Chapter 97: Shahin
For all together, a team can weather, any storm they may go through.
Yes, teamwork, can make a dream work,
Can make the greatest dreams come true
She tried to pretend she wasn’t clinging to Emrys’ hand as they walked down the hall, and was stupidly grateful for the fact that he seemed to be clinging every bit as tightly, and ignoring it every bit as studiously.
She was nervous. What if they hated her? What if they were like Xaviera, taunting her for being off playing? She’d been able to handle the snake-girl because she’d been expecting it, and because (as much as it had surprised her), she’d had the back-up and support of Jaya and Kaia (and wasn’t the twinge of guilt towards Ayla there a strange conundrum? It had been a long time since she’d had enough friends to worry about things like that). What if all of her cy’ree were like that, sneering and laughing at her? What if they were like Agatha, thinking she was less than a person? When she’d come here, she’d known she could handle anything high school could throw at her. Now? Now she wasn’t sure she could handle walking to classes on her own.
She focused on her fingers, trying to level her breathing, find her comfortable apathy. Kendra. The little mouse girl had been terrified to talk to her; she probably wasn’t going to start throwing rocks. She could talk to Kendra. Maybe she’d have more luck with that than the strained, uncomfortable conversation with Nydia the night before.
Emrys had stopped outside a dorm door; that probably meant they were at Carter’s room. She hugged him, not caring, at the moment, who saw them.
“You’ll be fine, Sheen,” he said quietly. “They’re decent folks.”
She swallowed a sharp retort about Emrys’ taste in friends, and just whispered, instead, “Thank you. I’ll see you…?”
“My room? I don’t know how long this’ll go.”
“All right,” she nodded, glad he couldn’t see the panic she was feeling. “I’ll see you there.” Trying not to look as hesitant as she felt, she knocked on the door.
A tall, lanky boy answered the door and blinked sleepy hazel eyes at her, one of them partially obscured by the medium-length chestnut hair sweeping down over his forehead and part of his cheek. His clothing was simple and plain; everything about him screamed “Beige!” from his actual fashion choices to the bland way he spoke. “Come on in, Shahin.”
It felt odd to be acknowledged by name by someone she’d never met. She disentangled from Emrys and entered the room. “Thank you…” Had to be Carter, it was his room, but still… “Carter?”
“You’re welcome,” he nodded in acknowledgment, stepping back to let her enter. She swallowed another quick panic attack with one last glance back at her lover. She could do this. She’d be fine.
Emrys nodded in encouragement before the door closed. The chairs were already occupied by another girl and boy, so Shahin sat primly on the edge of the bed. She looked between the three of them. The tusks, yes, she had Lit with Nikolai, and, she realized, Trig with all of them. She flushed in embarrassment; she really hadn’t been paying much attention to her surroundings, had she?
“Hi,” she murmured quietly. “Nikolai and Channing, right?”
“Right,” Nikolai said. Channing just nodded quickly, looking back to her book. Shahin winced. This was going to be painful.
“Did I miss any meetings, while I was… away?” she asked Carter politely.
“Nothing important. Right now we’re just kind of waiting for everyone else, or well, as many as we’re expecting.”
“Callista, Eris, and Kendra, right?” Of those, two were Kept and on Kai and Jaya’s list.
“Right. Callista, well, doesn’t get out much. Kendra’s a little better.”
“So I’ve heard.” She didn’t have to feign the sympathy in her voice. “And seen.”
“Yeah,” Carter sighed. “But, Eris should be here today.”
Eris, she was sure she’d never met. But someone was knocking on the door, saving her from having to say anything. She took advantage of the moment’s distraction to rub her wrists, the tattoos feeling like knives through her bones today.
Carter answered the door with the same almost stiff politeness, and their new arrival cast about for a place to sit. The bed was empty aside from Shahin, but the raven-haired girl with the pointed ears slipped down to the floor by Nikolai’s feet, twisting to grin at him. “Don’t kick.”
Nikolai just smiled down at her, shaking his head, as Carter began to speak.
“Okay then, guys. The way the format works, we should figure out what strengths we each have relative to each other, so we can rotate the team when we see the categories.”
Eris made a face. “I don’t think ‘painting’ is likely to be a category,” she murmured, “or ‘putting your foot in your mouth.’ I’m good with science, though.”
“That’s good,” Carter said. “I’m, not so much. I can do history, and a lot of random trivia.”
“I think between Kendra and I we’ve got any other kind of liberal arts covered,” Nikolai put in.
“I can do pop culture?” Channing said hesitantly.
“That’s good, actually, that comes up,” Carter said. “And Callista’s good at math, if she makes it.”
Shahin frowned a bit. She really wasn’t necessary here, was she? “I’m good at history.” She plucked her sleeve, remembering belatedly that she wasn’t wearing anything fancy, “especially Victorian. And Literature. But that’s pretty much what Nikolai and Kendra can do.”
“That’s good, we’ll be strong in those areas then when they come up. How about breaking sciences down more specifically? Or can you do them all, Eris?”
“Bio’s my best,” the girl smirked, as if at some inside joke, “but I can handle chem and earth science. Not so much physics, though. That’s got too much math in it.”
They were doomed in Math, Shahin realized, unless they could get Callista to be able to perform. She wondered if working around orders was something that could be taught.
“Okay then,” Carter nodded. “Physics? Astronomy? Backup on those others?”
“I can do decently in Astronmy,” Shahin offered, surprised to find how shy she felt.
“I should be able to handle Geology-like stuff,” Nikolai said.
“Good,” Carter nodded. “And I can do Chemistry too. We’ve got a decent foundation, then.”
“Except math,” Shahin couldn’t help but point out.
“Callista said she should be able to participate.” Carter didn’t sound too sure about that, but just then there was a small knock at the door. He stood to answer it and quickly stepped aside with a smile. “Come on in. See, guys?”
Shahin didn’t think it was the time to point out that “participate” was not the same as “not throw the match at a crucial moment.” She smiled at the slim six-armed girl as she entered the room and looked around, again, for a place to sit.
With all the chairs occupied and Eris already on the floor, the room was already pretty full, except for the expanse of unused bed beside Shahin. Callista sat quietly in the corner by the door, curling in on herself and almost becoming part of the scenery.
Shahin pondered accepting it, pretending it was her throne instead of her exile, but she had to work with these people for a while, and, what’s more, she wanted to work with them. “Callista,” she said softly, “contrary to popular belief, I don’t give off a three-foot field of death rays. It’s an awfully big bed; there’s plenty of room on it for two without either of us getting cooties.”
“You wouldn’t mind?” Callista glanced between Shahin and Carter. “I can get on the bed?”
Shahin’s heart twisted. Kaia and Jaya were right. “I wouldn’t mind,” she assured the girl, schooling her voice as gentle as she knew how to. “But it’s Carter’s bed. Carter?”
“Of course you can,” Carter nodded. “Be my guest.”
The spindly girl scurried up onto the bed, though she still chose the corner to occupy, facing out into the room. Shahin resisted a sudden and inexplicable urge to toss a blanket around her bony shoulders, and instead said gently, “so, I hear you’re good at math, Callista.”
“I’m okay I guess,” she demurred.
“You’re a long shot better than any of the rest of us,” Carter smiled at her.
Shahin watched the interactions carefully for a minute. Channing was trying to stay out of everything. Carter was being very careful with all three girls, as if he knew where their wounds were. Nikolai had that bull-in-a-china-shop feeling, holding very still. At his feet, Eris was watching everything, smirking. She caught Shahin’s gaze and held it, smirking. “Idu Intinn Shahin cy’Pelletier,” she murmured, her smirk only growing sharper.
Shahin chose to ignore that for the moment and instead picked up where Carter had left off, “which makes you the team expert.” She barely avoided adding be glad; I get to be the expert in being shunned.
“I guess so,” Callista said hesitantly. “I’ll do the best I can.”
That hung in the air for a moment, everyone knowing what she was saying and no-one willing to acknowledge it.
“Well.” If they were going to sit around being quiet and uncomfortable, they might as well have a reason to be uncomfortable. “We’re going on that field trip.”
Copyright © 2009-2011 Lyn Thorne-Alder with Elasmo. All rights reserved.
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