.
There were some times when she caught herself thinking of her parents and though it was bearable now, there was always a faint ache in her heart when she thought of the long distance.
They had started living in San Francisco for the first few months. It was wonderful; they were making a new chapter in a new place and she was beginning to feel settled. Her mum came home early every evening and her dad arrived just in time for dinner. In every few weeks, they'd do things a family did together during their free time; going to the beach and go on a picnic or have dinners outside.
Everything was great and she had never felt so close with her parents.
It wasn't until later when they suddenly had to travel back and forth to Bristol to manage matters that the ideal family life began to change. By the end of the eighth month, her parents looked strained, they rarely had time together to spare her and arguments occurred – one of which involved her.
Though the conversation wasn't loud, it was enough for her to sum up that one of them had to stay behind to take care of her.
December thought it was ridiculous then. She didn't want her parents to give up on their job just to stay at home with her; it meant so much to them and it had brought them together this far. Besides, she had thought, she wasn't a little girl that needed constant attention – they had already given her enough and she simply couldn't be selfish for more.
That was why a couple of days later, she found a solution to their argument; the dormitory.
"I'm so sorry, darling." Her mother said regretfully. She looked at her husband then as if a thought just occurred before adding in a hopeful tone, "But it's still not too late. You know we can call your brother to-"
December's eyes widened as she interjected a little too quickly. "No!"
Her parents looked slightly taken aback at her outburst and she didn't blame them. She surprised herself too. Sighing, she explained with a smile, maybe a little too brighter than she should be. "There's no need for you to call Mike. He's still studying in England, anyway." She then added in an afterthought, "And I don't think he's going to fly over if you make him come here just to babysit me."
Gone was the caring and regretful tone as her mother now said sternly, "Why not? He's your brother and it's his responsibility to do so."
She looked helplessly at her father for an understanding. "Dad, would you actually pull Mike out from his university just to babysit me? That's ridiculous and you both know it too."
The look on her father's face actually contemplating about that was enough to make her spew anything she could think of. "He's most probably in the midst of an important exam and to ask him to come and babysit me, when I have the option of living in a fully furnished and secure dormitory, which, might I add," December avoided her gaze a little when she added with a lie, "is just a few minute-walk to the school building? Clearly I have the better option here."
There was a pause as her parents looked at each other before setting their gaze back on her. With the expression of one being torn in making an important decision, her mother finally relented with a sigh. "Oh fine."
At December's victorious smile, she added with a serious look that said December had better listen to whatever advice she'll give. "Just remember to take care of yourself, alright? We'll call you at every opportunity we can get and you must answer your phone."
She hugged her. "I will, mum."
"We won't be gone all the time, maybe until the end of this year at least. I promise we'll make some time and come back here for you." Her dad said for the umpteenth time when they reached the airport.
A year become two until she ended up living in a dormitory three years later.
She understood it all…or so she thought then.
Despite putting up a brave front, she still needed to feel the warmth and love only her parents could give and the separation made her realized that. That had been the first time she had to live far apart from them and December had trouble adjusting to the change; from coming here with them, not knowing anything much about the place and then living alone in a foreign country where she had to familiarize herself with it for as long as she stayed there.
December resented her parents' occupation when she missed them terribly at first, but it wasn't all that bad because she had found something else that helped her learned to cope with the longing; she found the people she was happy to call friends.
As she walked down the memory lane, December mindlessly passed a cursory glance at the closed building of the Common Hall.
A sudden stumble snapped her out of her thoughts and she flailed her arms around in a pathetic attempt to balance herself. She would have fallen on her face had she not grabbed hold of the first thing she gripped.
A quick intake of breath and something soft under her palm made her look sharply to where she had gripped. Her eyes widened and she shrieked, immediately dropping her hand. "Ah! I'm so sorry. I really am. I didn't see where I was- and I didn't mean to-you know…your boobs."
A brown skinned girl with doe eyes stared at her before a soft smile graced her features. "It's fine. I know you don't mean it." Then, the girl added, "I was walking by and thought I could catch you before you lose your balance, actually."
December cleared her throat in embarrassment and nodded. "Oh, okay. Well, that kinda backfired since I caught you…unintentionally. Haha." She joked a little and an awkward pause hang for a moment. 'December, you're such an idiot,' she sighed internally.
The girl stared at her wide eyed before bursting out in laughter. "You're funny."
Relief washed over her because she didn't make things weird between the stranger and her. She mumbled to herself, "Yeah, well…that's me." before blurting out, "I'm December."
The girl chuckled. "Jasmine, third floor resident."
"Second floor right here. " Then, her eyes lit up with interest. "So you're staying back too?"
She nodded. "Yeah. So glad I'm not the only one here 'cos it'd drive me crazy. I just saw some girls back in the dorm."
December took in the information and nodded in relief. The building was quiet when she walked Raven out and she didn't see anyone else then, but it was good to know that she wouldn't be the only resident alone, along with Jasmine. No matter how many times, it always felt a bit weird and uncomfortable knowing that she's living in an almost deserted dormitory.
Her expression turned curious as she said, "Why didn't I see you around before?"
Jasmine half sighed, half chuckled. "I just moved in yesterday into the dorm. Figured it'd be better than staying at my aunt's and having her driving back and forth."
December nodded in understanding and grinned. "Smart choice there."
After Jasmine left, December went back into her room and fell backwards onto her bed. The unusually quiet surroundings with the exception of the whirring air conditioner in the room were the only thing that occupied her.
She tried to think of something to do; going out to do what she planned to didn't seem enticing at the moment because it'll feel as though she was forcing herself to move about. December wanted to take her time and go through the week on her own pace.
She thought of reading but it didn't seem appealing to her then….and so did listening to music. If she listens to them, December reasoned with herself, she had to have something to do while her ears were plugged – otherwise she'd fall asleep, and she really didn't feel like sleeping in either.
December shifted her position so she was lying on her side, and her gaze locked onto the laptop on the study table. She contemplated surfing the net before an idea occurred then. "Watching some movie sounds like a decent plan…but what will it be?" She wondered out loud.
Two hours later found December under the covers, with the blinds shut and teary eyes fixed on the screen as she sobbed over a scene from The Notebook. It was the part where Noah and Allie were on the hospital bed, their hands linked together as they died in their sleep.
"Damn it. No matter how many times I watched it, I ended up crying all the time." She mumbled to herself. Just as she was about to get herself together, she heard a knock then a couple more rapped on her door.
Frowning, she reluctantly got out of the bed and padded towards it.
She sniffled and wiped her face with the sleeve of her hoodie. As she opened the door, her puffy and bloodshot eyes met with two pairs of stricken looking girls – both of who weren't aware that they were clutching each other's hands in alarm as they stared at a disheveled and pale December.
"Yes?" Even her voice was hoarse.
The braver of the two, Lily, cleared her throat and said, "December…" She trailed off and stared at the odd girl who was looking at them with hollow eyes, sniffling every once and then.
Beside her, Marsha edged closer and whispered, "Maybe she's been bitten by a vampire. Explains why she's so pale….with bloodshot eyes." Then, the slightly plump girl took a quick peek at the dark room behind December and added with a nod, "She's avoiding the sun, too."
She looked at Marsha in exasperation, choking back a laugh. Leave it to her superstitious friend after she'd watched some bloodsucking movies to say things like that. She rolled her eyes and said, "Or maybe she's just not feeling well." Turning back to December, she said, "You alright?"
December blinked owlishly before nodding, then gave them both a ghost of sheepish smile. "Yeah, I was crying over some sad stuff. The Notebook, you know?"
Marsha sighed in relief as Lily nodded with an understanding grin. "Uh huh, tell us about it." Then, she shook her head to get to the point. "But anyways, we were wondering if you'd wanna hang out with us later at 8? We'll just get some snacks and talk the night away but we're doing it at the Common Hall."
December raised an eyebrow. "I thought it's closed for the break."
Lily and Marsha exchanged grins and the former said, "Not if you know how to get in."
Grateful that she wouldn't have to spend the entire day thinking of something better to do, she grinned and took up on their invitation. "Sounds good. I'll be there."
December didn't know how many of them are going to be there but since she was invited by Lily, the nice and pretty blonde staying a few doors down from hers with her roommate, Marsha, she assumed it was an all-girls hang out. Since the night air was humid, she wore a short sleeved but baggy pale T-shirt and a pair of knee length cargo shorts with black sneakers - it was the most laid back outfit she'd worn anywhere in public.
Walking on the cobbled pavements to the building, she neared the place and saw no light illuminating inside. Baffled, December stopped in her tracks and tried to think if Lily had mentioned another location when she heard faint murmurs of chattering coming from the balcony. She looked up just as Marsha called her name and waved at her with a bright smile. Relieved, she returned the gesture before hearing a faint whisper of her name. Looking around in both alarm and fear, she tried to even her breath.
"December! Over here." The whisper sounded urgent and she noticed a figure flailing their arms to attract her attention.
She squinted at it and then widened her eyes. "Lily?"
Lily answered her back with a new urgent tone and beckoned December closer. She did what she was told and could barely contained her chuckle. "What are you doing in a bush?"
The girl rolled her eyes, wiping a sweat rolling down her temple. "I'm trying to draw less attention to any guards that might be patrolling by. Marsha came with me and two other girls. They're up there and now, let's get you up."
"Wait, up? Couldn't we just use the entrance?"
Lily shook her head grimly. "That would put us in unnecessary trouble. It's filled with the access system, remember? Since the school's on a break, they shut down the access so we can't use our IDs. We're practically breaking in and we'll definitely be seen by the monitors – so we're staying clear of that. I've got a better idea." Lily pointed with a thumb towards the side of the building as she guide them to where a long steel ladder rested against the wall.
December quirked an eyebrow before assessing the height from the ground to the balcony. It seemed high enough that she was beginning to quake in her shoes. "I'm afraid of heights." She said in a small voice.
Lily nodded. "You're not the only one but I promise you this is a firm ladder. I borrowed from the maintenance room in the dorm."
"Okay…" She nodded slowly before asking, "So now what?"
Lily laughed a little. "We climb."
Marsha, Jasmine and another girl she didn't recognize were already stationed to help them up when they could reach them. The steel ladder was long, and that was without the extension. When they stretched the ladder to its full length, December wanted to faint.
She didn't, however, and climbed the surprisingly firm ladder first. Repeating a mantra to herself, mingled with the encouragement the girls gave them, she tried not to look down at Lily following suit beneath her. After reaching halfway, she looked at Marsha's extended arm and took hold of that. Jasmine and the other girl helped her up, before doing the same for Lily. They then reached for the ladder and slowly brought it up, putting the steel steps down on the floor.
They fell in a heap with a sigh of great relief.
"That was crazy." December breathed out.
Lily nodded with a half laugh. "You have no idea how many times I had to do that today."
They sat down in a circle on a wooden-covered floor of soft gray rug, and December noticed that where the couch used to take up the space, it was now pushed against the wall so that it left a wide area in the middle. Pillows scattered around whereas snacks, sweets and fizzy beverages piled in front of them.
Jasmine grinned at December as she greeted her and said, "We meet again. Honestly, I didn't imagine spending my second night here using a ladder to hang out with you guys. It's pretty cool."
Marsha giggled, "I know, right?" before turning to a short cropped red-haired girl beside her. "Piper, could you hand me the strawberry soda?"
Piper wordlessly handed her the drink and munched on a marshmallow. A soft smile and a look of amusement washed over her freckled features as she looked at them and said, "Funny isn't it, how we're all living in the same building but never really know each other? And here we are, on a school break, sitting around like we're having a campfire."
December nodded firmly before saying in all seriousness, "It's meant to be."
They chuckled and tossed a snack at her.
Lily plopped down in between Marsha and "There's another who's joining us tonight. Her name's Ramona and she's staying on the third floor. Have you met her, Jasmine?"
Jasmine shook her head. "I don't think so. When I got here yesterday, the place were almost deserted and I haven't gotten the chance to know any of them around."
Lily nodded in understanding. "Well, I think you'll all love her." She checked her wrist watch and muttered with a frown, "She should already be here by now."
At December's confused look, she elaborated. "Ramona went downtown an hour ago to get some food since the vending machines are inside and we're locked out here." December concluded then that all these snacks and drinks were from their own stash or from the vending machines at the dorm.
"Maybe she's on her way. The small light in here should be clear enough to notice." said Jasmine.
"Yeah, but we also need to watch out for the night guards patrolling every hour. The school's increasing them during the break and if we're caught, we're in trouble." Lily sighed.
A thought occurred to December then as she smiled. "Is that why you're on the lookout for them in the bush?"
Lily chuckled. "Yeah. There was one an hour ago so we shut off these lights here," Lily patted the small torch lights and continued, "Make sure not to make any sounds then."
Fifteen minutes had passed, and just when everyone was starting to feel bored with their almost finished snacks, they heard a faint whistle coming from below.
Marsha's face paled as she whispered, "What was that?" just as Lily exclaimed in a hushed tone, "It's her!"
Careful so they wouldn't be seen from afar by the guards, they crouched down a little and were only at eye level when they looked down at a grinning black haired girl whom they knew to be Ramona.
Ramona opted a dramatic tone of voice and expression, whispering, "Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down your hair~"
Lily smothered a laugh. She ran her hands through her shoulder length hair and looked at her with a sorry expression. "Ah, it's not long enough to help you up, my prince," She then brightened up. "But I do have a ladder."
Without another word, the girls helped to lower down the heavy steel ladder. It wasn't until Ramona handed the plastic bags to a shadow emerging from the dark that they noticed she didn't come alone.
Ramona noticed from the looks of Lily and the others that they didn't expect to see she came with company. She giggled nervously. "Surprise?"
It wasn't until the shadows stepped closer to a lamp post near them that they realized there were four of them.
All were boys.
And one of them made December's heart raced.ns 184.108.40.206da2