Exchange Students #0

A story by Kendal Reed

They meet at a table in one of the more out-of-the-way common rooms. There are two chairs open, but he knows he’s the last one to arrive. Araceli is focused on her papers- it looks like she already has a couple prepared and is working on another. Her hand pauses as he gets closer, but she doesn’t look up.

When he’s in the middle of sitting down, Piper suddenly appears in the other chair, grinning right at him like the Cheshire Cat. He jerks backward and almost knocks his chair over. They both laugh, then reach out and shake hands across the table. (Araceli’s hand starts moving again.)

“Hey, Floyd.”

“Hey, Piper. Hey, Araceli.”

The smaller girl finally looks up. She gives a little wave, then sets aside the paper she’s working on and turns over one from the small pile on her left.

Hi, Floyd!

How was your summer?

Did the hearing go OK?

She pushes it in his direction, her attention on him while she waits for answers. Each line is written in a different style- first sharp and inclined, then wavy and flowing, and finally hard-edged and serious. The first time he saw her make one of these, he was so amazed- he’d never seen someone actually write like that before. This one is even smoother. She’s gotten lots of practice.

“Hey,” he says again, without thinking. “Yeah, it went the way it was supposed to. I’m all moved out and stuff.” She smiles. Hers is different from Piper’s- she doesn’t show her teeth.

“That’s great!” Piper joins in, summarizing. He nods. There’s more to it than that- they both know- but that’s not why they’re here. “So… we both got the email, about club being something different this year. We were thinking about checking it out.”

He notices the questions she’s not asking. He’s been good at that for a long time. She’s starting to realize how good.

Before Araceli decides whether to make it obvious, he answers. “She definitely wants you to. But I think the new club is supposed to… reach out more. To people who need it, even if they aren’t like us.”

The girls look thoughtful. Araceli reaches for her phone and types something quickly, then turns the screen toward him.

More invites?

After a second, she turns it toward Piper, too.

He nods. “Yeah. She went to the new student assembly and picked some people, and she said… um… there were some older kids she was going to try, too. Recommendations.”

Piper frowns for a second. “Huh. Anyone we know?”

He thinks back. Bailey graduated, Catherine’s back at Keystone, Sheila and Kaliska quit after the thing with Evan… Jenji is doing a year at Bloomington… who is he forgetting? “I don’t think so.”

Piper pauses. “We’re gonna be outnumbered.”

Floyd’s eyes widen as it sinks in. “Should we not go?”

Piper shakes her head. “Miss D’s not gonna like that.” She reaches into her pocket, pulls out her phone. “We need reinforcements.”

Right. The others might be fine if they quit the club, but he’d have to deal with her eventually. Piper’s nice- she looks out for him like that. “Who can we get?”

Araceli is typing. She has smaller classes- she probably knows someone.

Floyd makes a list in his head. “Maybe my roommate?”

“Good start. I could ask some of the drama kids, or… there’s this girl who lives in one of the cottages, she might be good…” Piper scrolls through her contacts with a focused look.

Floyd is still wondering whether Jonelle from algebra might be interested when there’s a sharp knocking sound that derails his train of thought. He and Piper don’t even look toward the door anymore- they turn to Araceli first thing. (She’s not the only one who’s gotten practice.) She holds up her phone for them to read.

We wont be outnumbered
Every new kid is alone
Then they meet us
Thats what club is 4

Floyd relaxes almost all at once. He looks over at Piper and sees the same look in her eyes.
“Glad you’re back, Chelly.”

She just smiles and turns over the note she’s been saving. It’s shorter, but the letters are bigger and more complicated- they take up most of the paper, trailing swooping curls in all directions.

It’s good to be back.

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