I know I sound like a broken record, but now that states are reopening (for my US readers at least), please continue to be cautious. I know I'm saying this every chapter, but I work in an environment with COVID recovery patients, so I'm struggling a bit right now as I have to be isolated in a room in my family's garage because both of my parents have weakened immune systems. Either way, take care of each other and reach out to someone if you need help. I know I'm just a stranger on the internet, but if you just need someone to talk to, my inbox is open. I hope my writing can bring some joy into your life. Leave a review if you feel so inclined, but enjoy this chapter! :)

The rest of the day passed by with very few problems. I had been dreading lunch prior to the time, but after receiving my food, I saw a familiar blonde girl sitting at a table near the front of the cafeteria. I sat down next to Meg and was able to be introduced to a few of her friends. I wouldn't consider myself a social butterfly by any means, but I did enjoy getting to meet new people. Lunch went by without a hitch, but as I took my tray up I noticed something out of the ordinary. In the back right corner of the cafeteria, there was a boy sitting by himself. He wore a black hoodie, blocking my ability to see his face.

As I continued my walk back to Meg and her friends, I swore I could see a flash of the white show from the under the hood of the boy that continued to tuck himself away in a corner. There was a part of me wanted to invite him to sit with my newly found friends and me, but the other part of me figured that he wanted to sit alone for a reason, although I couldn't quite peg why. In the end, my anxiety got the better of me and I went back to my seat; not giving the mysterious boy another thought.

"So, how are you liking your first day at Garnier?", Meg's friend Jamie asked, shoveling another spoonful of fruit "cocktail" into her mouth. I was never one for school lunches and was quite glad I had taken the time the night before to pack my own.

"It's alright,'' I replied. "Nothing extraordinary yet, but you know, we're only halfway through the day. I'm still really excited about theatre."

"Don't get too excited," Meg's friend Laura said; "Mr. Andre definitely plays favorites. The cast list will come out, Cora and Peter will be playing the leads, a select few will play smaller roles, and the rest of us will spend the semester, building, painting, sewing, and whatever else he doesn't want to do himself." I felt my heart drop slightly in my chest. I definitely had no plans of actually getting a lead, but there was still a bit of hope for at least a part in the chorus at the very least.

"Don't scare her away," Meg said, giving Laura a light slap on the shoulder. "He hasn't even announced the show yet. For all we know, he could have completely lost his mind and chosen some show with an alto lead." There was a moment of silence that surrounded our table amidst the bustle of the loud cafeteria.

"Like what?" Jamie asked. Another moment of silence seemed to stretch on for eternity.

"That's a good point," Meg replied. "Someone should work on that. Still, you never know. The school might have finally realized that he's an incompetent teacher and had him fired." Following that statement, the bell rang. Our group grabbed their trays and lunch bags, dumping our trash in the provided cans on our way out of the cafeteria.

Jamie and Laura waved goodbye as they went on to their own classes. Meg and I, however, both had a study hall right after lunch, which was conveniently located right across the hall from the cafeteria

The bell rang again, signaling the start of class. Mr. Khan, the librarian, took a moment to introduce himself and set the ground rules for our time in his class. After about ten minutes, he gave us the rest of the class to work on any work we may have already been assigned or to talk quietly. I saw some students dig into their backpacks, pulling out various sheets of paper. One kid pulled out a textbook that seemed to be the size of his desk and I wanted to weep for him. Meg scooted her chair closer to mine, checking me in the shoulder lightly. I gasped lightly, grabbing my shoulder and rubbing my upper-arm to relieve some of the pain.

"Sorry," Meg whispered, leaning in closer for me to hear. "So, give me the real tea. You've been so out of it since I saw you this morning." I thought hard for a moment. Did I tell her about Raoul? After all, it was just normal catching up between friends. It wasn't like there was anything between us.

Or was there?

"Hello?! Earth to Christine!" Meg nearly shouted, garnering a shush from Mr. Khan at his desk. "Tell me, what's been going on with you. You were so distant during lunch, it felt like you were on another planet!" I decided to take my chance in telling her about Raoul.

"Do you remember Raoul de Chagny?" I asked, still intimidated by the thought of sharing this with even my best friend.

"Remember him? Christine, he's my cousin. Not only do I see him at school. But I have to see him every holiday, whether I want to or not. Of course! I had completely forgotten that Meg and Raoul were cousins.

"Well, I saw him today and we were able to chat during class and catch up a bit." I told her, sheepishly.

"Oh gosh, I never told him about everything that happened with your siblings, and he doesn't even know about your dad. How did he take it?" Meg asked, grasping my arm.

"I mean-" I faltered, "He took it as well as anyone could in that situation. Reunite with your childhood friend, then within an hour find out that her father and two siblings died between then and now." I chuckled, at the irony of it all. "In reality, he took it very well and was very supportive of me. It was actually really nice, because instead of just showing pity towards me, he wanted to know how I was. How I was mentally handling it all. With all of the insanity I've faced in the past months, no one outside of you have really asked how I am. And I don't just mean an obligatory "How are you doing?", but to really ask how I am doing-" I trailed off, not wanting to delve into my emotions anymore than I already had.

Deep down, I knew I wasn't doing well, but I had forced myself to put on a show of sorts, if only for my mother. I had to be strong for her. I was all she had left, and vice versa. It was at that moment that I looked down at my hands, which were beginning to shake quite violently. Meg noticed this as well, leaning in to grab my hands, attempting to steady them. I felt a few tears begin to form in my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. It seemed that my state had gone unnoticed by most of the people in the classroom, except for Mr. Khan, who had seemingly appeared at my side.

"Christine dear, are you alright? Meg looked quite worrisome, so I thought I would check on you." I forced the tears away from my eyes and cleared my throat slightly.

"I'm fine, thank you Mr. Khan. Just got too in my own head. You know how it is?" I ended with a chuckle, hoping that my feigned humor would convince him that I was fine.

"I see. Well, Miss Daae, if you should need anything, please know that you are always welcome to visit me here, as long as it is alright with your other teachers. I understand you've been under a great deal of stress in the past few months. Again, my door is always open for you." He stood, giving my back a slight pat, and headed back to his desk on the other side of the room. I closed my eyes, taking another deep breath.

"Mr. Khan?" I asked, sheepishly. He turned to acknowledge his name. After a moment, I gained the courage to actually address him. "Thank you."

"No Miss Daae," he said, "thank you."