The afternoon classes were exactly the same as the morning classes in practically every regard. Once again all the lessons were taught by Mrs. Applebottom, I once again had to struggle to catch up to the curriculum, I once again spent all the breaks with the gang and I generally had a fair amount of fun.
Well, okay, on second thought there was a slight difference. In the morning the princess sitting right in front of me didn’t seem to be aware of me, while at this point she was actively trying to deny my entire existence. At least when she wasn’t sending death-glares my way, anyway. There was little functional difference though, so it didn’t actually change my school life experience.
It was exactly at three in the afternoon when the final lesson ended with the ring of the familiar Big Ben chime and the entire class erupted with noise, completely disregarding that the teacher was still there. Not that she minded, as she only bothered to finish her last sentence about the geopolitical tensions that led to the First World War before she just snapped her book shut and marched out the door. It wasn’t even a complete paragraph, for crying out loud! That’s a placeholder for you…
I stretched on my chair and also began to pack my bag when Angie sneaked up to my desk.
“Hey Leo, wanna go home together?”
I blinked at the directness of the question and sent a sneaky glance at Josh. My friend gave me an amicable smile, but then he finally realized the reason behind my hesitation and cut in with a cough.
“Just until the crossing, of course.”
“Yeah, of course,” Angie nodded twice.
“Then sure. Let me grab my stuff and I meet you at the lockers.”
“Oh~kay!” Angie giggled and all but dragged Josh out through the door. She seemed to be in high spirits. It suited her.
It was only then that I realized that the two exiting the stage left me alone with the princess, but when I cautiously looked around, she was nowhere to be found. I furrowed my brows. Where did she go? And when? She must have left while I was looking over to Josh, but that was like, what, three seconds? Did she jump out the window in that time or what?
I shook my head and stood up. Don’t look the gift horse in the mouth, they say. If this way I could avoid another round of awkward and annoying comedy play, I was not complaining. I walked down the rows while dodging the other students when my eyes were caught by the class rep still sitting at her desk. It looked like her bag was already packed and she was just calmly staring ahead of herself without a word. I hesitated for a moment, but then I had an idea and decided to call out to her.
“Hey there, class rep.”
She shuddered and looked up at me like I startled her even though I walked up to her right in her line of sight.
“Oh… Hello Leo. Can I help you?”
“I really hope so.”
Once she confirmed I had business with her, the tension visibly escaped from her shoulders. I had a niggling suspicion since this morning, and this moment only reinforced it; while it didn’t really show while she was performing her duties, she was a bit socially awkward when it came to small talk. It wasn’t to the degree where she would be considered shy, but she definitely looked uncomfortable while she had to talk with people when it wasn’t about schoolwork.
Anyways, she looked at me with expectant eyes, so I cleared my throat.
“Say, class rep?”
She suddenly puckered her brows an interrupted me.
“Why are you calling me that?”
“Because you are the class rep. Anyways,” I continued before she could interject again, “I wanted to ask you if you could lend me your notes.”
She blinked at me in surprise.
“Don’t you have yours?”
“Sorry, I wasn’t clear enough. I meant last year’s notes.”
She blinked twice this time and even frowned a little.
“I… I am not sure I still have them…” She faltered uncertainly. “Why do you need them?”
“Well…” I deliberately scratched the back of my head before I answered. “You see, last year I transferred fairly late, so I didn’t have to worry about it too much, but I am not sure we had the exact same curriculum in my old school. I want to make sure I don’t miss anything that might be on future tests, so I wanted to borrow your notes so I can cross-reference things.”
“That’s… actually very diligent of you.” She told me with an approving smile.
“Thanks.” I answered with a chuckle. “Could I also ask you to give me some pointers? Only if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, of course…”
“Of course, I will see if I can find my notebooks and I will gladly help if you have any questions.”
“Thank you very much.” After this exchange we stayed perfectly still in the empty classroom for several seconds. It was getting really awkward, so I lightly cleared my throat. “Say, aren’t you going home yet?”
“In a minute,” She told me with a small smile. Then it was silence again.
“Do you… want to go home together?”
Her eyes fluttered wide open for just a moment.
“You and me?”
“Um… who else? Plus Josh and Angie too, of course.”
“Oh…” The class rep averted her gaze with an awkward smile. “I see. It’s been a while, so I was caught off-guard.”
“So, are you coming?”
“Sure,” She declared with a nod and stood up.
I patiently waited for her to pack her bag and we finally left the classroom side by side. We quickly reached the stairs leading to the main hall and I couldn’t help but smile all the way. I was bothered by my lagging behind the others academically all day, and while it was something of a whim, having the class rep’s notes would surely help me catch up to the others. Originally I wanted to ask Josh, but this was obviously the smarter idea. No offense to the guy, he wasn’t dumb by a long shot, but there was just no competition.
We reached the shoe lockers in no time. Josh and Angie were already by the entrance and waving, thought the girl had a question mark written over her face when she noticed the class rep at my side.
“Be with you in a moment!” I yelled over to them, but it seemed like they couldn’t hear it properly over the noise the other departing placeholders made so they walked over to me instead. Oh well, it didn’t make much of a difference in the long run.
“Is Ammy with you?” Josh asked once he was within earshot.
“Yeah. She looked a little lonely, so I decided to invite her along. Is there a problem?”
Josh grinned at the class rep, who was currently busy studying her own shoelaces like her life depended on it, and he shook his head.
“Nah, the more the merrier, right, Angie?”
She didn’t seem as enthusiastic about going home together as before, but Angie still managed to sound cheerful enough. In the meantime the class rep broke off from the group to find her own shoe locker and so did I. I opened the cabinet and as I did so a small piece of white paper flew out with the draft.
I was too surprised to react fast enough, and by the time I recovered it Angie already took note.
“What do you have there?” She asked on her tiptoes, trying to get a better look.
“Nothing in particular, just a piece of paper.”
The girl’s eyes suddenly glinted mischievously and she waved to the others.
“Guys, come quick! Leo just got a love letter!”
I aimed a barbed look at her but she only gave me a toothy smile in return.
“A love letter?” Josh arrived first and he started to rise onto his toe-tips to get a better look as well. It didn’t really occur to me, but I was actually the tallest person in the group by far. Using my newly discovered physical superiority I raised the paper high over my head and silently glared at the others to express my disapproval. After a few seconds they finally got the message and stood down.
“Is there a problem?” The class rep looked around one of the large lockers with a quizzical expression.
“Leo just got a love letter.” Angie repeated, and to my sincerest surprise the class rep immediately walked over and grabbed hold of the two gawkers.
“Let’s give him some privacy then.”
She began dragging away the two and I just had to wonder how great the difference was between her normal mode and her authority mode. Still, she didn’t have to go that far.
“Wait, you really don’t have to do that.” She looked back at me questioningly and I waved the letter in my hand. “It obviously isn’t for me.”
“How can you be sure?” Josh asked.
“I can’t but...”
“Then read it already!” Angie demanded with hungry eyes and finally gave in.
I took a deep breath, raised the piece of paper to eye-level and began scanning the lines. I nodded once or twice for good measure and once I finished I let out the breath I was holding in a sigh.
“Just as I said,” I told them as I pocketed the piece of paper. “It is actually for a girl. The poor guy must have been really nervous and put the letter into the wrong shoebox.”
“Oh…” Angie was deflated for a second, but then she perked up again. “What are you going to do?”
“What else? The letter said the girl should meet him behind the school, so I should go there and give back the letter. Otherwise he might think he got rejected.”
“Awwww…” Angie cooed. “That’s really nice of you.” She skipped over to me and began poking my side with a cattish grin. “You might look all tall and burly but you are actually a big softie on the inside.”
“No I’m not,” I told her in a voice I hoped was somewhat sulky. I probably succeeded, as she giggled in response.
“Should we wait for you?” Josh inquired.
“Nah, this could take a while. With my luck, I will probably have to listen to the guy spilling his heart out about his unrequited feelings and all that jazz.”
“A huuuuuuuge softie!” Angie laughed. “Seriously though, for a moment you were disappointed it wasn’t for you, right?”
After a moment of hesitation I decided to go with the brash solution, so I just brushed her off with what I supposed was a suitably embarrassed roll of the eyes and walked past her. She giggled in return, so I hopefully succeeded.
“So… What about me now?” With the ‘authority mode’ gone, the class rep’s voice sounded more timid that usual. Josh turned to her with a curious expression.
“What do you mean?”
“I was invited by Leo, but since he is not coming anymore…” Her voice trailed off into mumbles.
“Don’t worry about it.” Josh smiled warmly at her and grabbed her arm.
“Yeah!” Angie agreed with a huge nod and grabbed hold of her other arm. “It’s been ages since we last hanged out together anyway!”
“Back in middle school?” Josh turned to her and Angie nodded again. “Now that you mention it… Wow, it has really been a while.”
“Let’s make it count then!” Angie declared and began pulling the nervous class rep, who in turn had Josh trailing behind her. They waved to me one last time before they left the building, which I obviously returned with a smile, and off they went. I made a mental note about how the childhood friends and the class rep apparently went way back, but I shelved the thought in favor of the more immediate issue.
I took out the letter and read it one more time. It was probably obvious already, but it wasn’t written by a guy. In fact I pretty much lied through my teeth from beginning to end, though I had a good reason for that; this wasn’t a letter of love, but one of challenge.
‘I hereby challenge you to honorable duel in order to settle our feud. I request your presence at the rooftop after school hours are over. Fail to show yourself, and you shall be forever known as a despicable knave and a coward. Signed, Eleanor Dracis.’
I tried, I really did, but there was just no way I could do this without actually facepalming, and thus I soon found my head buried in my hand. It was strangely relaxing. But alas, having my head buried in the proverbial sand wouldn’t have solved much of my problems, so after I was sure that the trio was out of the gates I took to the stairs and began marching towards what promised to be a giant pain in the ass…