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Challenge Accepted?

Posted on Mon Jan 1st, 2024 @ 8:21 by Sarah Bright & Quinn Kelly
Edited on on Mon Jan 1st, 2024 @ 14:56

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Library, Avalon Institute
Timeline: Christmas Eve
2350 words - 4.7 OF Standard Post Measure

The first thing Sarah saw when she opened her eyes was fire. Panic welled inside her, but retreated as quickly as it'd come when her eyes opened further and revealed the library's massive stone fireplace. The hearth was clean, and the fire burned brightly, thankfully someone had been tending to it during her evening nap. She hadn't remembered falling asleep, or intending to, which was rare--for her, sleep was almost always a deliberate act.

The librarian didn't remember pulling a blanket over herself either; someone must have placed it there while she slept. Guilt settled in within her as her senses sought to center themselves and take in her environment. Normally the fireplace was not used, but she'd gotten special permission to do so for a few hours during Christmas Eve. She'd assumed responsibility for it, yet there she was, napping right in front of it. A quick look at the clock sitting on the mantle above the fireplace revealed that the night was still relatively young, however. It was only just after eight in the evening... she'd not been napping long. A quick listen and look around revealed that the library was now noticeably busier than it had been when she'd apparently dozed off an hour or so before. The chef's turkey dinner had certainly done the trick in putting her into a food coma, but apparently the others had managed to fend off a similar fate.

Sarah stood, and folded the blanket before draping it across the wingback reading chair she'd been curled up in. She looked down, feeling the contrast of cool under her bare-stockinged feet, versus the warmth of the fire caressing her shins. She smoothed out the wrinkles on her red velvet Christmas-themed dress and winced when she again saw the red and white striped candy cane tights worn underneath. She'd really gone all in, hadn't she? Sarah adjusted her nearly-matching red beret. She looked like Sarah Claus, Santa's layabout beatnik daughter, the one that never made it into the stories because she usually idled about clean through past Christmas, neglecting her share of present deliveries. But this time she had delivered presents!

Wiggling her toes, Sarah attempted to focus on finding her shoes before even looking to see how well her gifts were being received. The library was one of the few places in the castle that still had its ancient hardwood flooring exposed, and though it had been caulked and resurfaced, there were no doubt at least a few gnarly splinters lurking, waiting to spear unsuspecting toes, and Sarah was not about to tempt fate. She especially hated splinters, as her enhanced healing almost always closed the skin around them before she could even find a pair of tweezers to pluck them out. Since the discovery of her powers, Sarah had cut herself deliberately nearly as much as she had accidentally, just to deal with subdermal debris. With that in mind, she was compelled to double her efforts, and her nose scrunched up in cute consternation as she saw the spot next to her desk where her Converse sneakers should've been. Keeping track of her shoes was starting to become a serious, yet somehow also ridiculous problem. Her sturdy boots were at the bottom of the loch, her fancy heels had fucking vanished, and now even her dirty sneakers were gone. Who would steal those? If she couldn’t find them, she was going to have to spend Christmas Day in her wellies.

Sarah sighed, but her expression brightened as she saw and picked up the book on the stand next to her chair. It was the pristine copy of Wuthering Heights that had miraculously survived the basement pipe burst disaster on Halloween night. She’d taken that as a sign to finally sit down and read the book in earnest, and she had. There were only a few chapters left. Barring some other holiday fiasco, she was planning to get those read on Christmas Day. As she carefully walked over to her desk on silent feet she took note of the other books that had survived that night, which she had returned to their places of reverence… as well as the ancient treasure chest, which, after however many centuries of use, was still thankfully watertight.

Looking around her desk, Sarah saw no sign of her sneakers. She could’ve sworn she’d kicked them off there before grabbing her book to read. All she saw was the mess she’d made wrapping Christmas presents, a task she’d learned she was absolute rubbish at. There were pieces of crumpled wrapping paper everywhere, spilling out of the overfull waste basket she’d neglected to empty. She’d remembered smooshing it all in in a desperate effort to hide her ineptitude, but apparently the mess of paper had decompacted during her nap. It was a good thing she’d become a librarian and not a bookseller, Sarah considered as she rummaged her toes through the bits of crumpled paper. And then she saw a shoelace. Aha! She kicked aside some more crumpled paper and wormed her feet into the loose-laced sneakers before setting her book down on her desk.

With her shoes found and everything well with the cosmos once again, Sarah relaxed and surveyed her domain. She was immediately filled with satisfaction as she saw how happy and content many of the students in her library were. A pair of tech-minded kids were having the time of their lives unboxing and setting up the additional PC she’d gotten for of the library, bringing the number of computers to three. On one of the other existing computers, other students played one of the games she’d gotten: King’s Quest VI. She’d also gotten a hoard of new books, almost all of which the students had asked for in the wish can. The library now held multiple copies of every Goosebumps book, all four of the Wheel of Time books so far released, more of the classics from Tolkien and the like, a sizable collection of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries, and over two dozen assorted Star Wars, Star Trek and D&D themed novels.

That last bit reminded Sarah of one of her students in particular, Quinn, the so-called Dungeon Master of the tabletop gaming group. She’d gotten them a whole new adventure book called Ravenloft. She had no idea what it featured or if it was even compatible with the game they played, but it had vampires on the cover, so she’d picked it up. But all of Quinn’s D&D friends were away with their families, leaving her with no one to play with at the one time of year Sarah could really not turn them away. If Sarah was her, she’d be super bummed. She found Quinn, curled up in a wingback chair of her own. With dyed purple hair not unlike their Head Teacher’s, she was rather easy to spot.

“Don’t pick at your tights, hun, it’s an expensive habit for a girl to kick.” Sarah teased as she leaned against the chair back, peering down at Quinn, who was indeed picking at fuzzies dotting the tights on her legs, collected from the old corduroy upholstery of the chair she was seated in. It was the sort of mindless activity characteristic of someone who was bored, yet also had a lot on their mind. Quinn sighed with the overblown exasperation common to kids her age, but took the advice and shifted in her seat to a more active posture. As expected, Quinn did not seem inclined to actually reply.

Quinn Kelly was a strange kid, but not for the reasons one might expect. For one, she was not actually a girl, but rather a boy who styled his hair and dressed like one more often than not. Of course Sarah, with her own unconventionalities, did not see any problem with this, and did her best to regard Quinn as any other female student, as far as pronouns and such went. But she was never exactly sure if this was what Quinn wanted. The other girl in their D&D group also referred to her as a girl, but strangely the boys in their group did not, and seemed to regard Quinn as just like them. But none of this was why Quinn struck her as a weird kid.

“I know your friends aren’t here, but why not ask some of the others if they want to write up characters and play?” Sarah asked, trying to sound helpful and supportive. She always felt herself walking on eggshells around the kid, who most of the time would not speak more than a few words to her. The librarian was convinced that Quinn simply did not like her, and not because Sarah treated her like a girl. There were constant issues over boundaries and library etiquette. Aside from always wanting to play their noisy game in the library, Quinn was always trying to get her hands on the old books and special collections, but she never showed much interest in actually reading them, just… handling them. And she was always asking for permission to take them back to her room, which she knew full well was a hard no. Part of Sarah wanted to read Quinn’s file to see if she could gain any insight into her behavior, but she didn’t have access to student records, and she feared that asking for them would likely land her in conversations just as awkward as the ones she shared with Quinn. Sarah fought the urge to sigh. It seemed like they saw more of each other’s bad sides more than anything else, but for tonight at least the librarian was willing to put that aside and try to be an ally and not the antagonist it seemed like she was destined to be.

Quinn looked up again, momentarily surprised, and treated Sarah to the sort of wearied condescension one would reserve for a nuisance stray animal (or adult) that simply would not leave them be. Ally was going to be a hard sell.

“I don’t really know anyone here.” Was all she said.

“Of course you do. You see Alistair and Catriona in study hall three times a week, and right now they both look just as bored as you. Go ask Cat. I promise you she won’t say no outright. And if she says yes you’ll probably get one or two more without even having to ask.” Sarah did her best to keep her voice low and discreet, but it frustrated her seeing kids pass up on good things in much the same way she had when she was their age, when she could now see that many, if not most her fears back then would now be seen as either trivial or unfounded. But what did adults know? Some days it seemed like they thought she was only there to get paid to cramp their style.

But then again, she was the one wearing candy cane striped tights, going out of her way advising students on how to best go about committing social hari-kari.

Quinn must have been a mind reader, what with her delayed response to Sarah’s suggestion timing perfectly with that last consideration that had crossed her mind. And her response was to look at the librarian as if she belonged in the looney bin. It was as if her mouth worked to find the words that, to her, should’ve not needed to be said. One does not simply walk up to a girl, and ask her to play Dungeons and Dragons…

Sarah was exasperated. And the sigh she let out made it known. “Oh come on, this isn’t mission fricking impossible! We’re not talking about getting the keys to Mister Temple’s car and asking Shauna out on a date. This is a totally doable hero quest.” The librarian didn’t realize that her voice had raised beyond the threshold for reasonable expectations of privacy, and Quinn looked like she wanted nothing more than to worm her way in between the cushions of her chair to hide.

“Don’t even joke about that shi-!” Quinn cut off, looking around, with an expression of pure horror etched upon her face. Sarah didn’t know if the fear was from the potential calamity arising from talking aloud about a possible crush (who was probably invisible and standing right there), taking the nicest car within a hundred kilometers out for a joy ride, or the fact that Quinn had swore to a faculty member’s face.

“Sorry, I just don’t really feel like running a game right now…” Quinn said, effectively shutting down the debate. “Writing up a character is one thing, but a whole storyline? Meh… what do you even care…” she trailed off, the last said almost inaudibly under her breath as she sat up and worked her feet into her well worn Vans sneakers, as if in an effort to leave.

Part of Quinn was right. Why did Sarah even care? She didn’t really, but she didn’t want to see any of the kids spend Christmas Eve alone. And Quinn had just said the most Sarah had ever heard her say to her before. Was that progress? Slightly less dysfunctional communication?

“Pfft… how hard could it be?” Sarah said, perfectly mimicking Quinn’s smug dismissiveness as she suddenly eased off of Quinn’s chair and abruptly turned away, her garishly red skirt twirling as she strode off, as if to pester other students.

The librarian knew she didn’t need to look back. She didn’t want to look back. Ultimately, she’d just wanted to have the last word with a bratty teen. But the seed had been planted, but god, she hoped it didn’t take root. Behind her, Quinn’s expression reset with the firm resolve of a challenge accepted.


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Comments (1)

By Alastair Temple on Mon Jan 1st, 2024 @ 9:37

This is gudpost. Seal of approval right here.