The storms over the weekend were the last to be expected for some time. They came, they ruined the weekend, and now they left. In their wake, the sun-baked ground began to dry, pulling the water into the air. Even indoors, there was a sort of film on the desks and chairs, and there was a seething envy toward the kids that sat closest to the air-conditioner vents.
Then, there was outdoors, where nothing abated the sunlight, but for brief moments granted by clouds. The very air sapped the energy from anyone foolish enough to move for more than a few minutes at a time.
There were an alarming number of fools.
Lyza actually sort of didn't mind it. Maybe it was because her pelt wasn't thick or scruffy, and being white meant that most of the sunlight was reflected off of her. She still didn't go out into the sun at all, though. Once recess had started, just a few moments ago, she was slow to get outside and quick to find a shady spot in the New Grounds.
She would have gone to the library, as she had off-and-on for the past few weeks. But, after being cooped up inside over the weekend, she wasn't that eager to stay indoors.
She wasn't alone in her hovel of shade behind the tires. The beaver-boy who was with her during the Spelling Bee was there, chewing on his nails as usual. There were another couple of boys playing a trading-card game or something. They announced when they tapping their cards, whatever that meant; for there wasn't much finger-tapping happening, not that she was complaining.
They didn't mind her, and she didn't mind them. Beside her, the sunlight streamed through the ring of the tire, creating an ellipse in the sand. She stared at the spot for a moment. Eventually, her hand went to it. She rested her palm on the sand, and the sunlight warmed the back of her hand. The baby-blue polish, that she had put on her fingers yesterday out of boredom, twinkled and sparkled as the light caught the crystals of glitter.
Her forefinger began tracing idly in the sand, but then after a few rubs of erasure, the drawing began to take a form. She was no Panda, but after a few minutes she had drawn what looked like a little five-pointed flower. With the way the sun shined on it, and the shadow all about, it almost looked like it was glowing within the darkness.
Then, one of the rare clouds in the sky must have covered the sun, for the light faded and everything melded into an ambient shade.
The rabbit looked up to her left, to see a Siamese kitten glancing down at her.
”There you are.”
She looked to her right, and saw a mirror-image kitten.
Tabitha and Tabetha were standing on either side of the tire-climb set, and therefore on either side of the rabbit.
The beaver-boy paused in his chewing, but the other boys were too engrossed in arguing over instance-order and rules to pay attention to the girls that had invaded their sanctuary.
”Us to find;”
”You, she wants;”
The rabbit looked down. “Then she can come talk to me if she wants.” She half-expected something like this to happen.
Nothing had been said about the little drawing that Panda had done, and that Rini had seen. She had been glancing back at the rabbit periodically throughout the morning, like something was on her mind.
”You have to;”
”Go to her, she;”
The rabbit looked up at both of them. By now, the kids playing cards had ended their squabbling, and had taken notice of the cootie-infested intruders. The rabbit let out a sigh, and made to crawl toward the opening between the support-pole of the platform above their heads, and the beaver-boy.
When she was out in the sunlight, the kittens were standing with her in-between them, like they were police escorts or something. She motioned for them to lead the way.
She was guided toward the New Swings. She saw right away that Rini had nestled herself into one of the thrones. She was sitting still in the one on the end, while the other four swingers were in the midst of having fun in their coveted seats.
There was a small crowd of other kids standing around nearby, against the shaded wall of the first-grade all. They waited for when one of the swingers might dismount, so they could claim the vacant spot.
”Her, she was;”
”Under the tires,” they both finished.
”Hey, Lyz.” The rat said with a smile, holding onto the chains. She glanced as one of the girls on the other end of the swing-set squealed, the bar above her head rattling with stress.
”What do you want?” The rabbit said, crossing her arms.
Rini glanced back at the rabbit. “Nothing, just,” she dragged her toe through the sand. “I ran out here to get the swings, and it kinda reminded me how you used to do that earlier this year...”
The rabbit glanced at the other kids, poised to take a swing once it was neglected by its current occupant. “'Grats,” she muttered. “Have fun.” She started to turn.
The rabbit's nose wrinkled. She paused mid-turn, as if the call froze her entirely.
Rini pushed her hands toward one another, the chains yielding just a little. The sides of the swing curled snugly against her. “You get to swing much this year?” She relinquished her hold on the chains, and her hands went back and forth as they worked away the tension he had applied to them, rattling at the high joints over her head.
”Who cares?” The rabbit responded, curtly.
”Well, cuz, if you want,” the rat stood. “You can have my swing.”
The rabbit was still, glancing at the rat with just one eye. Her nose wrinkled again, her lip flaring as the muscle twitched in what appeared to be agitation. She could also see one of the twins in the corner of her eye; the other one was probably behind her or something.
”C'mon,” Rini reached for the rabbit's hand. “I know you like t—”
”Don't touch me!” Lyza's fingers snaked around the back of the rat's hand, over the wrist, and her other palm came up with the sharp turn of her body to push the prissy girl back.
Rini's upper-body teetered back. Her left hand flailed, trying to find a purchase to keep her from falling; unfortunately, the swing failed to catch her. But, it did soften her fall as it grazed along her back, though the rubber snagging on her fur was not very pleasant at all.
She sat up, batting the swing out of the way to keep it from bumping into her head. She saw Lyza hastily walking away, and the twins were sprinting just ahead of her to block the bunny's path. Rini got to her feet, and jogged over to them just as they each grabbed one of Lyza's hands.
”Hey!” Rini shouted. “Let her go!”
”We gotta take;”
”Her to the teach.”
”Do anything to her,” the rat said in a stern tone, “and I'll dye your fur so bad, you'll have to go skimmy.”
The felines exchanged glances.
Such a threat, especially among girls, was not to be taken lightly. The idea of having their fur shaved off was a social nightmare for many; and the more one feared that possibility, the more sincere the threat was.
Lyza straightened up when she was let go.
Rini stood in front of the rabbit. “Sorry, I didn't mean to...” She took in a breath. “I'm sorry. No hard feelings?” She held out her hand.
The rabbit clenched her teeth. She gazed at the proffered hand, and then back up into the rat's eyes. Without warning, she spat, tagging the rat on the cheek, and whipped around, power-walking away while the rat flinched and, she assumed, gagged and convulsed into a pile of goop with utter disgust.
She headed to where she should have gone in the first place. Her tennis shoes clapped along the sidewalk in the courtyard as she went toward the school building. It was a long walk, for the entire first and third-grade hallways were to her left and right. About halfway toward her goal, she heard rapid footfalls. Balling her hands, she whipped around. “Stop following me,” she growled.
The wolf pup slowed, and then approached the last few feet to the girl in a slow walk. “Hey,” he said, in a terse manner. “Is there a problem?”
The rabbit's nose wrinkled. “Not unless you have one.” She replied.
”Well, I might, see,” he folded his arms, walking around her as he spoke. “I didn't really like how you pushed my girlfriend.”
The rabbit let out a hitched breath through her nose, like a chuckle. “So, whatchya gonna do about it? Beat me up?”
”Yeah, right,” he paused, shaking his head. “Sorry, no. I'm not gonna get in trouble over someone I don't even know.”
The rabbit gritted her teeth, almost as if to hide another expression. “Then get out of my fucking way,” she ordered wolf, barging past him. She half-expected him to stop her, but he didn't. So, she started jogging to reach the doors faster.
Goren watched as she hurried to the side-entrance of the library. “Man,” he muttered. “What the heck is with her?”
”Whatever it is, I think you made it worse.”
He turned. “You hurt or anything?” He asked.
”I'm fine,” Becky replied. “Just a little sand up my shorts,” Naomi added.
”C'mon, let's tell a teacher.”
Becky laughed. “You want to go tell a teacher? What would Ritzer say to that?”
”Ritzer can't say anything; this is none of his business. I'll handle this the way I want.”
Becky shook her head. “Nope. You're not gonna do anything. You had your chance.” Ingrid held his hand. “Please.”
He let out a hmph. “What are you gonna do about it, then?”
”Talk to her,” replied Ingrid, patting him on the arm. “Don't worry, I can handle myself,” said Naomi, with full confidence, before he could insist on going with her.
”Fine,” the wolf cracked his knuckles. “But, if she does anything else, then I'm telling Mrs. Rinder.”
”Sure.” Ingrid replied, watching as he took a few steps away. “Hey!” Naomi hollered, something popping into her mind. “You brought me a cookie for lunch, right?”
He lazily waved without looking back her.
Rini smiled, and pivoted round to enter the library. Maybe because the air-conditioning in this part of the school was better, or maybe just by virtue of coming in from outside, but the draft of cool air that swaddled her as the door sealed shut with a crackle was refreshing enough to make her take pause and sigh.
She quietly walked through the library, glancing in all of the aisles on the way to the reading station, eyes poised for anything white or baby-blue. There were a couple kids squatting at the bookshelves, but none were rabbits. Several kids were giggling in the reading area, but none were fifth-graders.
”Looking for something, honey?”
Rini stutter-stepped when she heard the voice, turning about. “Um, actually,” she said, looking up at the librarian. “I'm looking for someone,” she said, holding up her fingers. “Did a rabbit girl come by here?”
”Lyza?” The skunkette asked.
The rat nodded. “Yeah—yes,” she corrected herself. “Have you seen where she went?” Something about the library made her re-think the words she used, as if she had to speak like she was in a proper story.
The librarian pursed her lips. “Well, yes...” She stood up straight, motioning for the girl to follow. “She's in the computer room,” she replied, in a hushed voice.
Rini raised an eye-brow. “I didn't know the computer room was open during recess,” she commented.
The librarian shushed her. “It's not... But, I've given Lyza special permission to use it. It's unlocked if you wanna go in and talk to her. But,” she held up a black digit, “don't go telling your friends, or else it'll be closed-off for good.”
Rini shook her head. “I'm not gonna tell anyone,” she reassured. “Thanks.”
The librarian smiled, waving as she stepped away to pick up a book left behind on the nearby reading table.
Rini held onto the door-handle. It was a familiar site, except this time instead of a crafted brass knob on an ornate door inside of a stylish home, it was a standard steel handle on a mass-produced wooden door inside of one of a dozen schools in the district that had hundreds more just like between them.
The feeling was the same. The site beyond was similar, as she quietly pressed down and pushed. Only half the lights were on in the room. The gentle whir of thirty computer fans was disturbed only by the ticking of a keyboard and muffled sound-effects. Amidst rows of sleeping monitors, only one was lit up.
She was facing away, her back toward the door. Between her ears, the rat could see a bit of blue on the screen, not unlike the rabbit's favorite color. Every now and again there would be a brief pause, followed by a flurry of typing.
She watched quietly for a few moments, waiting for a chance to announce her presence. A slight tapping sound came to the rat's ears, and took a few seconds to realize it was the counting of seconds. Then, the rat was startled when the rabbit suddenly stood, her fingers digging into the keyboard.
The computer whined in the form of a series of rapid beeps, quieting right away once her hands retreated from the keys. She then sat back down, and the mouse scraped across the pad. She clicked over to another tab, and began typing a word in, but then paused.
”Or just keep standing there,” she said dryly, as if she had said something of greeting beforehand.
Rini approached the rabbit, sitting in the chair at the computer next to the girl. “Hey,” she said, swiveling so that she faced half toward Lyza and half at her computer.
”Whatever it is, I'm not doing it,” she said, slamming her pinkie on the return key to enter the word in the search bar. A web page came up, defining the word: deluxe. “You can just go ahead and tell Ms. Hupp.”
Rini fidgeted with her hands. “I'm... I'm not following,” she replied.
The rabbit let out a contemptuous sigh. “I pushed you. You're going to tell Ms. Hupp unless I do... what?”
She took in a breath, “I—”
”Rhetorical question. I don't actually care,” she squinted, focusing on the monitor. “Just go ahead and tell Ms. Hupp.”
Rini closed her lips, exhaling softly. She looked at the monitor. “What are you up to in here?”
A couple of keys clacked on the keyboard, and suddenly the window shrank away, revealing the desktop with the school name and the oak-tree symbol. “None of your beeswax.”
”Well, if I'm gonna tattle on you, might as well get the whole story,” she joked; genuinely, joked.
After a moment of the rabbit staring dully at the computer, she hit another couple of keys and web browser came back up. She used the mouse to click on the original tab.
”Text Twist?” Rini asked. “Game?”
The rabbit didn't respond, looking at the screen for a second before switching back over to the second tab, and typing a word in.
The rat watched as the dictionary page popped up with the definitions of the word. She studied it along with the rabbit, who stayed on the page for over a minute. When she flipped back over to the game, the light-blue screen made Rini squint with irritation.
Lyza hit another key, and then the screen changed a bit. The bubbles with letters changed, and the shape of the blocks on the left side changed and were empty. The rabbit began typing furiously, pinkie punching the return key like a heartbeat.
”How do you play?”
Lyza's left hand curled up into a fist. “I'm trying to concentrate.” She growled.
Rini turned toward the computer she was sitting in front of. She wiggled the mouse, and went to the web browser. She typed the name of the game in the search bar, and clicked on the first result. But the site was blocked. “Um...”
”Fourth one.” The rabbit said, with a hint of condescension.
Going back, the rat clicked on the fourth link, and the game popped up. She read the pop-up in the center, and then hit Click to Start and stared at the bubble letters. She clicked on one, and the timer started. She clicked on a couple more, and clicked the Enter button.
Sorry, that's not one of the listed words.
She clicked the bubbles again, swearing she spelled a word. She clicked Enter again. Another noise hit her ear, and she saw the word appear in the list.
”You can type the words, y'know,” the rabbit told her, in the same tone as earlier.
The rat stared at the keyboard. “Um... I'm not really good at typing,” she admitted. “I still have to hunt-and-peck.” She watched the rabbit's fingers as they suddenly burst to life, the bubbles on screen struggling to keep up as she typed different combinations of letters.
The timer was tapping again, six seconds left. Rini held her breath, watching it go down all the way to zero.
You qualify for the next round!
”Nice,” the rat quietly cheered. But her smile faded when she saw Lyza's fingers curl into a fist so tightly that it trembled with the strain. The rat looked at the screen and saw that, of the twelve possible words, two showed up in a light-blue coloring—two that had been missed.
Just as quickly and quietly as the rabbit had twisted into a subdued and tense anger, she calmed, and looked at the screen. Switching over to the other tab, she typed in one of the missing words: fit.
It was a simple word, and yet the rabbit studied the dictionary page for what felt like longer than necessary. “Something wrong?”
”I should have fucking gotten that one,” she growled, her hand slamming on the keyboard.
”Whoa, hey,” the rat flinched, leaning forward. “Relax...” She rested her hand on the counter, near the rabbit's keyboard. “It's just a game,” she said, with a sincere softness in her tone. She was met with an impatient look.
”...Shut up,” Lyza said.
Rini blinked, her lips falling open just a bit. She receded, sitting back in her chair and pulling her legs up to sit cross-legged in it. “Am I... bothering you, watching?” It was a genuine question, seeking an honest answer.
”Tsch,” the rabbit adjusted her posture, and repositioned the keyboard. “Don't give yourself so much credit.”
”I mean...” She clasped her hands together. “Do you... want me to leave?”
The rabbit switched tabs, and started the next round. “Do whatever the hell you want.”
Rini's demeanor wilted as she watched Lyza's baby-blue polished finger-tips tap out anagrams. After a moment of key-clicks, she took in a breath. “I want... wanted to talk.” She looked down at her hands. “But, I get it, if you don't have enough ears to listen.” She turned, facing toward the door. “I mean, I know I haven't... been the nicest,” she admitted, candidly. “And I... guess I just... at the times I haven't, I guess I didn't think I wasn't the... the meanest.” She let out the rest of her breath, hearing the frantic clacking of keys as the tapping of the timer counted down from ten.
She turned the long way around to face her computer, and closed the windows. Then, she stood up, stepping aside the chair to slide it back under the long desk that spanned and held up three computers. “I just... I guess I just wanted to say I was sorry, before it was too late.” She watched the rabbit's hand slowly fell upon the mouse, clicking to the other tab, and then went back to the keyboard to type a word into the dictionary search box.
Rini turned, her tail curling around her left leg as she slowly walked to the door. She rested her hand upon the cold, metal handle. “Maybe... too late,” she mumbled, pressing down and tugging the door loose from the jamb.