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Fully Covered

Posted on Mon Mar 18th, 2024 @ 11:07 by Deidre "Dee" Fraser & Sarah Bright
Edited on on Mon Mar 18th, 2024 @ 11:23

Chapter: Winter's Crest Festival
Location: Hallways, Avalon Institute
Timeline: 12:00pm, Wednesday 9th December
7130 words - 14.3 OF Standard Post Measure

After their pre-tour photoshoot, Sarah couldn't help but watch Shauna's retreat up the stairs. She feared that though they'd seen the last of her, Shauna hadn't seen the last of them. But maybe the added incentive of possible surveillance was for the best. This wasn't just casual a meet-up in town, this was where she worked and lived. She'd have to keep this professional. Or at least try.

At that point it was Sarah's turn to space out and miss the first half of what the person speaking to her had said. But she did turn in just in time to catch the last.

"Aahw, it's no trouble. I'm happy to be of service." Sarah said brightly, offering a curtsy to her guest as she tried not to dwell too deeply on the specific motivations behind Dee's request. Of course her mind settled right upon the one it wanted to see. "So where would you like to begin? With our educational offerings? Or something a bit more... slice of life?" Sarah asked, more or less delegating her tour duties right at the outset. Left of the staircase would take them closest to the majority of the classrooms, as well as the administrative offices, while right would bring them to the cafeteria and music room. She was worried about Dee wanting to see the classrooms first, as the timing of that might bring them around to the cafeteria in time for the food fight Shauna was predicting. Directly up the staircase would take to them to the student and faculty residence halls. Though that way was perhaps not as appropriate for a guided tour, part of Sarah wanted nothing more than to just forget the whole tour nonsense and get Dee squirreled away into her room, where she could dedicate the rest of the morning toward trying to figure out how to get the reporter out of that dress. As she struggled to focus on staying professional, Sarah realized she was already chewing on her lip. It was going to be a long morning.

"On a personal level, I could take up your entire day and then book a return visit." Absent of the slight awkwardness she seemed to possess in crowds, Deidre radiated an enthusiasm that, if easily converted to a usable energy source, might have cut the castle's electricity bills in half for the quarter. "But we should honor what Miss Cavendish has specifically asked for, which would probably mean a focus on the educational aspects to start." At the very least, given this had been explained as a way to show people behind the closed doors of the Institute to improve clarity over its intentions, Dee had translated that to mean the function of the school itself and not, for instance, whether or not the bedrooms had four-poster beds or whether the bathrooms had chandeliers. Perhaps, if there was time, she could sneak in a little personalised snooping at the end. In her mind, this counted as deviousness, a naughty little interlude that was probably a wee bit cheeky to ask for but would be worthy the slight sheepishness if she could talk the librarian into it. If she'd known what Sarah was plotting, the reporter might have seen cause to rethink her definition of devious.

"As you wish." Sarah said, mixing a bit of theatrics into her reply as she nodded and gestured with a small flourish of her hand. She was mindful to let Dee set their initial pace as they started off, as she couldn't see what kind of shoes the reporter was wearing under the long skirt of her traveling dress. Starting down the hallway toward the classrooms, Sarah was having trouble making sense of her feelings, and wondering whether she should even try. She was happy to have the opportunity to spend more time with Dee, and even more happy that Dee wanted to spend more time with her, but this was not the setting she would have preferred for their second encounter. In a professional setting, and with so many prying eyes and ears, the librarian did not feel she had the freedom to really be herself. She was no doubt going to be more restrained... more boring, and probably not the sort of woman Dee would be interested in meeting again a third time. Not in the manner Sarah was hoping for, anyway.

In contrast to Sarah's own reservations, Dee seemed to be a whole other person from the one that she'd been expecting. She seemed more focused, and she was definitely excited to be there. Sarah was interested to know if any of that excitement was because of her, but she couldn't really tell. Her gut instinct told her that Dee was not interested in her romantically, but as the librarian usually listened to her powers far more than instincts, she viewed the latter as an untested source of uncertain reliability, at best. But since she wasn't willing to just use her powers to find out, well, she was just going to have to wait and see.

"Are you from around here, originally?" Sarah asked as they reached the first classroom, which was biology. The room was empty, and it looked like Miss Callaghan was elsewhere for her free period, but the door was open, and Sarah didn't see any harm in poking their heads inside if Dee seemed so inclined to wander.

"Originally, no, though my mother and I did land here for a few years a while back now." It was a distracted response, offered in a tone tinged with whimsy as the reporter's eyes remained fixed upon the ceiling overhead and all the intricate ways the old castle's original features had been used to accentuate a modernised classroom setting. Science was a telling subject, after all, and the rigors of getting it right involved a great deal more by way of relevant instrumentation than might have been available during the property's infancy. A sneaky peek to make sure she wasn't interrupting saw Dee take the initiative and, slipping through the doors, she made a beeline directly towards the windows. "Goodness, what a view." Reaching out, she rapped her knuckles against the glass and followed the curve of the arch with her gaze. "Original fittings, must get cold without double-glazing."

If it had occurred to Deidre that she was somewhat taking over, she likely would have been horrified by the unintentional audacity, but whether Sarah could boast a similar focus or not, Dee had done her research quite thoroughly and had a head full of 'I wonder if's that demanded clarification one way or the other. There was perhaps not a lot of joy to be derived in being one-upped by a building but at least the journalist didn't seem disappointed yet. Leaning against the wall, she watched a group of students walk across the side lawn and took a moment to jot something in her notebook before seeming to remember that Sarah existed. A warm smile did its best to make up for the lapse. "What's it like, telling people that you work in a castle?" If one were to judge, the question was asked with a healthy dose of envy, or at least wistfulness that veered close.

After Dee answered Sarah's question she'd been tempted to follow up with more, to get to know the reporter better, but the notepad in Dee's hands reminded Sarah that she was not the one who was supposed to be giving the interview. As hard as it was, Sarah contented herself to follow along, and gave Dee's question some serious thought as she did.

"I'll admit, some days I do feel like a princess. Don't laugh. I know... every girl's dream, right?" Sarah said with a pause as she considered the perks. "Most of the decor, including the furniture in my room, looks like its on-loan from a museum. As a new school we don't have the history or traditions that other, more established institutes and academies offer, but you'd never know that looking at the place." It was her own turn to look around and gawk. She'd never noticed the suit of armor that was fittingly displayed across the hall from Miss Hunter's history class. It looked even older than the castle. She glanced through the window of the door to Phoebe's class and saw the students all quietly taking exams. Best to keep moving.

"Other days though, well... sometimes I feel less like nobility and more like a maid." Sarah continued as they kept on down the quiet hallway. "It is a privilege to work here, but its not always tea-time in the drawing room. Most of our time is spent keeping the place functioning, and there are many challenges and high expectations that go along with that. Plus the castle has been here long enough to have a life of its own, and and its not like any old flat where I can just go shopping and swap out the decor any time I like." She smiled at Dee, implying that life overall here, and not just work, was essentially a take-it-or-leave-it kind of deal.

Despite the direction of her attention being aimed almost exclusively at the notebook she was furiously scribbling into, Dee's expression toyed with the ghost of sympathetic humour as the words formed beneath her pen nib. When she did finally lift her gaze, it focused firstly on the hallway ahead, though it eventually meandered its way over to include her tour guide. "Do you have a preference?," the reporter wondered, which was a line of query that seemed wholly more personalised than her constant state of dumbstruck over the property's many charms would have made easy to predict. "Between having more of an independent choice and being able to pretend you're royalty, that is." The question culminated in a grin, which produced the faintest glimmer of a dimple, and practically qualified as a tease, at least by Deidre's rather fastidiously polite standards.

The reporter's grin threw Sarah off completely, to the point where it took her a long moment to consider the question, before she could even think of a reply. She felt like there was something there that she was missing, that part of the question was sailing past overhead. This was not an uncommon feeling for her, as she in most cases lacked the wit to match the level of intelligence she tried so hard to convey. In fact it was common enough that she did not miss much of a beat, and had the experience to simply plow ahead with a reply, if only to avoid moments of awkward consideration, with some dumb look plastered all over her face. For this particular conversation that simply would not do.

"Somewhere in the middle for me." Sarah said, eyeing Dee a bit intensely, as if playfully daring her to show that dimpled smile again. "I'm not a highfalutin gal that needs a new gown for every ball. But I'm not keen on always doing things my way either. You can save a lot of time and energy just going with the flow." Anyone who saw Sarah for more than a few days in a row would be able to come to the clear conclusion that her initial analogy was about as far from her as could be, given how her wardrobe was nearly comically devoid of any sort of meaningful variety. In short, she said a lot, without really saying anything.

The next two classrooms were also unfortunately not suited for closer inspection. Mr Munroe's English class was in the midst of a discussion about their assigned reading, and appeared welcoming to guests, but Sarah knew from a glance that the class contained too many students whose parents had not given consent for photographs or media attention. Thankfully Claire had taken the time to provide her with a list that provided easy reference as to who had and hadn't given consent. Ms McMillen's art class also looked inviting, but Rebecca looked very busy providing personal feedback and instruction for the varied art projects the students were working on, and Sarah couldn't bring herself to make her classroom any more chaotic than it already looked, with all the different projects going on at once. A quick at the checklist in hand, however, did show that all of the students currently seen through the window had given consent (parental and personal) for photographs.

Without thinking, Sarah gently touched Dee's arm as she nodded encouragingly and gestured to the classroom's door window. She also seem poised to hold the reporter's notepad, in the event that she displayed any fumbling as she went for her camera.

There was only a slight moment of hesitation, and that was prompted more by confusion over Sarah's intention than implied secrecy over what was written on the open pad. The pendulum of Deidre's gaze swung back and forth between the view beyond the closed door and her guide's expectant expression until clarity suddenly decided to roll out of bed and her eyebrows shot up, head bobbing in animated agreement. She took perhaps a little too much care to be quiet, the door was thick enough to absorb a decent level of attempted interruption, but in due course Sarah was presented with a notebook so that the reporter could spend what amounted to probably an excessive amount of time trying to angle things just right to avoid a prominent smudge on the window.

Her handwriting, now easily scrutinised if curiosity had its way, was about as intentionally stylised as the woman's outfit. Elegant cursive, if not a little chaotically scattered at all angles over the page, mostly to accompany the occasional quick diagram or sketch meant to jog the memory later. Some notes were simple words, enticingly vague expressions such as 'melancholic' and 'resplendent', or even more distracting, the unembellished allure of 'bold', all words probably intended to describe a feature of the architecture or general atmosphere but which could easily be rendered entirely more personal by the hopeful mind. It didn't help that there were other seemingly irrelevant things pencilled in, such as the ambiguous 'maybe Saturday?' and 'tea, maybe biscuits.' What there was a decided lack of was actual sentences resembling an attempt at journalism. This wasn't to say that Dee wasn't entirely capable of turning her jumble into a coherent piece of literature but her note taking was cryptic at best, and likely counted as closer to chaotic.

At first Sarah didn't even think to look at Dee's notes, and simply held the notebook, expecting the journalist to take a quick picture. But as the seconds dragged on, far longer in her mind than on the timepiece on her wrist, Sarah found her attention straying. She remarked at Dee's handwriting far more than what she'd actually written on the page, She wondered if it had come naturally to her, or if her path toward elegant penmanship had been as pained as her own. Plagued with dyslexia all through her formative years, Sarah's writing skills had been horrifying to behold, especially for her mother, a professor of literature at Harvard University. Until the advent of her mutant powers, which had helped her to circumvent, if not remedy her learning disorder, the solution had been to simply throw money at the problem. Sarah preferred not to think about just how much.

Glancing up from the samplings of Dee's cryptic shorthand, Sarah began to wonder just how long the woman was going to take to frame her shot. Hopefully not until Saturday. She thought, referencing the reporter's vague written question with a measure of dry, inner sarcasm. Whatever Saturday meant, she didn't really consider if it had anything to do with her. The librarian was not in a hurry, but she was a bit concerned about their next stops, which would lead them down the infamous 'Stairway of Doom.' The bell was going to ring in a few minutes, and she did not want Dee to have to navigate that stairway for the first time amid a sea of hustling students, who would no doubt be bounding up and stairs as they set a far more practiced pace.

It didn't seem like the most ideal time to confess to a degree of ignorance when it came to the camera currently pressed up against the door's glass panel. When she had first started dabbling in photography, Deidre had imagined a rather romanticised circumstance where she catered only for older models and developed all the prints herself in a dark room that was still nothing more than a rough idea tucked away in the back of her mind. The realities of bringing home a pay check, of course, had very swiftly brought an end to that particular daydream and though it was still a hobby she would love to take up at some point, Dee had been forced to adapt to a more modern piece of equipment to get the kind of quality that newspapers would accept. The last model she'd had, now tucked away in its box waiting for the day where it became cost-effective to replace the cracked lens, had been a dream to operate. This one, whilst technically an upgrade, had far more bells and whistles and several knobs that she hadn't figured out yet.

In short, it had taken her the first few shots to actually focus the thing.

Assured, eventually, that she had something she could use, the reporter finally backed up and startled as a fairly typical bout of absent-mindedness saw her trip over Sarah's foot. "Oh goodness, I'm sorry!" A little too late, she realised the apology had escaped at a volume that permeated even the thick oaken door and, for a split second, she stood gawping wide-eyed at rows of incredulous faces before she moved very quickly away from the door and out of distraction's path. "I think we'd better move on." She looked flustered, residual frustration from the struggle to take a passable photo escaping as two particularly flushed cheeks and a composure partially shattered, possibly from accidentally poking herself in the backside with her own notebook, held by another.

Sarah had thought she hadn't been lurking, that she'd been standing at a respectful distance away, but Dee almost tripping over her certainly suggested otherwise. Her free hand shot out, as if to help keep the photographer from falling, but Sarah wouldn't be fooling anyone in claiming she had the kind of reflexes for that. However well intentioned, Sarah's hand found itself snaked around front to the far side of Dee's waist a moment too late to be of any real use. She let go almost immediately, realizing that the delay might be regarded as opportunistic, rather than simple ineptitude. Plus, she really didn't want her powers to trigger. She was having a hard enough time keeping cool and professional without them. There was no way she'd be able to finish this tour out as a functional adult knowing, with complete certainty, whether or not Dee's attraction to her reached a threshold that Sarah would deem actionable.

Thank God the windows were placed high enough on the classroom doors that the students didn't see Sarah's awkward safety hug. Without a word she joined Dee in fleeing the scene, and was flustered enough to not notice the other woman's equally flushed cheeks.

Proceeding to the end of the hallway, the women rounded the corner and were soon greeted by Sarah's least favorite part of Avalon, the infamous Stairway of Doom. Her mind hadn't forgotten her near-tragic mishap there during her first days with the school, and her body never would. It tensed up as they approached the upper landing, and as Sarah realized why her arm again snaked out to bar Dee's path.

"Hold up a sec." Sarah said cryptically, then continued with a verbal countdown. "3... 2... 1..."

The school bells rang aloud, signalling the end of the period. They were loud enough to rattle unsuspecting nerves, and Sarah's uncannily astute biological clock had all of them memorized to the second. "Careful now." She said as she pulled her arm back, but still extended it out enough for Dee to take hold of, should she so wish. It was a gesture as old-fashioned as the reporter's attire, yes, but no guest was going to tumble down the Stairway of Doom on her watch.

With no possible way of knowing the history of calamitous events that had lead to Sarah's wariness, Deidre was more or less still orbiting the fluttered-eyelashes-of-surprise distraction at the unnervingly accurate countdown. As far as coincidences went, and surely that's all it was, it was a innocuously delightful one and certainly worth a mention in her report for all it was frivolously off-topic. As a deviation from the moment, the thought provided just enough dilution of the redhead's attention span for her to introduce Sarah's elbow first and foremost to her mid-rift, whereupon the slight discomfort jostled her enough to peer down at the knitted obstacle and then proceed to awkwardly wrap her arm around it, hugging it to her chest in the brief panic that she'd caused injury, or at the very least was in danger of sending the woman sprawling again.

"Gosh, I don't know what the matter with me is. Are you all right?" As it happened, Dee knew exactly what the problem was, which boiled down to a mixture of too many competing fascinations and the fact that her chosen attire wasn't nearly as easy to manoeuvre in as she made it seem. It would possibly disappoint the librarian, or maybe it would be a source of relief, to find out that Deidre didn't often get to indulge in her thematic whims and possibly shouldn't have tried to combine them with work despite the utter appropriateness of the pairing. Eventually, she would hold a conversation with Sarah wearing only the rather more dull woollen skirts, (or perish the thought, blue jeans), and sweaters that were clearly no older than several winter's fashion trends ago that were more typical of her daily attire. She was certainly starting to wish she'd stuck to something more sensible for this particular adventure.

“Of course, nothing to worry over. Please do mind your steps though. These steps can be tricky for the uninitiated. Especially between periods.”

As soon as the words left Sarah’s mouth the empty hallways began to reverberate with the sounds of disembodied footsteps and voices. The bodies appeared a moment later, and there were many of them. Within the span of seconds the hallways were a chaotic scene, with students bounding up and down the stairs with a level of youthful speed and finesse that Sarah was finding it increasingly difficult to match. Thankfully they all kept a reasonable distance, if not what might be considered respectable.

Sarah scooted closer to Dee as they continued making their way down the stairs, hips bumping as she opened a speed lane of sorts for students also heading downward to bound by.

And they did.

Not entirely at ease with the timing of this particular leg of their tour, Sarah tried to focus her attention onto her guest, making sure they were both steady and matching pace. Having Dee finally so close to her was quite comforting. So much so that she caught herself almost letting down her guard and unconsciously using her powers. Even in a normal emotional state it was hard to not use them while in direct physical contact with someone she had feelings for.

As they neared the bottom steps Sarah saw a glimmer of hope that she and Dee might make it down the Stairway of Doom without incident. But then she saw Anna.

Anna, a second year student, was a strong empath, and a nosy one. She couldn’t read thoughts, but she could read a room better than anyone Sarah had ever met… or would probably ever meet. She could weave through emotions and drama in a way that should've made her everyone’s friend. But in reality her powers were inseparable from the core of her being, and sadly this made her nobody’s best friend. She wore her heart on her sleeve in such a way that made everyone fear what she might confide in others about others. Because of this few seemed interested in confiding in her and her only real insight into the world around her came from within, which didn’t exactly make her the best people-person.

Anna smiled with routine politeness as their paths neared, but that smile morphed into one of indecipherable wonder as she caught a glimpse of something in Sarah (perhaps in Dee) that she’d never been expecting. They might as well have been a pair of cake-faced brides, fleeing their wedding reception to get an early start on their honeymoon festivities, for the shit-eating grin Anna favored them with. It was as if she’d never met a lesbian before, or truly considered that such a thing could exist. Sarah could feel Anna’s eyes on her even after they passed.

“Fuuuuc-“ Sarah caught herself beginning to whisper under her breath, forcibly cutting herself short before anyone could overhear her swearing in a crowded hallway full of students. Being stuck in the closet was overrated anyway, right? Come evening, she fully expected to have to deal with a half-dozen students all trying to fix her up with their gay aunts.

"Where to next?" Sarah said next as they reached the bottom of the stairs. She almost had to shout to be heard over the clamour of the many other conversations around her. "Would you like to see where I work, the library? Or if you're hungry, we can take a break and have some lunch in the cafeteria?" She was still hoping to avoid the cafeteria, due to Shauna's earlier prediction, but she reasoned that if there had been a food fight, they would've seen some evidence of it on the students around them. After speaking, she glanced down at Dee's hands, still holding onto her arm. For the most part she wished the other woman wouldn't let go, though she couldn't deny she she was also trying to think up a polite way to extricate it, before students got... erm, well, the right idea.

Completely overwhelmed for a thoroughly different reason, Deidre took a moment to respond. A certain wistfulness had crept back into her expression again as she watched the students spill out into the corridor and disperse. It was the result of a nomadic childhood, and the inevitable requirement of literary fixation, that she still harboured overly romantic notions of boarding schools and playing lacrosse whilst avoiding the matron and attempting to organise midnight raids on the kitchens, but this was the closest the reporter had ever been to a situation where could imagine it actually happening. It was captivating, though she avoided this time getting so swept up in nostalgia that she literally got swept up in the crowd. A neat sidestep saw her separate from Sarah, turned to face her with her back against the hallway wall, and she thought nothing of the overly bright smile one of the young students shot her way, other than to quietly credit the girl with a particularly welcoming demeanour. Envy was a strange thing to apply to her current situation but Deidre couldn't help but feel like these young people were living out her childhood fantasy, one that she'd hoped on more than one occasion would occur to her capricious mother if only as a means of getting her out from underfoot.

Well, apart from the rampant bigotry that lead to very large robots being sent after them. That kind of setback had frankly never occurred to a 10-year-old Dee.

"Perhaps the library," she suggested, watching the hallway slowly empty. "Since I would wager the cafeteria is about to become busy enough."

Sarah looked at Dee as she awaited her reply, trying to figure her out as the last of the students weaved in and around them. Her expression was difficult to figure out, and seemed far more complex than the sort of flighty observations, paired with distracted introspection that the reporter had been caught up in before. Sarah found herself smiling at Dee as she wondered what she was feeling. Sure, she could have used her power, but doing so always stripped away the wonder and mystery. People became a lot more boring when she realized that most of what made people interesting was just them chasing body chemical rushes leading them from one base emotion to another.

"As you wish." Sarah said with a dash of drama as she stepped back closer to Dee and motioned down the hallway, where a T-junction lie ahead. Left led toward the library and the rear of the school, while right went toward the cafeteria, and ultimately back where they'd started out in the main foyer. She was still so distracted by Dee's strangely focused demeanor, trying to mull it over and debating whether or not to simply ask, that she did not listen for or hear what should've been the tell-tale sounds of trouble literally afoot.

As the pair neared the T-junction, two groups of students reached it first. They approached one another in determined unison, not unlike formations of troops preparing to square off. At first none of them looked the part, carrying lunch boxes and trays, but then their innocuous grasps on said objects shifted to a more martial bent. And then the students in back of each group came into view, holding aloft their house banners.

Oh God. This was exactly what Sarah had been trying to avoid. She wanted Dee to see typical school kids, not wannabe football hooligans. These intramural house rivalries were all well in good in the warmer months, when there were any number of outdoor sports in which to blow off steam. But in the winter? This was getting to be too much.

"Oh Hell No." Sarah, said forcefully, almost authoritatively as she rushed forward to intervene. Had she been wearing her heels, the sounds of adult footwear might have been enough to put some sense into the gathering mobs of students, but unfortunately all they got to hear was another pair of sneakers squeaking up to the party, worn by one who upon a quick glance was dressed similarly to them.

Before she could do or say anything, Sarah was treated to a VIP front-row experience of a food fight that erupted in a span of heartbeats as lunchboxes were opened and trays were raised as shields. She was immediately caught in the crossfire and pelted mercilessly with meatballs and saucy handfuls of spaghetti.

"Shit! It's Moonshine!" Someone screeched, and immediately the fight ended and morphed into a chaotic flight reminiscent of a barnyard full of newly decapitated chickens. The house banners disappeared, and it was every student for themself. And then it was just Sarah, squatting in the fetal position amid what almost resembled a pile of her own bloody entrails. Her glare was positively murderous.

Not for the first time in her life, Dee's hesitancy had spared her. She did not emerge from the encounter completely unscathed but, compared to the impromptu buffet that was the school's librarian, a strand or two of stray spaghetti tangled in her hair was barely even worth a complaint. At any rate, she hadn't noticed, far too aghast at the sudden calamity, whilst privately just a little titillated by the concrete evidence that student misbehaviour was just as creative as all her childhood stories had intimated. The reporter wasn't quite brave enough to intervene immediately, unsure of the need to overstep the boundaries with children who didn't know her from a bar of soap, but once the last of them had scarpered and the full extent of the aftermath was smeared in various shades of bolognaise over quite honestly every available surface within eyeshot, she rushed forward to a teetering crouch in an effort to help Sarah up.

"Are you all right?" The concern seemed genuine, resonating from both the woman's tone and the intensity of her gaze as it lingered behind a furrowed brow. A hand hesitated, not entirely sure where to start, and then delicately peeled a length of pasta away from Sarah's glasses. "Should I try to find someone to help?"

It took Sarah a few moments to see past her anger and process what had happened, and then react to what happened next. Why did this always have to happen? And why now was it happening so soon? Sarah hadn't even gathered up the nerve to ask Dee out on a date yet, and already the relationship was going to end, in the same exact way that all of them did. She thought she'd have more time, but then she saw Dee reaching for her glasses.

"Nooo!" Sarah yelled, her voice still barbed with anger, even though she didn't mean for it to be so. Still crouched low on her heels, so as to make herself as small a target as possible during the fight, Sarah abruptly threw her weight back, hard and fast. She winced as her butt struck the floor, smooshing what felt like a meatball or two in the process. Her glasses, with no lenses, came off of her face and remained in Dee's gentle fingers. The librarian had reacted as if the other woman was carrying some sort of plague, but in fact she was the one with the disease. Dee could not touch her. Not while she was in this state.

Not yet. Please, not yet. Sarah closed her eyes and silently pleaded to the fates. She wasn't prepared to lose Dee like this... the same way she inevitably lost all of her girlfriends. Invariably something always made her angry, eventually. And then her girlfriend would try to console or defuse her. They touched her, and got sick... or hurt. Then no more girlfriend. And it certainly didn't help that Sarah gravitated toward ladies of a fancier sort, who usually did not advertise or possess the constitution and mindset needed to withstand the punishment that came from being near Sarah during the low points in her life. Sometimes the highs offset the lows... for a while. But it seemed like Dee wasn't even going to experience any of those first, to decide if Sarah was even worth it.

Sarah's anger melted in a second as concern for Dee, and the way she'd just treated her, took hold. She reached back forward, now in a safer mindset, but was unable to bridge the distance she'd suddenly created only moments before. She hoped the damage hadn't already been done.

Poised in tableaux, frozen at the point of intersection so that the unintentional extraction of spectacles presented a moment of pure visual comedy, Deidre took a moment to even blink. Due to Sarah's precaution, what assaulted her was not a barrage of inherited angst twisted into a physical affliction but the familiar surge of her own personal demons, far more obscure in nature but equally, perhaps, as potent. Some people, presented with the same reaction, might have been immediately able to deduce that they'd done nothing particularly alarming, certainly nothing that warranted such visceral revulsion. Those people, blessed as they should consider themselves, likely hadn't been faced with a lifetime of unfortunately similar reactions.

It was difficult, Dee had compartmentalised into a more-or-less generous appraisal of past experience, to fit in when you didn't stay in one place for very long. Bouncing from school to school didn't provide a lot of opportunity to make connections, or at least to sustain them, and the inconsistency only perpetuated the kind of minor details that very quickly became quite major ones in the political landscape of the school yard; never possessing the right school uniform, a hastily-packed lunch crammed into an old biscuit tin because her mother never could quite organise the paperwork for school lunches to avoid at least a few weeks of self-provision, a mop of unruly ginger curls that no fastening could tame and most hairbrushes failed to influence even at surface level. Once word got around that she lived in the weird caravan painted as a garden mural with the crazy lady who talked to herself, there was not a lot of social ladder climbing to be had and she'd been lucky if she found a group of similarly ostracized outcasts to take pity on her.

It had never helped, of course, that the school staff had often been quite obvious in the pendulum-swing of their opinion of the young waif, expecting learning deficit from interrupted curriculum access when, in fact, the strange gypsy-child very quickly presented with a reading age well beyond her years, a gift for written expression and enough functional skills in other areas to force a quick adjustment of expectations. Kids also didn't take very kindly to know-it-alls, especially those who didn't know what the term meant and only sought to share their genuine enjoyment for knowledge-intake with peers whose priorities centred more around the events impacting their social interactions. Being an imposter was bad enough; being a clever imposter was a thrown-down gauntlet that Deidre had never even realised she'd been holding in the first place.

In a world where small mercies held great value, there had least been a few years right at the pivotal point of secondary education where her mother had consented to stop moving and provide a lifestyle with a faintly more acceptable veneer. They'd lived in a house, at least, even if it was far from any sort of suburban aspiration, and her mother had held down an actual job that paid the bills and lifted them far enough above the poverty line that certain behaviours were seen not as mental incapacity but the more socially-accepted eccentricity. It had been enough to nudge Deidre towards self-sufficiency, a final boost over the line to a point where only her own choices mattered and a small inheritance from her father's side had set her on a path that had ultimately culminated in her kneeling amongst a smorgasbord of wasted spaghetti, staring at a woman whose glasses she'd inadvertently stolen right off her face. There was enough in that journey alone to have earned Dee a reprieve from old battle wounds but they were stubbornly robust as far as memories went. What they were telling her, more than anything else, was that this was her fault and she needed to fix it.

"All right then, I won't." The slightly-stunned reassurance was punctuated by a delayed shake of the reporter's head. "I won't get help. It's okay, we can manage this ourselves." Dee swallowed at the lump in her throat. "Are you hurt?" Perhaps that was the problem, though she didn't think she'd accidentally impacted any potential injury.

Sarah blinked, She hadn't known what reaction her outburst would elicit, but for some reason she'd been expecting something a bit more dramatic. But then again, not everyone was as dramatic as her. She honestly couldn't tell what Dee's reaction was comprised of. She had definitely jarred the reporter's attention fully into the here-and-now, but she couldn't even begin to identify the emotions that had accompanied it. One thing seemed certain though... Sarah had managed to pull away in time. With that much known, she could now die in peace.

"Only my ego." Sarah said as she collapsed the rest of the way onto the floor with a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, I didn't want to pull away from you like that, but... people usually regret touching me when I'm caught up in a bad moment. I need one of those hazmat labels sewn onto my sweater, like the ones on tanker trucks." She sighed again.

"I think this concludes our tour for today." Sarah droned, clearly wiped out by her emotional roller coaster ride that was still in the midst of what felt like a catastrophic derailment. "That way will lead you back to the main foyer. As you can see, I now have business to attend to here." Still sprawled out on her back, Sarah clearly had no idea which way she was pointing, as her finger was aimed directly toward the boys' bathroom. "Save yourself, my dear. And if anyone asks, you didn't see anything. What food fight?"

Dealing with the aftermath of the food fight would actually be easy. The kids had been stupid enough to bring their house banners. The moment Sarah mentioned them, the corresponding house elders would be responsible for cleaning up the mess. The true culprits would never be singled out by their own, of course, so the consequences would more or less be shouldered by the entirety of both houses. With Sarah as the only casualty, discipline would be nothing out of the ordinary. And if Sarah was lucky she might get some free dry cleaning and a hair salon visit in the bargain. That was why she suggested that Dee keep her mouth shut. If it became known that the reporter had also been a casualty, there would be an inquisition of biblical proportions.

Whatever expectation there was about Dee's willingness to accept the offer to flee with haste and gratitude, it was soon rendered utterly inaccurate. Though the reporter did rise slowly to a standing position, still delicately holding the frames-only of Sarah's glasses, there was a thoughtfulness to the silence that immediately followed that gradually lent itself to a more evaluative intent. Careful where she put her feet, Deidre turned a slow circle, cataloguing for the first time what the exact fallout had been, from the sodden entrails smeared along the floor to the more decorative single strands dangling from the stair railing and nearby doorhandles. By the time she turned a full revolution, her posture had pulled upright, a sense of determination not without a degree of amusement angling her chin with expressive stubbornness. Careful steps, mindful of her hemline, brought her to a hover-point over the stricken librarian and, in the place of earlier timid concern was the warmth of a completely unprofessional smile.

She reached down the hand holding the glasses and left it extended as an offer to help Sarah to her feet.

"It can be our little secret." A dimple emerged. "And if you point me in the direct of a mop, I can help make sure it stays that way."


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