|Company of the Universals
Author: Darling Summers PM
Three years after Connie defeats Kullervo, the Company of the Universals has grown. But Kullervo’s supporters have also grown, and their leader has learned from Kullervo’s mistake. All recognizable content belongs to Julia Golding.Rated: Fiction K - English - Friendship/Suspense - Chapters: 35 - Words: 54,440 - Reviews: 231 - Favs: 30 - Follows: 34 - Updated: 07-15-11 - Published: 10-20-08 - id: 4606926
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: I've decided to do a slight rewrite on a good deal of the story after rereading it recently. My writing style has changed a fair bit since I started writing this, so I've edited a few things that I wasn't completely happy with- most of the story is staying the same, though :) I've changed Amiere's name to Aisling, which fits better, I think- that's the only detail that might be a little confusing. So, on with the story, I suppose!
"Aisling, what was our maths homework again?" Aisling raised her eyes from her book cautiously. The question was a sure sign that Megan had forgotten her homework again, or been too busy with her social life to care about it.
"Just finishing what we started in class up to question twenty." She lowered her eyes again; inwardly pleading that Megan would go away, but not really expecting her to.
"I thought we only had to go as far as fifteen! You'll let me borrow yours, won't you?"
"I don't think I got any of them right, so there's not much point of me lending them to you. I didn't understand half of what I was writing." She laughed nervously, willing Megan to leave her alone.
"It doesn't matter whether they're right or not," Megan replied flippantly. "I just need something written down, and I just don't have enough time to do it myself before class starts. If you were really my friend, you'd let me copy." She finished with a meaningful glare. Seeing no way out, Aisling reached into her bag and silently handed Megan her copy. Megan beamed at her before leaving.
"Thank you! I knew that you would help me. I'll give you your copy back before we go into class." She turned her back on Aisling and walked away. She gave a thumbs-up sign to one of her friends on sitting down at her own table, and the two immediately began to pore over her homework.
Aisling sighed, wishing that she had had the courage to stand up to her one-time friend. They had grown apart over the years after Megan, realizing that Aisling was a social hindrance, gravitated towards the more popular groups in the school. The only things that really qualified as friends to Aisling any more were literature and the local wildlife. She had always preferred animals over people, but this became more pronounced the older she became, until it got to the point that even being around her own family was quite uncomfortable. Despite this, she still wasn't able to let go of past friendships- they were the only friendships that she had to hold on to.
The bell rang shrilly, signalling the end of break. The courtyard's noise level increased a few decibels as students returned chairs to their proper places, stuffed books into their bags, slammed the doors of the rusted metal lockers that never really closed properly without a bit of force, and hurriedly finished conversations with their friends. Aisling followed the words above her finger until the page's end, then closed the book regretfully. The following two classes passed by without incident, enabling Aisling to cast matters of the maths copy from her mind until the last class of the day.
As she walked into the maths room, Megan tossed a copy at her. Aisling missed, and it fell to the floor. She bent down to pick it up, and after looking at the graffiti-covered pages, handed it back to Megan.
"That's not my copy."
"Well, you see, I didn't exactly get to finish it, and Mr. O'Brian said that he was going to check my copy today, because I didn't do my homework yesterday. I was hoping you'd lend me your copy?" A sudden, inexplicable anger came over Aisling, and prevented her from surrendering her maths homework. Megan had no right to take her work and pass it off as her own.
"There's no way he'd be fooled by that. Our handwriting is completely different, and I'd get in trouble as well if you got caught." She held out her hand to receive her copy, and Megan reluctantly handed it to her, glaring. She took her seat directly in front of Megan, and heard her whisper to the girl beside her. She turned red and shrank down in her seat.
After five minutes, Mr. O'Brian still had not shown up, and another teacher came in to supervise the class. As the substitute wrote the work that had been left for the class to complete, guilt crept into Aisling's stomach, making her feel sick. If she had just lent Megan her copy, there would have been no problem- she could go on pretending that she had at least one friend. The teacher began to call the roll, and Aisling pulled the book that she had been reading earlier from her bag to soothe her jangled nerves. The dog-eared bus ticket that she had been using as a bookmark had fallen from the page it was holding, and she flicked through the final chapter to try and find her place, pausing only when her name was called on the roll.
"Aisling Hollingsworth?" She quietly affirmed that she was present.
After calling out the final name on the list, "Megan Winters?" the teacher closed the book resolutely and began to grade papers. After a few minutes of silence as the class started to work on the equations left on the board, a loud crunch and a mumbled expletive came from directly behind her. The substitute raised her head to locate the cause of the disturbance.
"Miss, my pen snapped," Megan announced, holding up an ink-splattered copy. "Can I get a tissue to wipe the ink off?" The teacher nodded absentmindedly and gestured towards the box of tissues on the desk. Megan retrieved a handful of tissues from the box and twisted one corner of the bunch to hold them together. The green ink leached from her hands into the corner she was holding, making the bundle of tissues look like an absurd bouquet of flowers. As she returned to her place, a single tissue flew out of its constraints and fluttered onto Aisling's desk. On closer inspection, Aisling discovered a short note concealed in the folds of the tissue, and attempted to decipher the blotchy message.
'You're going to regret that.'
She tried to reread the note, praying that she had merely read it wrong, but the words twisted into illegible shapes as she tried to focus on them, making it impossible to read.
She raised her hand shakily, and the supervising teacher looked up from the papers she was correcting.
"Miss, can I go to the bathroom, please? I don't feel very well." The teacher gave her a sympathetic smile.
"Go ahead. Will somebody go with her, please?" A barrage of hands shot into the air, eager to escape the monotony of study.
"Miss, I'll go with her, I'm her best friend," a voice called out from behind her. Megan grabbed her arm and pulled her out of her chair, knocking her schoolbag off the empty chair beside her. The teacher frowned.
"You, in the front. You can go with her," she decided, ignoring Megan's furious expression. "And please go back to your seat, Miss Winters." She returned her attention to the papers on her desk.
The student that had been selected turned around in his seat to check whom he was required to accompany and rolled his eyes disdainfully. He left the classroom without waiting for her to get up from her desk, and she stumbled out after him.
On reaching the courtyard, Aisling noted that the boy had pulled out a mobile phone from his pocket and was single-mindedly tapping into it in a manner reminiscent of a blackbird hitting a snail against a rock. He looked up irritably when she took a seat on the bench beside him, taking care to leave as wide a gap as possible between herself and her classmate.
"Aren't you supposed to be sick? Why don't you go to the bathroom, or something."
"You might get in trouble if the teacher sees you here without me," she tried to reason, rubbing the tip of her index finger nervously. She inwardly chided herself for mentioning it as soon as the words left her mouth- bringing the teacher into it was hardly going to convince him.
"I'd be in more trouble if they found me inside the girl's bathroom, wouldn't I?" He shook his head exasperatedly at her lack of response, and rolled his eyes again.
"If you're going to stay here, make yourself useful. Stand in front of me."
"So I don't get my phone confiscated." Aisling reluctantly moved to stand in front of him, resting a hand on a lone cherry-blossom tree, far from its height of bloom, to keep her balance. "The view isn't too bad, either," he muttered, loudly enough for her to hear. She whirled around to face him, thought better of it, and turned back towards the door, unsure on how to respond to his insinuation.
"I'd like to go back to the classroom, if that's okay with you," she finally stammered.
"I don't know why I bothered. Maybe if you weren't such a prude, you'd actually have friends," he taunted. She did not turn around this time; she had given up on trying to respond. Tears gathered in her eyes, but she wiped them away hurriedly as they entered the classroom.
She didn't dare to look around for the rest of the lesson.
Stepping thankfully outside once the forty minutes had elapsed, her face fell. The rain was torrential and everyone huddled under umbrellas, jackets or books as they waited for their lift home. Aisling ignored the rain that clung to her long brown hair, darkening it with moisture, and stood in line for the bus, checking her pockets for spare change. Upon failing to find more then a couple of cent, she pulled her purse from her bag just as the bus pulled up.
She handed a five-euro note to the driver, and made her way to her usual seat at the back of the dilapidated bus, pulling out the book she had been reading earlier. A tissue dotted with green ink fell onto her lap, and she slammed the book shut angrily, shoving the tissue into the side pocket of her bag.
The bus wheezed pitifully as it slowed to a stop. Aisling didn't leave her seat, although it was where she usually left the bus and walked the rest of the way home. Ensuring that her library card was tucked safely into its compartment in her purse, she sent a text to her mum to let her know that she was going to the library to pick up a research book for a project she was doing. She felt slightly guilty about the lie, but hit the send button anyway- her parents had restricted her constant trips to the local library in the hope that she would use the time she usually spent with her head buried in a book to make friends- human ones.
When the library was in sight, she stepped off the bus, paying no heed to the ground below her and stepping straight into an ankle-deep puddle. She gritted her teeth and carefully hopped on one foot over to the pavement, placing her dry foot down on the tarmac as soon as it was able to reach it. Taking off the wet shoe, she poured the water that had gathered back into the puddle, finally giving it a vigorous shake to rid it of most of the moisture. This was too much for her supporting leg to endure, and she fell sideways into a small, fluffy plant in a pot outside the library door.
"You stupid shoe!" she yelled furiously, flinging it onto the road where a passing car promptly ran over it. She bit her lip, holding back an angry scream, as she retrieved her damaged shoe.
She limped into the library, sodden shoe in hand, receiving a funny look from the librarian, who wisely passed no comment. Moving towards the nearest bookshelf, the A to C section, she picked a title at random and pulled it from the shelf. It looked an easy read- one of many books about a girl, ignored by everyone until she discovered an amazing power that drastically improved her life. The book didn't look anything special, but she didn't have the energy for a deeper story.
Aisling took a seat on one of the quilted beanbags and propped her wet shoe up on the radiator beside her. She turned the book over to reread the blurb, leaving wet smudges where her fingers had previously been holding it. Upon reading the first few pages, the book didn't appear to be nearly as enticing as the title had promised, and she snapped it shut. Throwing her schoolbag over her shoulder, and taking her soggy, flattened shoe from the top of the radiator, she got up and started to walk towards the shelves again. After taking a few steps, her sock-clad foot slipped from behind her, and she fell forwards. She closed her eyes, instinctively covering her face with her hands, waiting for the impact of the ground to hit her. However, it never did.
She was lifted to her feet steadily by pair of hands, but she kept her eyes downcast, blushing furiously. She looked up as she was handed back her shoe, and found herself looking into a pair of eyes that were shining with concern. A pair of mismatched eyes, one green, one brown.
A pair of eyes exactly like her own.
After getting over the initial shock of seeing her eyes mirrored in the boy's face, Aisling began to take in his other features. He had dark brown, almost black hair that looked as if it hadn't seen a mirror in a while, framing a handsome face. She guessed that he was around the same age as her. She glanced at his eyes shyly, to see if he had noticed or shared her amazement, but any traces of surprise that had registered in his face were now gone; only a slight initial widening of his eyes gave away his disbelief.
"Are you okay, Cinderella?" Aisling felt her blush deepening.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Thanks for catching me. My name's actually Aisling, by the way."
"Cool, mine's Nick. You know, I've never come across anyone with eyes like mine." His eyes travelled down to the shoe in her hand, and he chuckled. "So, what happened to your shoe?"
"Car ran over it," she explained regretfully. After a moment of silence, Nick burst out laughing. Aisling glanced at the offending footwear, its squashed shoelaces trailing sadly from her hand, and began to laugh too.
"So, do you need a spare one?" Aisling regarded him doubtfully, unable to tell whether he was joking or not.
"Do you, by any chance, carry around a spare shoe with you?" He looked amused at her inquiry, but to her surprise, nodded.
"Not usually. But I had to pick up new school shoes today, so you can borrow one of the ones I'm wearing, if you'd like. They're not too smelly, I promise." Without waiting for her answer, he removed the runner from his left foot, and held it out to her. Giggling inwardly at the absurdity of the situation, she slipped her foot into the oversized runner and watched as Nick took one shoe from a shoebox sitting on the table, pulling only the left shoe on. "There. Now we both have odd shoes," he stated, flopping down onto a beanbag and picking up his book. After choosing a second book without much deliberation, Aisling followed him.
She really felt herself warming to him. There was something about his presence that made her feel comfortable, but there was something else too; something she couldn't quite put her finger on.
They spent the next hour reclining on the patchwork beanbags, talking, laughing and joking. Aisling had never been able to do anything like that with her best friend, let alone with a complete stranger. The closest feeling to it that she could think of was the exhilarating freedom she felt when she was with her animals, but even that wasn't a complete correspondence.
Idly looking around the library, her eyes came to rest on the clock. It was already quarter to six! Reluctantly, she eased herself out of her beanbag and picked up her book, which had been abandoned on the floor, completely forgotten.
"I'd better go… I have to catch the bus," she said dejectedly.
"Can I have your number? Because I'd like my runner back, when you're done with it." She nodded shyly and punched her number into the mobile that he had passed her, while he typed his number into her phone.
"Well, see you later!" Nick called as Aisling shrugged on her jacket before stepping out into the rain. He smiled to himself as he watched her screw up her face when she stepped into a puddle- the same puddle that had inadvertently caused them to meet.
Aisling awoke to the sound of deafening rainfall the next morning. She turned her head to check the time on her alarm clock. She had slept for twelve hours, retiring to her bedroom soon after arriving home. She tumbled out of bed, dragging most of the duvet with her. Her thoughts strayed back to yesterday evening, and of course, Nick. Would she ever see him again?
Aisling contemplated the situation as she walked down the stairs. His eyes especially interested her… the chances of meeting somebody with the same unusual combination of eyes as her was probably around one in ten million, she guessed. It couldn't possibly be chance. But it could hardly be anything more than that, could it? Dismissing the thought from her mind with a shrug, she grabbed her schoolbag from beside the door and left the house.
The next day, Nick opened his eyes and rubbed them blearily before knocking his alarm off his bedside locker. The persistent ringing went up an octave for the greater part of five seconds before it was silenced due to a duvet, a book and several pillows being thrown on top of it. After recovering his once pristine, now relatively crumpled uniform from the bottom of his wardrobe where it had fallen from its hanger, he slung his schoolbag on his back and made his way downstairs.
Later that morning, as he walked into the school through reception, he kept his cool and calm demeanour, even though inside he was trembling like a leaf. He was usually good at making friends and was popular in his old school, but the school was so different to what he was used to. He glanced at the transition year schedule pinned onto the wall once again and followed the receptionist's directions to his first class, praying silently that all would go well.