The crowd began to murmur and disperse.
”That was pretty cool,” Kenny commented. “I was wondering why this school had such a funny name. I guess it makes sense.”
”I think the whole loneliness thing was the original message of the school, but it's not so huge now.” The rat replied, a bit sadly. “To be honest, I think the only one keeping it alive is Mrs. Oulryk. I dunno what would happen if she ever left.”
”You mean when.” The rabbit pointed out.
Rini looked at Lyza. “Yeah... I guess it's just a matter of when.”
”Things would change.” The rabbit said, as they had the room to begin walking. “They might be good, they might be bad; we won't be here, either way.”
”Hey, I gotta go find my den leader,” Panda said, “We all came with him, so...”
Kenny waved. “It was nice meeting some of you guys,” the younger panda said.
”Nice meeting you, too, Kenny.” Rini returned. She watched as the two brothers hurried off in the direction of some of the other boys in uniform. She turned to where the rabbit was, and found that Lyza had not stopped. “Hey! Lyza, wait up!”
The rabbit curled her face in anger for a second, before forcing it to relax as she turned about. “What?”
”Where's,” the rat took a breath, starting over. “Is your brother here?” She asked.
They both turned, spotting the taller rabbit as he waved to them. He wore a dark-blue shirt and jeans, so the light mostly glowed off of his hands, arms, and head, giving him the appearance of a disjointed puppet. “What happened to meeting me at the corner of the gym, huh?” He admonished, as they approached. “I thought you wanted to go home as soon as I was done with the races.”
”I was gonna,” Lyza replied, sourly. “But I got roped into watching the fireworks.” Her right ear subtly dipped toward the rodent, as if motioning to point.
”Oh,” the rat said, a bit meekly. “I'm sorry, I didn't know...”
”Hey, I remember you,” the older rabbit said, motioning to the familiar girl. “You were at the concert a little while back, with Kelly.”
”Y—Uh, yeah,” the rat nodded, nervously scratching at her arm. “If I knew you were planning on leaving earlier, I wouldn't have dragged your sister along,” she said.
”No big deal,” he said with a smile. “I'd rather she stayed with friends, anyway.”
The rabbit's nose wrinkled.
”Where's your ride home?” The older brother asked. “Is your mom looking for you?”
”Oh... um...” The rat looked about. “I... I came with some friends, but...” she swallowed. “I... I can't go home with them.”
”Uh oh, why not?”
”They... might not be friends, anymore,” she replied in a mumble.
He put on an expression of concern, glancing toward his sister, who was standing with her arms folded, watching others pass by. He pulled out his phone. “What's your mom's number?”
The rat bit her lip, rattling off her home's phone.
After a moment of him standing with his phone to his ear, he replied to a greeting: “Hi there, is this Mrs...”
”Isonheim,” the rat said.
”Isonheim? Yes, sorry I'm calling so late. My name is Kval, I'm Lyza's brother. … Lyza, from school; she's in your daughter's class. She's here, if you want to talk to her?” He squatted down. “Here,” he whispered.
The girl took the phone, holding it carefully with both hands as she brought it to her ear. “Hey mom. Um... No, but she is in my class, I sit right by her. No, mom, I'm at school, remember? It's the festival; they have it every year? Can you come get me? Ri— Right, I was, b— Okay... Yes ma'am...” She sighed, and proffered the phone up to the taller rabbit. “Here,” she said.
”Hello. Actually, I was gonna offer to drive her home. Nah, it's no big deal. I'm at the school already, so it'll be less of a hassle if you're comfortable with it. Alrighty, then, I'll get her home as quick as a bunny. Uh-huh, m'bye.” He ended the call. “Okay, um... Sorry, I forgot your name.”
”Rini,” she said, extending her hand.
”Rini,” he replied, shaking it. “I'll be your chariot home, so let's get a move on before it gets much later,” he ushered, taking his sister's hand into his other. Though, he had to snag it from her folded arms.
They cut through the third-grade hallway, the puke-green bricks bringing back a sense of nostalgia to the rat. As they approached the near-middle of the stretch, she spoke out, “hey, wait a sec.”
The older rabbit paused. “What's up?” He asked.
Rini looked at the classroom door just before them, slightly to the left. She pointed. “Remember, Lyz?” She asked. “That was our classroom. Feels like forever ago, to me.”
”Oh,” the older rabbit said with a smile. “So you guys knew each other for a while, huh?”
”I think we had first grade together, too,” the rat replied.
”We did.” The rabbit confirmed.
”It's hard to remember,” Rini giggled. “Seems like you were only in school a few days out of every week, or something.”
Suddenly, both rabbits' muzzles drooped in frowns.
”Sorry to cut the reminiscence short,” the older rabbit said, “but I wanna make sure I get you home before your mom gets really worried.”
”Sure,” the rat agreed as they started to walk again. “What does that word mean, though?”
”What word?” He asked.
”Rem-since?” She asked. “Something like that.”
”Rem-i-ni-scence,” Lyza replied, as they passed through the lobby.
”Do you know, sis?” The older brother questioned, a smile on his face as he opened the door for them.
”I dunno,” she grumbled. “It's like when you think about the past, I guess.”
”That's pretty good,” the brother acknowledged.
”Oh, okay,” the rat nodded. “I kinda figured that's what it meant, but I wasn't sure.”
They made their way down the cross-walks to the first level of the parking lot, and a brief pulse of amber pointed out where the older rabbit's car was. His sister splintered off as he walked Rini toward the driver-side, opening up the back door. “Sorry,” he commented, noticing a pair of shoes on the floorboard in her way, “just move those over.”
As Rini reached to move the shoes and climb in, the passenger door opened.
”Hey, sis,” her brother said through the gap between the seats.
Lyza froze. “Yeah?”
”Why don't you sit back here to keep your friend company,” he suggested.
”It's okay. I'm—” Rini flinched when the passenger door shut a bit harshly.
”Hey, sis. Be careful.”
The door to Rini's right opened.
”Sorry,” the rabbit grumbled, plopping into the seat and closing the door with deliberate care.
”Buckle up,” he told them, opening his door. “That's the—” he hissed as his knee hit the steering-wheel on the way in, “—rule in my car,” he said through gritted teeth.
”You okay?” The rat asked, her buckle clicking securely.
”He's fine,” his sister replied, dryly.
Kval let out a puff of air. “You'd figure I'd know where that is by now,” he chuckled. “Okay, so,” he leaned over, opening the glove compartment and fishing out his GPS. “First thing's first: can you give me an idea of where you live? We might have to get gas depending on how far it is.”
”I live on Twilight Crest,” Rini said. “It's actually not too far from school.”
The rabbit paused, GPS console in his hand. “Twilight Crest?”
”Uh-huh. It's two-seven—”
”Nah, don't worry about it. I know where that is,” he interrupted, dropping the GPS console to the passenger seat and starting the car.
”You do?” His sister questioned.
”Of course.” He replied, backing out of the space and heading out of the lot, orange light from the lamps above sluicing through the windshield. “I know 'dish town like 'da back-a my hyaand,” he said with the inflection of a mobster.
”But, honestly,” he explained, turning on his blinker and pausing at a stop-sign. “We live on Swan Trail.”
”Um...” Rini thought. “I dunno what you mean.”
”What I mean is,” he changed his headlights, “from our house: go down our street, then take a right,” he said, while bearing left. “Then, you'll pass three streets, and you come to a dead-end where you can only go left or right; and that's the northern cut into Twilight Crest.”
”Wow, really?” The rat said with genuine surprise. She looked over to the quiet rabbit beside her. “You mean you guys have lived that close to me this whole time?”
Kval chuckled. “Small world, eh?”
”That means she lives in Snoodsville, right?” Lyza asked.
”Excuse me?” He slowed, looking back for a second. “Don't be rude, sis.”
She shrugged. “I'm only calling it what you've always called it.” She replied with an accusatory emphasis.
”I mean,” the rat spoke up. “It kinda is... I'm sure everyone calls my neighborhood something like that.”
”That doesn't excuse you from being rude, sis,” he admonished. “I'll admit I probably shouldn't have called it that, but you should know better.”
”Sorry,” she mumbled, going through the motions of apology.
Rini shrugged. “It's okay.” She said, and then giggled. “Your big brother is a lot different from mine.”
”Oh?” Kval's ear twitched. “You have a big brother, too?”
”I have four,” the rat said.
”Whoa,” the rabbit exclaimed. “So... you're the youngest?”
Lyza propped her elbow onto the door-handle arm-rest, resting her temple against her palm with a quiet sigh as they talked.
”How much older are they?”
”Well,” Rini said, counting on her hand, which passed into light every few moments. “Alex is the oldest, he's twenty-four; then comes Bart, he's twenty-one—both of them are away at college.”
Lyza rolled her eyes.
”Then my other two brothers are in high school. Max is seventeen—he's a senior. And Theo is fourteen—he's a sophomore.”
”All about three years apart,” the brother noted.
”Uh-huh,” the rat confirmed. “Mom and dad wanted a girl from the beginning. They tried every three years, but kept getting boys. After Theo, they kinda thought about giving up, which is why I'm four years apart. But, they wound up trying again, and so here I am,” she said with a shrug.
”What's that, Lyz?” Kval asked.
”I said, that's very special,” she repeated, except this time forcing her voice to be light and charming.
”You're not still worried you're in trouble, are you?” Rini questioned, also having heard the slight, and then the change in attitude.
”What kinda question is that?” Lyza retorted.
”Well I don't want you to get grounded cuz of where I live,” Rini answered.
”Nah, she won't get grounded,” the driving rabbit interjected. “Cuz you'd just be in there studying away like you've been since Spring Break,” he predicted.
”M—Maybe,” his sister replied, almost reluctantly.
”What have you been studying?” Rini asked curiously.
”Hold that thought,” the older rabbit said, stopping at a three-way intersection. “This is the stop I was talkin' about earlier. So... which way do I go, Miss Isonheim?”
”Left,” she instructed. “My house is on the right, a little ways down. It's... the biggest one, you... you can't miss it.”
”Of course it is,” the rabbit next to her whispered under her breath.
For a few moments, they were in silence. Lyza stared out her window, watching as ornately-hedged bushes passed by at fifteen miles an hour. This was just the circumference of Snoodsville, which meant that Rini was actually on the poorer side of the neighborhood. Even still, the houses that lined the street—with their lush, broad lawns, closed garages, and stone mailboxes—were all at least two stories, and probably had a dozen rooms.
”This one,” the rat said in a meek voice, pointing out her home.
It gave more the impression of a castle than a house.
The driveway was in the shape of a C, with a large wisteria in the middle. The light-purple flowers were lit by motion-sensing lights situated on a lone sycamore tree on the left corner of the lot. A few cars were parked along the curve of the driveway, all on the outer edge—or the edge closest to the house—but not directly blocking the house.
The house itself was three stories tall, with the third story slightly smaller than the first two. It was painted in a slightly lighter purple than the flowers of the wisteria, perhaps lightened by the onslaught of the sun. Several windows were lit up, and one on the second floor was even open, though with a screen covering it.
Kval whistled, passing the near mouth of the driveway in favor of the farther one, so that Rini would not have to walk around the car to get to her front door.
Lyza sat up straighter and quietly took in a deep breath, keeping her relief that this was about to be all over in-check. The car stopped before the door, on the inside of the curve. The engine was killed, the cabin went dark, and high-toned beeps warned Kval that he had unbuckled his seatbelt.
”Home sweet,” he said, opening his door to halt the incessant warning, and to turn the light on.
Lyza punched the release of the seatbelt and the door at the same time. She whipped out of the car, turning about and shutting the door quickly, but once again gently. She walked about the back of the car, standing by the tail-light as Rini got out.
”Got everything?” Kval asked.
”Yeah,” the rat replied. “I didn't bring anything,” she clarified, shutting the door.
They walked the few paces to the front door, and Rini knocked. A few moments later, the bolt crunched and the door opened. “Hello, sorry I wasn't expecting you guys so soon,” said Mrs. Isonheim, even as she opened the door.
She appeared to either have just gotten out of the shower, or was just about to step into it. She was a bit heavy-set, but less so than Mrs. Alatyrtsev. She was wearing a maroon-colored robe with a black sash, and white slippers. What was most noticeable, however, was how her fur compared to her daughter's: the mother's fur, untreated, was a solid, muddy brown.
”Thank you so much for bringing her home.” She said sweetly to the rabbits. Then, her voice became hushed and paternal, “What happened to Bitty and Betty taking you home?”
”I'll tell you later,” her daughter replied through gritted teeth.
”No problem,” said the older rabbit. “We live just down the road, as it turns out.”
”Oh, really?” She said, brightly. “What's your name again, hun?” She asked to the younger rabbit.
”Lyza,” Rini answered for her.
”Listria?” The mother tried to repeat.
”You can just call me Liz,” the rabbit interjected quickly, her demeanor obviously flustered.
”Oh, okay,” the mother nodded. “I usually try to keep track of my daughter's friends—you said you were in the same class?”
She looked up to the brother. “Did you just move here recently?”
”No, mom,” her daughter grumbled. “She's been in some of my other classes.”
”Oh,” the mother replied, clearly losing out on things to small-talk about. “Well, we'll have to get better acquainted later, especially if you live just down the road,” she said politely to the rabbits. “We usually have a little neighborhood get-together once a month. I'll be sure to send an invitation.”
The older brother smiled. “Sounds like fun,” he replied noncommittally.
”We'll let you get home. Have a good night.”
”G'night,” Rini bid to her classmate.
Lyza silently held her hand up in a minimal wave as she turned ahead of her brother. The door closed behind them rather quickly.
”If they live close enough, maybe you can go home with her instead of the Lamberts.”
”Mom! Isn't that kinda rude?”
”Not if they don't mind. That way you could walk, instead of someone having to drive every day.”
”What's up?” The older brother asked, noticing his sister had stalled and was looking distantly at the potted plant in the shape of a ball just to the side of the door, her left ear honed in on the door.
”Nothing.” She replied, and followed him to the car. She walked around the front, and hopped into the passenger seat.
”I know it's only a few streets 'till home, but you still have to buckle.”
Silently, she did so, as he started the car. “So,” he began, as they passed out onto the street. “If that was the little miss perfect you were talking about before,” he paused, waiting for a jogger to cross the street. “It seems like she's pretty average to me. What with you knowing a word she didn't, and all.”
”She's just acting.” The rabbit declared, bitterly. “She hasn't changed a bit since third grade.”
”Sucks, when people don't change.” He commented.
”Tell me about it,” she agreed, looking at the mirror, watching where they had just been slowly disappear into the distance and darkness. “If I'm lucky, I won't see her in middle school.”
”You know what sucks the worst?” He asked rhetorically, turning onto their street. “When you try really hard to change, but the people you really wish would notice it... They don't want to let you. They just see you as who you were, before.”
She thought about his words until they pulled into their driveway, but as usual his philosophical way of talking sort of tired her. She yawned in the darkness, before the car-light turned on when the door was opened.
When she got out of the car and turned toward her front door, she found that her path had an obstacle.