A/N : I had difficulty on the last part, dunno why, which was why this chapter came out later than I intended. I'm terrible I know, sorry ;_;
Anyway, big thanks to reviewers, new followers, and those of you who favourited. As always, they mean a bunch!
Chapter 6 : Schoolmates
"Behold, the bestest hang-out spot of the campus! Pe-ri-od."
Levy's gleeful bellow seemed to hop from one rickety shelf to another ten, shuffling with the echoes of floor boards creaking as we stepped in. Books of different thickness and jacket were stacked up randomly like rows of sandwiches inside vertical picnic baskets. The room was nearly what I interpreted as the insides of a tree house, almost old looking and wholy wooden inside out. Even said material was powdered within the smell. Except, the space was rather enormous, filled with a few set of tables and chairs and shelves, and was not placed on some tree branches, obviously.
"Shouldn't a library hold the policy of silence or something?" I murmured lowly. My eyes roamed to an L-shaped desk in the corner, sporting two equally aged CRT monitors and a messy pile of worn-out folders.
"You talk funny," the blunette grinned, flailing her arms up and about, left and right, "What's the meaning of silence if there's no one to shush us into it?"
A certain noisy pink-haired boy somehow popped inside my head.
"Not you too, Levy-chan," my suspicion was proved correct when Lisanna wryly released a defeated sigh, "I've had enough of a loud Natsu in one day. Tell me he's not rubbing anything on you."
Levy's nose flared up.
"Do not speak more of that poor disgrace of literature!" She fumed pointedly. It was apparent in our short encounter that Levy was as much as a bookworm as I was (though she was much more extreme in some ways), shown by the shoots of question whirring on favourite genres and authors and writing whatnots the moment she discovered my appreciation of them. Lisanna was first introduced to me then—a girl with pixie-cut hair and vibrant blue eyes. Seeing that she had no comment on the whimsical act (of cornering a new student and interrogating them like a literature police), I could safely suppose that they were close friends.
Then there was Natsu, who had stayed during our little tour of the academy, off-handedly prompting that the only piece of writing he had ever devoured had been Wendy's super secret diary and that one porn magazine someone called Loke had flashed him another day. That, in a mini-scaled way of saying, had set Levy off. Had not the pinkette own the littlest perfect sense of emergency escape, it would be no surprise if the petite girl had done something uncharacteristically violent while giving him more earful definition of what a genuine composition should mean, which obviously was not—quote, unquote—rummaging a girl's secret heart's content or some hormonal issues poured into ero wordings and close-up pictures of jiggling butts that was not even worth a decent skimming.
"Besides," as if all fury was washed clean, a sudden a epiphany got Levy wiggling her brows, "We all know you won't ever have enough of him, eh 'Sanna-chan?"
Lisanna flushed brightly, "Levy-chan!" Her lips quirked and hung in a spur of working up a better come-back. Failing, she finally resorted to, "Now where is that novel I found the other day...?" with an overly laid-back voice and settled into the furthest rack of the room.
"How smooth," I heard Levy muttered in between spluttering muffled giggles. She waved a hand at me, "Feel free to look around then, Lu-chan!"
The nickname tickled. It tinged my skin and lingered eerily, probably because how so very foreign it had sounded rather plain old Lucy or the ever so stiff Lucia. A kind of endearment of what I imagined a friend would present. Maybe. It was not a case as easy though, I quickly corrected my delusional assessment. Because as much as I could read a heart, a feeling itself veiled a core named "reason" that was as opaque to me as it did anyone else. Malicious reasons were so ominous and foul and dark they were easier to mix with feelings and as easier to sense, but it didn't make them any simpler to decipher. The girls' friendliness was both genuine and kind, but their acts might only be based on simple courtesy of classmates, or a willing class rep's duty, or even a personality of a busy-body. Never once it necessarily meant a craving hand of friendship. The same went with the Conell's, also Natsu and Wendy, and that weird boy with exhibiting tendencies.
It was the most I was able to deserve, I decided.
The shelf I explored reminded me of an old woman's crooked set of teeth. It wasn't as full as it seemed at first glance, and gaps of one or two stood crookedly between a couple of leaning novels. I pulled out one of the neatly stacked—turquoise, hard-covered with black lining and unrecognizable title—then flipped it open. Dust coiled to multiple directions within the yellowish pages, miniscule of itchy fireflies under the dispersing sunlight that got my throat dried and my nose twitching so bad.
"We haven't got into sorting this section yet," Levy dropped a pile of leather, glossy, and carton covered novels, picking and lining them up into the shelf beside mine with gentle care. They were less dusty, and was organized under a rusty tag engraving a cursive Fantasy. Hands full, she shrugged one shoulder sheepishly, "It was way worse when we first came in though. This room was probably an ancient storage more than anything."
"Junior high's library is separated so we don't know much," Lisanna added, flipping through a heap of her own on a table nearby, a bristle brush in hand and even more dust flying through the pages wiped, "But it's said there haven't been any more book arrival since long ago," a light sneeze chipped in, "And old fads are old fads. Automatically, the students' reading rate takes a very low blow."
I plopped my book close, "The librarian?"
"Peachy," at this, both girls snorted, "She handed us the keys without second mind, said we could do anything we wanted with it."
I raised a brow. Seriously? "Any other...visitor?"
The two shook their heads in exasperation.
"It's not like we're aiming anyone into being an avid reader though," tiptoe-ing, the petite blunette barely reached the second top rack. Then a sigh, "but if only for a little, someone is intrigued to take a peek, to have the littlest appreciation of all these," fingers tracing over the shelves, the blunette gave out a sad kind of fond smile, "...of these enchanting worlds the authors created, it will be truly truly great."
Her pitch alone had spoken then. Dipped with pure enthusiasm, akin to foretelling a secret chamber full of precious treasury, an undying passion of something so simple, only so that other people's sake would not be forgotten. Trials, hopes, and invitations shoved in the face with mocks and weird looks and insulting rejections for a problem that was originally would have not been her own.
"Then you need not only an avid reader," my words poured before I could stop myself. I looked at her in the eye, "Gather a team whatsoever, scout an attention grabber, broadcast your purposes, attract."
Lisanna's gasp hitched the silence, "With wider connection, we can find a way to collect profit!"
"And purchase improvements!" Levy's hand shook and pumped in excitement.
"Find out why the supplies are lacking..."
"Problem solved and we can gain more readers."
"A book club," I couldn't help but smile, their spirit stirring turbulence in my guts in a nice weird way.
Both heads suddenly snapped at me that I was surprised their necks hadn't cracked. There was something shimmering in their eyes, vibrant with respect and somewhat shining with bright scheming.
My spines chilled as Levy grinned.
Two arms circled each of mine before I could protest, and in the speed of lightning and a blur of 'huh?' and an unwrapped mind, we were out in the corridors.
"You are kidding."
Another set of snickers rallied. So loud, so plenty, so very amused at my shame-for-life expense I half-hoped the wind would pick up and swallow them all.
"Given the circumstances," I narrowed my eyes, voice tight with sarcasm and every inch of irk I could muster to express, "Have I ever?"
The possible horror in my face was proved to be humorous, for Loke had clutched his stomach for dearest life and was in a mid-way into sprawling cross-legged. This was a side Loke Stellar had let loose to very few people. After all, the phenomenal playboy insisted in staying true to his reputation agenda within the female population and 'eloquence' was his so-called number one word.
As if. I was only glad that he had—if only for a while—forgotten about the bet.
Straightening up, he wiped a tear, "Imagine your face back then—"
"—cornered by a mad lady in her thirties, slapped in the face for cowering from an implicitly romantic dinner date—"
"He did what?"
Natsu stood by the rooftop door, rustling packs of spicy buns spilling beneath his arms, tone glimmering from confusion to disbelief to chocked snorts. Jellal followed behind with a more composed reaction, his blown bubblegum shrinking for a second before popping.
"My sister," I quickly supplied before the two worded their certainly weird assumptions, "hacked my phone on our dinner, sent an inviting text to the cashier of the restaurant whose number she somehow 'mysteriously' acquired, and when I set everything straight to her..." I cringed upon the recollection of the angry mob of a woman and her bristled shouts and how dare you toy a lonely woman's feelings, "Yeah, you heard the rest."
Settling a seat the opposite, Natsu noisily tore one plastic pack of his many mini lunches and munched into the reddish bread with as much vigor. This barbaric display was no more an oddity, it was his choice of favourite food and the portion of which he consumed it that always got me wondering.
"And here-bite-I thought that ice brain's over the phase of gender confusion-munchmunch-Turns out you're still gay all the same."
Could I add that he spoke ten times more irritatingly as he mumbled between grinding and spewing food?
Loke mockingly gasped, moving a little distance from mine to imply, "You don't happen to dig me, do you?"
I threw the stupid Natsu my (luckily for him, empty) cola bottle, and jabbed the equally crazy Loke on the side. Once upon a time, there was a pinkette whose concept of "gender attraction" had been as blank as white paper. Unfortunately, a certain perverted flirt came along, and it was long unspoken, of what resources and to what extent the latter had fed/tainted the former.
"At least you got a chance to mingle with an X chromosome," beside me, Jellal quipped with the littlest of smile, still chewing his sweets. It was a miracle they hadn't caused any fatal cavity, given how frequent he chomped on them.
"Might say the same thing about yourself," I rolled my eyes and leaned against the wall behind—its grainy texture a weird comfort against my back—promptly ignoring the other two's chortles, "Always papers before girls, huh Mr. Vice Prez?"
"Naive, naive little Gray," Loke, alerted as always, stopped laughing and clicked his tongue, voice dictating as if talking to a retarded child, "They may seem strictly professional on the outside, but what happens with them behind closed doors?" He shook his head with a sneaky smirk, "Nobody really knows."
Jellal pulled another strip of Lotte gum, "Isn't it not yours to concern," aloof and calm with a trace of something barely audible, he side-glanced with a grin that might have implied something else, "Kouhai."
Our jaws flapped open. There was a sound akin to choking and hyperventilating altogether which faintly belonged to Natsu and his cursed crumbs of lunch.
Call us exaggerating, but any other girl's name would not initiate such an immense bomb of shock. It was after all the Erza Scarlet he was talking about. The strict student council president with hot iron as fists and sharpened swords as eyes no one dared not meet. She brought the typical school rule book one would most likely toss in between junks or recycled as paper plane material, could sniff out Natsu's ingenious pranks with an ease of a Siberian Husky and even rewarded Loke's casual flirting with a traumatic threat of castration the boy was wise enough to believe in. As far as nonsensical rumors go, her longer duration in the council's room than other staffs provides her just the perfect time to arrange an evil plot against the students, and more often than not they assumed that Jellal who stayed with her the most often had been tainted as her accomplice. Though the latter only claimed that she dumped him a monstrous ton of work was all.
"Senpai," In matter of seconds, Loke had crawled in a spider-like speed to the blue-haired boy and clasped both his hands in a devoted manner. A light beyond admiration glinting in his forest eyes so bright I wanted to laugh and puke at the same time, "Please grant me your divine knowledge."
"Reminds me," without even shifting from his position, Jellal slid the topic like a well-baited fishing rod, "How's the new transfer?"
Typical. Evading the conversation by replacing a girl topic with another girl topic. Such a bummer too, I was curious all the same, but knowing the quiet Jellal, he would probably zip his mouth and not utter a word if he pleased. Still, as obsessive as Loke might be with wooing every girl in the inch of universe, surely he wouldn't be such a thick head to hold onto the fat worm—
The strawberry blond turned to Natsu so immediately like a starved animal.
—Scratch that. I forgot he was an idiot.
"Huh?" Natsu said through muffled voice, his interest once again piqued, sauce spoiling as he grinned, "She's cool."
Be it out of pure curiosity or that a certain blonde just so happened to appear in my head, the question escaped my mouth before I could swallow it back, "Is her name Lucy or something?"
Natsu looked at me dumbly, sincere bewilderment splattered across his face, "Of course it's Lucy, dummy. Not 'something'," but didn't question it.
Loke on the other hand raised a brow, surprised, "Whoa, met her already?"
"...Heard a couple of kids mentioned it," I shrugged for good measures. Not that I was fully lying, I thought after, but somehow it was a good enough answer rather than elaborating that we were coincidentally on the same course. Or why I even noticed she was there because I nearly was never awake for said lesson in the first place. Or the unnecessary explanation that followed, including that she had been sitting in Juvia's seat instead of the owner herself...
...Which brought me the late realization that the girl was absent.
"This Lucy...," Jellal spoke before I could rise the topic up, "She has blonde pigtails and thick glasses?"
I reminded myself not to nod as Natsu answered, "Yeah, what of it?"
The blue-haired boy paused for a while, as if recollecting his words, but then his smile was tweaked with what could be distinguished as light amusement.
"I saw her with Lisanna and her friend rushing into the Student Council room."
Silence lingered for three long beats before Natsu choked the second time that day.
"Mind telling me what you're barging in for?"
The room was a deafening state of quiet as the steep voice inquired. The tone lingered, the only plastic clock of the domain ticked like falling steps, papers among papers being scribbled on with sharp lead like shrieks on a ripping fabric, and I nearly cursed at the hitching staccato that was my light intakes. Or Levy's and Lisanna's. I didn't know, but anyone could easily take notice that within the silent walls of the room, we sounded like a pack parched puppies. Funny that we were not even panting that hard.
The previously sole occupant of the room didn't stir her position. Her back remained hunched and concentrated with the mounts of files and brown paper envelopes, neck poised downwards in a posture that scream automatic to many. Not stiff, but accumulated in habits and routines. The girl did not say another word, but the air reeked of waits and a tidbit of annoyance and nervousness, tinted with confusion in every other edge.
A grain of said puzzled annoyance was definitely mine.
I sent what hopefully was a dirty glare to the two girls that had not so subtly snatched my arm, dragged me for several yards around the corridor then unceremoniously pushed me to a room we were currently in for reasons I could not name. I could tell the last part was uncalled for though, because they were fidgeting in their stillness with sheepish smiles. I got a feeling that one of us tripped and bumped to the doorway when another was knocking as a boy came out.
"Well?" A clicking of pen strutted. Face to face with a long desk in between, were maroon strands cascading a sharp jaw and biting eyes in the colour of cinnamon so intense as if they favoured to cut anyone in half.
It was no wonder that anyone would think twice to answer. Scary prez, I heard them murmur a few times on our way. Levy nudged Lisanna. The latter jabbed back. It went for a couple more ridiculous seconds before Lisanna, finally giving in, spoke in an almost curt voice.
"Sorry for disturbing you, kaichou...?" The apology came in half a question, half a doubt, "We...um," an awkward smile, "need a permission to establish a club."
Her nod seemed airy. Dry of response but attentive. A gesture to continue.
"A book club to be exact!" The neutral reply seemed to have boosted Levy's spirit, "You sure have heard of the abandoned library of the second floor?"
"I might have," her answer came out as rigid, but I knew it contained a spark of interest, "If you are talking about an old room next to Language Arts?"
"What about it?"
"We are planning to renew it. You know, probably supply it with popular classics, splash a little colour here and there...," Levy's enthused plan trailed off as she stared back into the redhead's unblinking orbs.
"Err, yeah," she scratched the nape of her neck and managed a crooked nod.
Folding her arms and basing them on the desk, the Student Council's President asked, "And you're making a club to...?"
"It's going to be quite a task and we will use as much willing hand as we can get," Lisanna said. It came out plain, but honest. Her quirk of bluntness even in unwanted situations was refreshing.
Finally dropping her pen, her fingers made their ways to knock relentlessly against her chin, "How can I guarantee that you're not trying to violate the room and use it for personal purposes then?"
Uncertainty webbed slowly like dusty clogs, sharpened with giddy panic. I knew without looking that the two was struggling for words to shatter the benefit of doubt that was not in their favor.
Maybe it was because of the absence of pessimism I expected to sense, maybe it was the discomfort of the suppressing feelings that kept hanging onto me like plague and getting rid of them may mean a faster way out of this room, back to my own problem and my well-deserved lunch time. Whatever reason it was, I decided to just wing it anyway.
"Like you have any guarantee for the other clubs the first time they're requested?"
For the first time since our exchange, her reaction seemed more readable somehow. More visible. Less subtle. The faint raise of her brow, the mild drop of her jaw, matching with the surprise in her eyes. And why not, I realized, there certainly would be very few people who had the guts to elicit a problem with a Student Council President whose infamous reputation no one would go against. They certainly were either less sane, plainly stupid, or well, less than normal.
I was probably somewhere in between.
"They're requested by teachers," she answered later than a few beats, "The others are from much consideration."
"You're saying that ours is not at all worth your consideration," I shot back flatly, suddenly paranoid that all eyes were officially upon me.
Something amused tinged the air, "Depends."
Rather than disapproving first hand, she was trying to test us instead. The act while could hinder slacking students from taking advantage of the school facility with a barrier of their so-called club and reduce the gathering of ones with vague purposes, had earned her the label of respect, albeit in a feared way. This showed a proof that behind the skin of a steely Prez everyone was desired to obey, there lay someone with dedication who was simply trying her best in what she loved doing—or at least, what she thought was right in doing. If there is a prominent reason why she was elected, this must be it.
"To say that our purpose rooted from mere interest may sound selfish. But isn't that how a club begins?" for a slip of second, my gaze met Levy's, " It grows from the intention of one to share what they enjoy. Besides, what is wrong in giving the best to what one genuinely loves?"
It sounded cheesy alright, I snorted mentally. How preachers and motivators were able to speak the simple golden words and towed faith in audience was beyond me. Coming from a mere teenager like me, it seemed like I was only spouting excuses to grant a selfish request. Levy's and Lisanna's purpose however, was probably far from selfish. Plausibly that was why, I figured, it kicked me out my neutral zone and made me—even if the slightest—want to fight along side them for what they believed was right.
"The books...I just want them to be read," Levy's quiet tone penetrated with a straight stare, "It's such a waste that they're not appreciated...I think."
"There's no other form of Literature Club anyway," Lisanna added, "It will be a new outlet to try for those who are interested."
The silence this time was puffed up with contemplation and held breaths and swirling anticipation.
We jolted. It was Lisanna who found her voice, "Excuse me?"
"I can't see why not," she repeated, "But," the triumphant group hug I was encased in froze, "I should approve on conditions."
Out of her pocket, a book in the size of a palm flapped open. The owner fixed her glasses. I was half-suspicious that they were only for the goal of taunting our teetering apprehension.
"The first main rule of creating a club," she stated, her voice almost molding into a smirk, "You need a minimum of five members upon establishment."
"But how can you walk away from something and still come back to it?"
—Neil Gaiman, Coraline
A/N : err, what has this chapter turned into I don't even know /hides in the corner/ It's been tweaked and fixed numerous times with scenes being replaced and stuffs and honestly I'm still not satisfied. The positive side is, this is the last of introductory (boring) chapters and we'll be seeing conflicts and rising actions soon enough.
Welp, feedback please? :)