Sarah stood with a groan after Heather left to return the book. I guess it won’t hurt to be a little social today. She brushed off her skirt to straighten the back end and picked Heather’s bag up. Sarah never brought her bag to the library. It felt weird to be carrying something so bright and cheerful. It was a bit of a surprise that Heather was into these kinds of things. Then again, if you knew how cheerful she was, it did make sense.
Sarah placed her hands in the pockets of her blazer and stood near the book aisles. Heather placed the book back on the shelf and then promptly skipped back with excitement. Her momentum didn’t stop when she reached Sarah, linking arms the moment she reached her. Without pause, she pulled them off in a flash.
Blatantly leaving through the front doors, Sarah griped loudly while fighting against Heather’s pull. There was no escaping Heather’s iron grip on her arm all the while tugging Sarah along. All pleas fell on deaf ears the entire way down the street. Constantly Heather would ignore her request to wait till the bell had officially rung. She knew full well how uncomfortable it made Sarah. It probably humored her to tease Sarah relentlessly over it.
The walk to the cafe was short since it was close to the school’s campus. It was a convenient place since the owners knew it would attract business efficiently from the academy. Upon entering the front doors, it was bustling with kids. Several of the Scalers were crowded around a booth on one side and a handful of Hopper’s on the other. You could tell instantly by the painfully obvious difference in attitude. Scalers never stuck to the academy’s dress code while Hopper’s thrived on it.
Several blazers had been discarded carelessly unto chairs and tables nearby, nearly every Scaler had untucked shirts or rolled-up sleeves. The Hoppers sat neatly in their chairs with clean neat suits and skirts while they shot deadly glares. They were brooding and collected closely into a small group around a table.
Sarah tugged at her blazer to straighten it, sharing equal disapproval for the disregard the Scalers had for their uniform. In the past, Sarah tried to convince them to follow the dress code to no avail. There was nothing she could do to convince them, being “fresh blood” to the school. Most of the students had been attending the school since they were in preschool. Some habits died hard.
Sarah and Heather approached the table and were welcomed into the swarm. Each person gave a small cheer and shuffled to offer a place to sit. This won a loud scowl from the other side of the room. The Hoppers shook their heads at their rowdiness, watching them closely with sneers.
Sarah did her best to act properly, sitting with her legs and arms rested in her lap. Even though her actions were observed, there was no gaining any favor from them. Her association with the Scalers sealed her fate and would always be disliked by them. There would always be a painfully obvious distrust from each faction.
Each interaction was met the same; either inside or outside of the school ground. The distinct separation between the two was palpable.
Although, Sarah knew that becoming a Hopper would change that, giving up her new way of living wasn’t worth it. Still, she made a valiant effort in hopes to patch the difference.
The sound of laughter bursting around her brought Sarah’s attention to the table. Easily she’d forgotten to pay attention to the conversation around her, although it wasn’t any better. She could hardly keep up with the crew since the only thing they ever talked about was video games.
What was it about video games that teenagers were obsessed with? The constant comparing of scores, skills, and abilities was insufferable. Not to mention the ever-changing lingo and abbreviations from game to game. It was difficult to follow.
Sarah had learned to stop asking each time because it was visibly irritating for everyone. To constantly keep her in the loop each time they spoke slowed down the pace. Instead, she long learned to just pretend.
Again Sarah’s attention drifted, looking about the cafe for stimulation. Several more groups of classmates had flooded their way in. It got busy and loud with several more Scalers crowded around them. The bell must have rung for lunchtime.
People lined up for food or piled around the small tables around them. Despite the high energy, Sarah found it hard to fight her drowsiness. With no stimulation or intriguing conversation, she began to zone out and picture the hillside instead.
How quiet and peaceful it would have been while lying outside. The wind blew softly through the trees rustling the leaves, the chirps of the birds as they flew about building their nests, and even the bell as it rang in the distance for class changes. It was such a shame she was trapped indoors in a cafe with nerds instead.
A sharp nudge to the rib tore her back to the present with a dizzy whirl. With a grunt, Sarah pouted at the person responsible. Heather offered her a smile and then nodded her head to the shooter game behind. Was it that time already?
Gladly removed from the conversation, Sarah willingly crawled out of the booth. Sarah made her way to the machine and pulled out some cash to hand to Heather for coins. Leaning against the machine, Sarah glanced around. The cafe had died down significantly. The Hoppers returned to the academy for classes aside from a few stragglers who were still eating.
Several Scalers had moved into the computer backroom, leaving the lobby emptier than when they first arrived. The once overly crowded tables branched out into smaller groups, each in deep conversations.
This wasn’t so bad, Sarah thought while tapping her fingers against her arm. She browsed the room until Heather approached with a cup full of coins, wearing a grin from ear to ear. Sarah smirked, shaking her head, then turned around to grab her trusty grungy red gun. The way Heather got excited to play a lame old game was adorable.
The game was one of those “cop-duo” games where the players had to save hostages from gang members that held up buildings and malls. To Sarah, it was something mind-numbing to point and click at. Heather, on the other hand, was a different person.
Her entire being was into it, cheering at kills made or yelling at the screen when she felt the game glitched. If a shot missed or a bad guy didn’t die after several shots, she would slam her hand on the surface of the counter before them.
Sarah couldn’t help but laugh at how obsessed Heather was about how far they made it, achieving certain checkpoints, or when they beat their previous scores. How was Heather able to keep track of each game flawlessly?
Despite how carefree Heather was, this was one area that surprised Sarah. Who would have thought she was such an intense gamer?
To Sarah, it was no different than playing a game at a carnival. You already know all the games are rigged so you have to pay more to win. No matter how good you are, it was impossible to win.
Sarah speculated that maybe the reason she couldn’t be bothered with games was because of that. She believed it was all just a waste of time and money since there was nothing to gain from it. Games were just a giant sinkhole for your pockets. Either that or Sarah had extremely low motivation to do anything. Which rightly did play a big factor.
With no real hobbies or interests, sleep was the only compelling thing. There were no driving passions other than reading, but even then, Sarah did it to only pass the time. There wasn’t any real enjoyment from doing so.
The screen began to flash red and her character died again. Absently reaching into the cup for a coin, it came up empty. Sarah had zoned out entirely the whole game, not paying attention at all. With no more coins, she placed the gun into the holster to watch Heather’s character instead, placing her hands in her pockets.
Sarah witnessed Heather shoot at several thugs in quick recession, saving a running hostage. The graphics of the game were terrible and pixely, making it laughable to watch the 2D character run, flailing arms towards more criminals.
Tsking, Sarah shook her head. Why did they program them to be so stupid and run towards more danger? It was such a nuisance. It was no bother to Heather though, already popping two more guys nearby for a successful hostage escape.
It was amazing to see how skilled Heather was at the arcade game; to see her with so much focus; saving ammo until the right moment to shoot, finding all the secret items that hid in the background of the rubble, and even managing to run to the next shelter point without taking damage.
Intently watching Heather’s gameplay, Sarah saw a strange quick flicker fizzle across the screen. It was barely noticeable at first until it focused into a blur of red flashing words. Sarah squinted, trying to read it when it vanished.
Scanning the screen, Sarah blinked a few times then rubbed her eyes in confusion. She must have been seeing things due to being tired.
Heather glanced over to Sarah’s side of the screen quickly before abruptly dropping the gun into the holster. She must have realized that they had finished the coins and no longer had the desire to play. Sarah frowned, watching the character on the screen take damage all around and die within seconds.
Game over scrolled across the screen, playing the failure end song. Shrugging at Heather, Sarah scoffed. “You could have kept going.”
It was the same banter they exchanged after each game. Heather swiped her hand dismissively. “Naw, it’s no fun if you’re just standing there watching me. And frankly, I think this was your worst game yet! What’s up with you today? You seem to be zoning worse than usual.”
Sarah rolled her eyes, leaning against the machine to scan the room, not taking note of anything in particular. It was hard to say what was going on in her mind since all she wanted was to sleep. Having kept herself awake all morning in anticipation of the warm hillside, she had exhausted all the revered energy. Why did socializing have to be so tough?
Heather watched with the anticipated smile, snickering as she pulled out an energy bar from her purse. Handing it towards Sarah, she lifted a brow.
“When was the last time you ate?”
Taking the bar with a grumble, Sarah chose to eat the bar in silence. It was interesting that Heather had an acute intuition, especially when it came to her eating habits. Granted, Sarah’s desire to sleep had bypassed the idea of a meal. Never expanding much energy left her hardly feeling hungry. That, or when she did eat it was always alone.
Crossing her arms, she chewed solemnly. The only time she had company was with Heather. As the idea crossed her mind, Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Slowly she released it and swallowed her meal.
Thinking about it, there was something that weighed heavily on her mind: the visit to her fathers on the weekend. Glancing at her friend, Sarah fidgetted with the bar’s wrapper.
“I’m supposed to visit my father in a few days. It will be the first time I’ve seen him in years, ever since my parent’s divorce. Something about meeting his new wife and establishing a relationship with my brother.”
Why she felt so inclined to share so much was beyond her, possibly the fact that she had no one else to speak to about it all.
Heather nodded with understanding, slinging her bag around her shoulders before leading them towards the small bench against the wall. Sarah followed with a bit of surprise. It was rare that they would ever sit and talk. Heather turned to properly face her, with readiness to listen to her. Sarah nervously sat down. It was a little offsetting.
“Were you ever close with your brother before?”
Dropping her arms to her lap, Sarah leaned into the wall in thought.
“From what I can recall? Not entirely sure. A lot happened back then and it is a bit of a blur. I would be the first to admit that when it comes to this kind of stuff, I had never paid much attention to my surroundings.”
Heather giggled, not surprised by that sort of response. Sarah shot a look of irritation, triggering Heather to promptly wave her hand in front and apologized. “Sorry, don’t mind me. It just sounds very much like something you do even now.”
It was a typical answer Sarah expected to hear. Still, she huffed and leaned her head back against the wall to stare off into the space before her. True as it was, Sarah always thought that the gap in her memories was odd. A piece of her she was missing that led to her isolation and solitude. Her father made no efforts in the past. Now suddenly he was reaching out to attempt a shell of a family?
Heather’s frowned, feeling a little guilty at the sudden laughter, her voice softened as she spoke. “Are you worried about seeing them again?”
This time, Sarah dropped her head with a smile. It was considerate of Heather to show such kindness when it wasn’t needed. It was accepted graciously. With a slight shake of her head, Sarah took the last bite of the bar and crumpled the plastic neatly into her palm while she chewed. She took a moment to trace her finger on the outside of her lip to gather crumbs. Before answering Heather, Sarah licked her finger clean.
“My father, yes. My brother on the other hand… He attends the academy here in a different grade. We’ve seen each other here and there, although there haven’t been any attempts in conversation. Besides, what is there to say? We have nothing in common outside of our father and attending the same building. Not grounds for a conversation starter.”
Sarah avoided eye contact, not eager to see Heather’s reaction. The last thing she wanted was any pity. Quickly, Sarah stood up and straighten her skirt before heading to the garbage bins. She knew she wasn’t doing a swell job communicating. It was uncomfortable talking about a past she barely remembered and a family she was never close with.
With a huff, she prepared to face Heather only to be grappled around the shoulder. With no warning, Sarah was dragged away towards the door. Heather wore a grand smile on her face, pulling Sarah close under her arm. Barely steady on her feet, they collided into the door and nearly tripped out into the sunny afternoon.
“Don’t worry about the small stuff.” Heather planted her feet on the ground, supporting Sarah from falling, “I am sure that your dad feels incredibly guilty and wants to make it up to you. If not, why would he suddenly be inviting you?
Sarah wrestled out of her grip with a grunt, glaring at Heather as she continued, “Cheer up! It could be good news! For now, let’s just head back to the school.”
Heather pivoted on her heel towards the school, flashing her a wink as she walked off ahead. Over her shoulder, she spoke loudly for Sarah to hear her. “I’ll let you finish reading your “Russian Agriculture” book. If you want, I can teach you how to speak it. I’ve heard I’m an excellent teacher.”
Sarah chuckled, shaking her head. Heather was right, there’s no reason to fret it now. All she could do was wait and see. Shoving her hands in her pockets, she took her time to catch up to her sly friend.