Hello, thar. Meinos Kaen here!
So, ready to see exactly how difficult it is to make teens sit down and eat? Here's the second half of the second chapter of S-ClaSS! Enjoy!
"Now, pay attention here..."
"Eeew..." Thomas shivered in disgust as the flesh of the man's lips fused together, leaving him without a mouth. He backed instinctively into a corner, his high pitched cries of horror muffled by the natural barrier.
"There! Did you see that?!" Jason hollered while the scene kept on playing on the screen. "In the reflection of the sunglasses, he was still sitting in a chair!"
"Aaaah! What did they put in his navel?!" The young blonde visibly jerked back, covering his face with both hands.
"I'll take that as a no..." Jason observed, stopping the movie by tapping the screen once, freezing in a perfect shot of the main character waking up in his bed, lips normal. "Come on, there's just one other scary part!"
"Aaah! I don't want to watch any more!"
"Either you watch this or I watch a really scary one! At night!"
"Will the both of you shut the hell up?!" Catarina interrupted her reading to shout at the two boys just as Jason was about to headlock Thomas. "I can tune out a movie, but not you two squealing like pigs!"
"Shut up and go back to read. This is between movie lovers." Jason retorted with an accusing finger. The girl just rolled her eyes.
"And what a movie. It was old already at the end of the Old Era, figures now." She sighed as she observed the collection of transparent cases containing home-made disks, all collected in a metallic box beside the couch on which she was currently sprawled.
"Life is fleeting, talent is eternal." He retorted, Thomas taking advantage of the moment of distraction to sleek away, less he found himself in a dreaded headlock or worse. Catarina snorted in laughter.
"Nice one-liner. Again, old fashioned. Where did you learn it?" Jason was a bit taken back by the sudden question. He crossed his arms over his chest and looked away.
"Nowhere." Before Catarina could inquire further, there was a knock on the front door of their shared apartment. That was a welcome distraction, even if he couldn't for the life of him guess who could it be. 'Maybe a surprise inspection?' He approached the door and slid it open by touching the white square on the wall on its right.
"Good afternoon, Jas-" The door slid shut again. Jason walked leisurely back to the screen. The movie started playing again.
"... Jason, who was it?" Thomas asked, not having gotten a clear view of the person standing in the corridor. There were more knocks, louder than before. The older boy ignored the question. "Jason?"
"... Teach." He muttered. Catarina gasped and shot up from the couch while Thomas just stared in shock.
"Jason!" She shouted, opening the door in a hurry. Grace's bright smile was a little forced. "Miss Kelly, I'm sorry! Jason-"
"It's... Okay." 'He really knows how to push someone's buttons.' Grace stepped into the apartment, finding himself into a main room with four doors. A fake window on the far wall shifted from an urban scenery to a seashore. Jason and Thomas were sitting on the floor, a giant screen on the wall in front of them. Thomas was standing up to greet her. Her gaze, though, was fixed on Jason. He noticed and turned to her.
"What?" Then, he raised an eyebrow. "Oh, the rule wasn't valid for the duration of classes only?"
"... No." Grace let out, sighing. She had a feeling she would have to fill her sentences with details when talking to Jason. She dismissed those thoughts. She was there for something else. "Did you have a good lunch?"
"Yes, thanks, miss Kelly." Catarina kept her glare leveled on Jason, who just shrugged and went back to watching the movie, the volume low enough to not impede conversation.
"Good. Today I ate for the first time in the cafeteria, and I was surprised to not see you there." She noticed something strange, right there. Thomas was listening quietly but it was like Catarina and Jason had frozen. "Well, I don't know what they have told you, but-"
"We're not interested. Thanks for coming." Jason cut her off, standing and stopping the movie for good. "You know the way to the door. It's right behind you."
The suddenness of the teen's reaction surprised her. The way he brushed her off woke made her frown. "Jason, do I need to remind you-"
"Sorry if I offended you, teach. They were just directions." He said, turning to Thomas. "Hey, Thomas. I need some help with math.""Heh? Alright, but-" The young boy was probably as confused as his teacher. "I didn’t understand what miss Kelly wants to tell us."
"Don't worry, I'll explain it later, Thomas." Catarina answered before settling her hands on Grace's shoulders. She started to whisper. "Miss Kelly, please..." That confused her more than anything. It was the first time Catarina went along with Jason's behavior. She let the girl accompany her out of the room, the door sliding close immediately after. The teen then emitted a low sigh, releasing Her shoulders. "Miss Kelly, please refrain of talking about that around Thomas."
"What do you mean? All I wanted to tell you is that there's no rule against you leaving..." Catarina stared back, biting on her lower lip. 'Wait a moment.' "... You knew?"
"Me and Jason. Thomas doesn't." She admitted, bowing her head. "And we'd like it if it stayed that way."
"But why?!" Catarina raised her head to stare hard at Grace. The teacher understood. Volume. "... I don’t understand."
"If you've read his file, you know that Thomas doesn't react well to bullying and teasing. It puts him under stress, and stress sends his powers haywire." The teen continued, her eyes boring straight into hers. "Now, do you know what happens every single time S are among normal students?" She could guess. A small group of people always watched by a student or a guard sticks out like a sore thumb. "If they get into a fight, they get a reprimand or suspension. We get forced isolation. Because we're dangerous." Catarina spat the word like it was a bad medicine. "It happened to Jason, it happened to me. Each and every time, our APTs only intervened to send us to the slammer, to use one of Jason's old fashioned terms. And it's not isolation that worries us the most, with Thomas."
"... His S-Guard." Grace whispered do the words, remembering the paragraph. In Thomas' case, they couldn't manage to build one that would completely isolate his powers. Thus, they built a small device planted at the base of his neck which gives him pain any time his levels of stress go over a certain level.
"The reason Jason was at short odds with Jacobs was because he liked to pick on Thomas, which caused his S-Guard to go off a number of times." Catarina explained with venom in her voice, returning her gaze on the floor. "We don't really care about fitting in. We're disillusioned. But we don't want Thomas to get hurt." She paused, her gaze softening. "And I don't want Jason to get into trouble. So... We let Thomas believe that we always eat alone on this level because we're not allowed to do otherwise. Jason and I just prefer to be left alone." She calmed down completely. "I know we're lying to him, but-"
"I understand." Grace's tone was soft. Much softer than what Catarina expected it to be, seeing what they were telling her. As she returned her gaze to the teacher's face, she found her smiling. In an endearing way. "You're just like siblings, you know that?"
"S-Siblings?" She flushed, embarrassed, suddenly feeling out of place. Of all the reactions Miss Kelly could have had, that she hadn't thought of. "I don’t think we're-"
"Jason is the oldest, the strongest. Overprotective, and because of that he's distrustful of anyone who isn't family." Catarina slowly closed her mouth, not really having anything to say to that. Maybe the term family. "You're the big sister. You're as independent as Jason but more level-headed. It falls on you to stop Jason if he goes too far." She sighed. It fit too well. "And Thomas is the youngest." Grace's tone changed. Catarina detected a specter of sadness in her voice. "Smart, smarter than anyone else, but he's still weak. He still needs his older siblings to help him from time to time. Until he can walk on his own legs." The last part was barely more than a whisper. Then Grace's face turned serious. "But I want you to understand that making you all able to do that is my objective. It's also the reason why protecting Thomas like this will prove counterproductive in the long run."
"What do you mean?" Catarina forgot etiquette, but she let it slide. She wasn't the kind to abuse any trust.
"What if Thomas suddenly gets transferred? What about when you all graduate?" Grace knew that she was causing turmoil in Catarina but it was to be done. The young girl looked like she had been slapped. "You won't be able to protect Thomas forever. Nor will you all be able to avoid the world for the duration of your lives. The great contradiction of the S-Program is that it's supposed to help you integrate in the world by removing you from it for years." 'Now I understand. 'Persuade' them.' She recalled the headmaster's words as she gently grasped Catarina's shoulders, the girls focusing on her eyes again, startled. "Catarina, I want to change things for you, I want to help. But I need you to accept my help."
"Oh, come on, Jason!" Thomas laughed at Jason's confused face as he stared at the lines of numbers and operators on his reader. "You still haven't got it?!"
"Well, I get that it's supposed to be good at what it does, being efficient and all..." He joked, a wry smile signaling to Thomas that he was leading him on. The young boy took a swing at Jason's shoulder, who just took it and mocked excruciating pain. "Oooow! I'm cut!"
"Because you're so sharp." Thomas stared. Then he physically assaulted Jason, the two ending up brawling on the ground, Catarina staring all the while.
Thomas was laughing and she knew that Jason also enjoyed himself when he played with the younger boy, but she also knew that that particular session, like math before it, was an expedient to make the boy forget about Grace's visit of that afternoon. She couldn't forget, though. She had been the one talking to the woman after she left the room. She had been the one who got filled with doubts.
Grace's words echoed in her mind, and with each rebound she find more truth in them. Indeed, sooner or later they'd find themselves unable to protect Thomas, be it because of bureaucracy or the simple passage of time. They were keeping him sheltered maybe too much because of his age when compared to their year, but it couldn't last. It had to not last. "... Thomas."
"Owowow! What, Cat-Jason, stop!"
"You just need your ears and mouth. Your ankles are fair game!" Jason said as he slightly twisted the younger boy's right ankle, making him cry out. Catarina sighed. Might as well just get it over with.
"Miss Kelly told us that it's okay for us to go out as long as we're not alone." Jason let the ankle fall to the ground, staring at the girl in shock. Thomas went from relief at being released to surprise and a big smile.
"Really?!" Catarina nodded. "Then why-"
"Thomas, we can, but I'm not sure we should. I'm not sure you should." Jason was still staring at her like she had sprouted wings. Not that unusual in those days but still a big surprise to see it happen. Thomas was just confused. "Thomas, we can both assure you that the other students are not going to be happy to see us. Some may be curious. Other interested, but no one would be happy. Especially in this school." If in other schools they would simply get ostracised or teased by the more daring ones, in that one there would be a nice amount of fear mixed in. Rumours like a teacher leaving the school grounds feet first because of an S became never forgotten stories. "We know what happens when you get too upset, right?"
"Oh." It downed on him. Then he made a quick connection with Jason's sudden inquiries about math and rude dismissal of miss Kelly without an apparent reason. "That's why you didn’t tell me before."
"... Sorry, Thomas. It's just-" Jason sighed. The cat was out of the bag, may as well come clean will have it. "You know how I almost jumped at Jacobs's throat after the last time he set off your S-Guard. We were worried some hotshot may try it again."
"So, I look that bulliable." Thomas smiled sadly, which sent Jason into a panic. The blonde S chuckled. "It's okay. I know you didn’t mean that, even if it's true." The question that came to him next was... "What did miss Kelly say to change your mind?"
"Yeah. I'm curious myself." Jason stated, glaring at Catarina with his arms crossed. And he still hadn't moved off Thomas.
"She made me notice that we're slightly babying you." The girl continued, moving a lock of hair out of her face. Jason kept his silence. "She's right. I mean, when I first met Jason, three years ago, he did help me with bullying but he also taught me how to deal with it on my own." Thomas was really surprised by the statement.
"You were bullied, Catarina?"
"Oh, you don't know the half of it." Jason snorted, finally getting off Thomas' back. "She used to wear long clothes, cover her face with her hair and cry all the time."
"Not all the time." Catarina retorted, embarrassed. "Just when they picked on me."
"So, I took pity on her and kicked two guys in the crotch. When I got out of isolation, I told her to stop acting like a sissy." He continued, enjoying how Thomas cringed at the mental images. "Don't ask me where she got the idea for the clothes. I only taught her some moves."
"And you still haven't told me who taught you. It's not brawling." He waved his hand around, dismissing the matter without giving an answer, as always. She returned her attention to Thomas, who was now standing. "The point is, we eventually decided that it was better if we just made ourselves scarce. But it's ours decision, not yours, Thomas. We took it from you, and that's not right." Jason just listened, while Thomas took in the words. "So, what we want to ask is, is it okay for you to keep eating in the underground level or do you want to eat in the cafeteria?"
Thomas lowered his head, in thought. "Well, it's true that we may not have a warm reception, and I'm the first who worries about my S-Guard..." Saying that, he instinctively brought a hand to the base of his neck, under his hair, resting his fingertips on plastic and metal. "But I would like to see the sun more often, you know."
"... Well, I guess I'd like to get more of a tan." The oldest South stated, to which Catarina reacted with an amused stare.
"In November?" He shrugged.
"Tanning is a way of life." He said, nodding to himself. "Can't remember who said that, but he was really young. And psychotic."
Thomas chuckled. He remembered. "So... Lunchtime?"
"Intriguing ones, Richards." Roberts couldn't help but smile as he read the latest message he received on his PC, or at least the one he used for work. He mostly used it to contact the teaching staff, and it was a teacher who conveyed that message. "Seems like we're gonna have Special guests for lunch."
"Who? Don't tell me it's dose civvies punks already!" He said, slamming his hand on the table right after. "I swear, sir! This year, for sure-"
"Find some good students for the team first, Richards." Mrs Kaytlin said, taking a seat on the other side of the table, in front of the P.E. teacher. "Make your selections before empty boasts."
"I'll show you empty!" Richards roared, which resounded unusually loud in the cafeteria. Even if it wasn't a normal tone of voice, the chatter of a such a crowd of students was sure to overcome it. As he focused on his surroundings, he heard it dyeing down. "What-Hey!" He laid eyes on Mrs Kaytlin and almost had an heart attack as her right hand suddenly crushed her drinking glass in pieces. Her face went pale and tight. "What the hell, lady?! You're the only one with unbreakable skin, here!"
"She... She dares!" The woman let out inbetween clenched teeth. Richards turned in the same direction. Roberts was already observing, the woman's incident not bothering him in the slightest.
"Oh. Will you look at that." Being P.E., Richards was the only person other than Grace and the headmaster who could recognize the trio at the top of a hat. Or at least who should. Mrs Kaytlin's stare went way beyond simple recognition.
"Told you." Jason commented. The whole room was staring in their direction. "We're sticking out. They already know who we are."
"Probably. But maybe it's because you're the only ones not wearing the school uniform?" Grace suggested, the three S's clothes being the only things breaking the sea of magenta and dark green. Catarina stared at her boots. "Thomas, you ok?"
"Yes. I mean, they're just staring." Just didn’t make the action much justice. Their casual clothes, Catarina's boyish attire, Thomas' age and Jason's red eyes made the trio too curious a sight to not stare at.
"Okay. Teach, you and Catarina find a table. Me and Thomas are getting in line first." Grace cleared her throat. Jason rolled his eyes. "Could you please, teach, find us a table?"
"Slightly better." Jason seemed to have taken the threat of examinations in stride and started acting accordingly, barring some reprimands, but it seemed like he wasn't going to stop calling her 'teach' anytime soon. She nodded to Catarina which followed her as she started walking.
"Don't make eye-contact if you're that nervous." Jason warned Thomas as they walked side by side to the counter.
"Easy to say..." The young S couldn't turn in any direction without finding a pair of eyes staring right back. The buzz of discussion was quickly rising again, and he could guess what the new common topic was. As Jason stopped at the end of the line, he took a deep breath as he took a tray. 'Calm down. Jason, Catarina and miss Kelly think you can do this. It's nothing difficult, just lunch in the cafeteria. You've already done it hundreds of times. Let them stare.' Thomas repeated in his mind. 'Stares can't hurt you.'
"Yo, there." In a couple minutes, ignoring the stares the three girls in front of him were giving him, Jason had finally reached the counter. A salt and pepper hair woman was staring at him from behind the counter, hard, arms crossed. "What?"
Thomas groaned. "Jason, you can't greet strangers with 'Yo'." The woman turned to Thomas, her gaze somewhat softer. "Sorry, he's not used to respecting his elders."
"Hmm... So, you're the three extras I prepare twice a day." Jason raised an eyebrow at that. Where did she see-
"Yes. Thanks for the effort." He turned around, finding Catarina and Grace standing in line behind Thomas.
"Weren't you supposed to find us a table?"
"It's taken care of." Grace pointed to his left. He followed her finger until she laid eyes on a mostly empty table, where a woman wearing a labcoat was waving at them.
"... Okay." He decided to focus on the food. "What do you have, today?"
"Roastbeef. And mashed potatoes." The woman snapped her fingers and the other people wearing aprons took plates and started filling them with said dishes. "The ones which make you clean your plates whenever I send them down."
"... Guilty." Jason admitted with a grin. He did pick it clean. "Thanks a lot." He said as he collected his plate, leaving Grace shocked.
'He did a 180? That easily?' Grace couldn't wrap himself around Jason becoming so polite so quickly towards anyone. At least from how he acted towards her. It was still on her mind as they sat at the table without any incidents, the school nurse having vacated the table as the group approached, joining the other teachers. As they ate, she couldn't help but keep staring at the red-eyed teen, the whole thing ticking her off. Just a little. Really. It wasn't like she was bitter because he had acted politely towards a complete stranger after less than five minutes while she had to threaten him with tests to get the result of being called teach. Not at all.
"What?" She got broken our of her reverie as Jason spoke. She had been staring, after all. He looked ticked off as well. "I'm positive I did nothing disrespectful, teach." He paused. "At least in the last ten minutes."
"No, you didn't. That's what's bothering me." She put her spoon down. "You've been awfully respectful, barring a shaky beginning." He stared. Then he grinned.
"You jealous, teach?" Again. The nickname was really getting on her nerves. He was taking advantage of the fact she wanted to treat them like equals and playing with how much she wanted them to open up to her. "Well, that's the level of trust that only not poisoning or messing delicious food up for three months straight can give you. Ah, and she's not supposed to be our jailer. That helps too." He shrugged his shoulders. "Am I right, Thomas?"
"I-I guess." Catarina had been focused on the exchange between teacher and student, so Thomas' high level of nervousness was only noticed when he spoke, if his shaky voice was any indication.
"Thomas, what's wrong?" Grace gently grasped his left shoulder. He was shaking.
"I think I know." Catarina stared with a frown, staring in the direction of the table where the other teachers were sitting. Including the blonde woman who was sending an icy glare their way. It unnerved Catarina. She had had her fair share of looks ever since the incident, but never something so full of hate. Neither had Thomas.
"Kaytlin." Grace sighed. 'It was to be expected.'
"I knew this was a stupid idea." Jason stated, glaring back the teacher's way, who just kept on glaring unfazed.
Grace ignored the jab at her and lowered her head to whisper to the nervous blonde. "Thomas, you have to think of something else. Anything else."
"Yeah, what? The rest of the room?" The brown-haired S commented, and this time it was Grace who glared. Didn't he notice that by antagonizing her he also making Thomas' situation worse? "And it's not him, but everyone else who should try and think of something else, teach." That gave her pause. There was some merit to those words.
'If I make them think not of who we are, but of something we're doing.' Suddenly, a memory of her school days gave her an idea. The more she thought about it, the more she liked it. She took her spoon. Catarina noticed her smirk, Jason didn't.
"Next time you invite us to lunch, make sure no one has-!"
There was silence. Gasps, some really loud. It was like time had stopped, and for once even Roberts was speechless. He had been observing the whole scene, not putting a stop to mrs Kaytlin's antics because he wanted to see how Grace would handle the situation. Never in a million years could he have thought of what she had just done as a solution.
Jason could feel the whole room staring at him and him only, now. He slowly removed the sticky, salty substance from his eyes, thankful for having had the reflexes to close them in time. He opened them again to find Thomas gaping at him, Catarina at Grace, who grinned in her seat across from him, her right hand still holding the spoon, the tip of her left index finger covered in the same stuff now plastered on his face."... Miss Kelly." He let out in a very strained voice, licking part of the offending weapon. "Did you just fling mashed potatoes at my face?"
"Why, yes, Jason. Yes I did." She replied, earning a snort from Sienna as she broke down in laughter. Thomas was trying to keep it in for Jason's sake but failing miserably. Catarina was hiding her face behind her hands, but the way her body was shaking told him everything he needed to know.
"... You're dead." Jason stated, which earned him more gasps and Mrs Kaytlin actually paled. Grace was unfazed. "You're so dead." She was too focused on his spoon. She ducked as he sent his own projectile flying.
"Aaah!" Much to his horror, he had hit a girl on a nearby table on the arm.
"I-I'm sorry! I-Hey!" A boy sitting at the girl's table had hit him in the shoulder as he stood up.
"Leave her alone, you f-Waaah!" A large amount of food had flown over Jason's head and landed on the boy's head. The S turned around and laid eyes on a grinning Thomas, a freshly flicked spoon in his right hand. The victim went red in the face, the potatoes starting to steam and fizzle. "You damn pipsqueak!"
"Hey! What did I do?!" Another girl said, as Catarina's throw went sailing too much to the west. Sienna, observing from afar, laughed and started preparing for the hostilities. This was going to be fun.
-II-"Stupid rules, stupid potatoes, stupid..." Jason trailed off in a murmur as he reminded himself that miss Kelly was with him in the cafeteria. "Why am I the only one cleaning?!"
"Because you started it." She replied from her seat.
"No. You started it." He retorted, pointing at her with the wet end of his mop. She shrugged, smiling.
"I'm a teacher. Try and remember that more often." He grumbled and splashed the mop in the nearby wheeled bucket, wetting the floor again.
"I can't wait to change my clothes." Since he had to be cleaning, he decided to wait before changing his clothes. He could see how most of the students continuing their lunch outside had already changed into their tracksuits. This included Catarina and Thomas, who were sitting on the grass along with Sienna. Thomas was laughing. "... Well, today wasn't about me, though. It was all about Thomas."
"I agree. Although, seeing the amount of potatoes you got hit with, there's no way anyone will consider you dangerous." She laughed as Jason went red in the face.
"They ganged up on me! How was I supposed to know the girl I hit first was that popular?! And..." He trailed off. Grace followed his gaze. A couple of second years had approached Thomas, one of them being the guy who had called him pipsqueak. They talked for a few seconds. They then shared a laugh and high-fives. "... Huh. Will you look at that." Jason commented, amused, before returning to his cleaning.
"What?" Grace was confused. She had understood that Thomas had had no trouble from that boy, but Jason seemed to have understood more.
"They complimented him on his aim." He said. He could still feel her staring at him. He sighed and stopped wiping again. "I can read lips."
"You... Where did you learn that?" No reply, he just resumed cleaning.
"There are only two other persons who know that, including me." He continued, surprising Grace with that statement. "Think of it as a peace offering. I still don't trust you, I don't know if Catarina and Thomas do, but... They like you." With one last wipe, he raised the he mop and put it in the bucket again. "So, I can at least make that effort."
"... Will you also stop calling me teach?" She asked, hopeful. Jason smirked. 'Worth a try.'
"Not a chance. Think of it as my punishment for the food fight, teach."
That'll teach him, right? ... No, I don't think so. Jason is snark!
Meinos Kaen out!