Kallima stared out of the window in her room with glossy eyes as she sat on the top bunk. She did not watch the parade of carriages approaching nor did the soft snowfall outside hold her interest.
She kept her slightly pointed, thrice studded ear turned to the door. Her steely eyes seemed as distant as the farthest cart on the horizon. She blinked quickly to attention, though, when a string of curses rushed down the hall.
“...already, you stupid bitch? I'll be dead before we get there!” the male voice hissed.
A high-pitched whimper replied, “I'm sorry. I'm going.”
“Well, go faster.”
Kallima covered her ears with a pillow and squeezed her eyes shut. The sound of something fragile crashing to the floor broke through the wall, and the man in the hallway roared furiously.
“Damn it, Say! Why do you even have all this shit?”
“Oh, shut the fuck up. The only reason you're here is so I don't have to listen to your bitching all the time.”
Kallima continued to hide on the top bunk as the door opened. Compared to Kallima, the girl who stepped inside was tiny. Her greasy, dirty black hair hung like a mat over half of her face. She kept her head down, hiding her coal black eyes and grey face from her roommate as the man behind her pushed her inside. The small girl tripped over her own feet, knocked over her trunk, and dropped her boxes. Her skin cracked and popped to stone as her uncle screamed at her again.
“What the fuck, Sable? You're already making a fucking mess?”
“I'm sorry, Gavin. I'm sorry.”
The man dipped down, grabbed the girl's hair, and yanked her up. He whispered something to her as she trembled. Then he pushed her to the floor again and left. The grey girl quickly threw open her trunk and pulled a rosy crystal orb from it, an object Kallima recognized to be the girl's beacon. Sable gripped the item to her chest, rocking and whispering, as an ethereal, pink woman metastasized next to her. The ghost stared desperately at Kallima as the redhead abandoned her bunk to sit next to her roommate. The grey girl flinched when she saw Kallima, and the pink specter beside her vanished.
“Wh-where you there, like, the... the whole t-time?” she asked between sobs.
“Yes,” Kallima answered. “I didn't want to make things worse for you.”
Sable wiped her face. Kallima grabbed her when she saw a dark spot on the girl's upper arm just under her shirt's sleeve.
“Is that a bruise?”
Sable pulled her arm back and brushed off the question.
“Did he hit you?”
“No! N-no, he... He grabbed me.”
“Bloody hell, Sable,” Kallima said. “Tell someone!”
“Tell what?” the gargoyle asked. “That my uncle treats me like shit?”
“No. Like, it sucks, Kali, but-,” Sable sighed. “At least I'm not at Orphanage.”
“He grabbed you so hard, you bruised. Stone doesn't bruise, Sable. What is so bloody awful about Orphanage that you would rather live with that bastard?”
Sable rocked in place and asked, “You, like, really want to know?”
“Okay then. Where's Iggy's room?”
Kallima helped the tiny gargoyle to her feet and led her out of the girl's dorms, passing their former, black-clad roommate with a brief wave. The girl rolled her amber eyes but waved back. The fiery-haired girl pulled her roommate down two flights of stairs, into the senior lobby, and along a narrow, musky hall filled with older boys.
Older boys who, once again, cat-called after the tall freshman until she pounded on one of the doors. It cracked open to reveal one emerald eye inside a deep socket and a sliver of golden hair.
“Let us in, Ig,” Kallima said. “They're leering at me.”
“Can I put a shirt on?” the resident asked hoarsely.
“No,” Sable chimed.
“Yes, after you let us in,” Kallima said.
The boy behind the door sighed heavily and opened the door just far enough that Kallima could squeeze inside if she held her breath. The room she entered reminded her of a woman on Havard's block with twelve cats and a shopping addiction. Boxes were scattered across the floor like land mines, and several reeked like old sewage. Kallima covered her nose.
“Bleeding Christ, Ig!”
The blonde crossed his arms over his bare chest, hiding half of an aged, pink scar near his sternum, just under a small, thin key on a necklace. His usually spiky hair hung limply around his face with the same greasy grit that Sable's presented. Most concerning, though, was the gauntness of his face and body. His sad eyes and sharp cheeks retreated into his skull, and his ribs pushed dangerously against his skin. Even Sable cringed at his presence.
“They must have cut the rations,” she said. “Did they feed you, like, at all?”
“Less than half of me,” the young senior groaned. “Can I borrow your beacon?”
“I'll give it back before nightfall. I promise.”
Kallima told him, “It's her mum's. She doesn't let anyone touch it.”
“Fine,” the boy said, rubbing his neck and revealing the diamond-shaped scar he had been trying to cover. “What do you want?”
“Kallima thinks that, like, I'm lying about Orphanage.”
“I didn't say that. I said it can't be as bad as Gavin.”
“How bad is Gavin?” Ignatius asked.
“He makes me cook and clean. That's- that's all.”
“Say, he belittles you! And hurts you! Remember that nightmare? He whipped you.”
“In a nightmare, Kali,” Sable assured her. “He's never actually, like, whipped me.”
Ignatius shook his head and said, “It's just her subconscious transferring aspects of Orphanage onto her uncle to make him more monstrous so that she can cope with the reality of her situation by comparison.”
“They use a whip at Orphanage,” Ignatius clarified. “Liberally, too. Back talking? Lashings. Pass out? Lashings. They don't like your face? Lashings. Spot in the toilet-?”
“Lashings,” Sable said. “There's, like, no warning, and it hurts, Kali.”
“D-did they...?” Kallima asked.
Ignatius sighed, rolled his eyes, and turned around, putting a hand on the wall. Sable averted her eyes, and Kallima covered her mouth. The young senior's back reminded her of ground meat. Over the course of a single month, several whippings had been administered, leaving a multitude of sharp lines of varying ages on his light skin. Some of the newer ones were puffy and infected.
“You... You need to see the nurse,” Kallima told him.
The blonde scoffed and turned around again, “Kali, if every orphan went to the nurse at the start of the term, Anna wouldn't know what to do. I'll be fine.”
“I know. I'm running hot, even for a fire fae. Don't worry; I'm taking care of it,” the boy said. “Can I get dressed now?”
Sable nodded and tugged Kallima's arm.
“See you soon, Iggy,” she said.
“Yep. Lunch. Sounds good,” the senior grinned weakly.
Sable pulled the taller girl from the room, and Ignatius pushed the door shut behind them. Then the grey girl began to shake.
“I can't do it, Kali. It was bad enough, like, when Gavin ditched me there,” she said. “I won't go back. Not if they cut rations.”
“Right,” Kallima breathed. “Are Case and Shay back?”
“Case might be, but Shay won't be back, like, until dinner,” the gargoyle said. “Besides, we should unpack.”
Hours later, the somber gargoyle picked at her mashed potatoes as Kallima attacked a mountain of food on her own plate. She glanced up once to see a muscular, tan boy hover over the Sable, smirked, and returned her attention to dinner. A squeak drew her attention again, though. She watched as the boy leaned into Sable's stone ear, moving his hands from her mouth to her eyes as she slowly softened to clay.
“Guess who,” he whispered, his wavy brown hair tickling her ear.
“Seriously, Shay?” the girl said and stabbed some potato blindly.
'It never gets old,” Shay laughed, sitting next to her. “Did you gain weight?”
“Oh. Well, don't worry. You will someday.”
Kallima asked, “That's a good thing?”
“For Sable, yeah. Look how tiny she is!”
He pulled her arm out and wrapped one hand almost all the way around her elbow. Sable ignored the action, electing instead to shovel a large scoop of potatoes into her mouth. Shay watched her out of the corner of his eye as she struggled to swallow only to force more food int after it.
“You alright, Say?”
“Don't make yourself sick, okay?” the brown boy said.
A dark girl with mossy green hair set a tray of food before Shay then sat next to him with a plate of salad. Sable pushed her own plate away in resignation. Kallima rolled her eyes at the trio while Shay looked awkwardly at the girls on each side of him. A soft clink made Kallima smile as another tray appeared next to her and Ignatius sat down. A red shirt covered his wounds, and his freshly cleaned hair stuck out at odd angles.
“Got enough meat, there?” Kallima joked.
Ignatius faked a laugh and picked up some ham, peeling bites off with his sharp nails. Then he glanced at Shay.
“Can I borrow your lucky copper?” he asked.
Shay scrunched his face up incredulously and spat, “No way! You borrowed it for a month last term!”
“Here,” Kallima said, ducking under the table to retrieve something. “You can have this back.”
Ignatius' dark face lightened when the fiery-haired girl pulled up a large lotus bulb. He quickly snatched it up and pressed it to his chest, sucking a deep breath and holding it in. Kallima bit her lip in worry until he finally let it out, a strange euphoric glow in his eyes. Shay stood up and leaned closer to the golden boy.
“You're not a fire fae,” he said.
“What?” the senior hissed.
Shay asked, “What are you?”
“I'm a fire fae.”
“You are not. Tell me the truth.”
Ignatius rose and glared at the stronger, younger teen. Kallima covered her face, and Acacia tried to make Shay sit as heads slowly turned towards the pair.
“Let's not do this right now, Shay,” Ignatius growled.
“Oh, no. Let's do this. You're a liar and a threat to Kali.”
“I wouldn't hurt Kali. I couldn't hurt her.”
“You sold her out once. What's stopping you now?”
“You tell me, spirit reader,” the young senior said, poking Shay's chest. “Don't you know everything, Shay? You. Tell. Me.”
Kallima slammed a fist on the table and barked, “Sit down!”
Both boys immediately flopped into their chairs and watched the commanding girl. Shay's eyes held her gaze firmly, but Iggy's revealed a more fearful sorrow.
Kallima sighed, head in her hands, and said, “Iggy, I can't have you always picking fights with my friends. You were right about Gabe, okay? But I trust Sable, and Sable trusts Shay. If you touch Shay or betray me, I will never speak to you again.”
“Yes, ma'am,” Ignatius replied.
“I understand your concern, Shay,” she continued, “but Ig's just stressed. His dad is in jail, he just got back from Orphanage, and that's a lot to deal with. So please, give the kid some space, okay?”
“Fine,” Shay said.
“Hear that?” Acacia called to the on-looking students. “All made up. Go back to your own lives now.”
Kallima handed a cookie to Ignatius, asking, “Is there any citrus in this?”
He accepted the treat, broke it in half, and tried some. Then he shook his head.
recovered the other half from him and leaned her shoulder into his,
soaking in the impossible amount of heat he gave off as she ate. How
she managed to keep her eyes open, she could not say.