After we all got into our gym clothes, we marched out of the change room doors and assembled in the massive modern-style gym. The walls were white, like the rest of the building, but blue, gold-embroidered banners dominated most of the wall, it was hard to find a space on them where there wasn't a twenty-year-old banner of some championship sports team. It was much larger than the lunchroom, and the walls were so high, it felt as if the room wasn't built for me, but a giant or a great monster. The wax floors were designed for basketball, and I assumed that based on the familiar line patterns and the fact that there were basketball nets folded up and pressed against the walls, like those foldable stools you'd buy for your kids to sit on when a relative visited and you had let them sit in your chair.
Our Phys. Ed. teacher was an avian by the name of Raina Dashner, and she was- well, she was something. Her hair was cut at medium length and was swept to the side, kind of styled like how a cliché goth kid would style their hair, only hers was multicoloured like a rainbow and pretty dishevelled. Ms. Dashner couldn't have been any older than twenty-two, and her bright red eyes looked lively and determined. Her tight, black yoga pants and yellow tank top flaunted her toned physique, and most of the guys by me were totally in awe.
"Alright you punks! Get in a line!" Her voice wasn't assertive, it sounded more competitive and spunky. We obeyed without question and formed a row on one outer blue line that spanned the entire length of the gym, from one end all the way down to the other. We all stood firmly as she walked down the line, inspecting us all. "Well, I've seen worse." She shook her head shamefully as she stopped at me. "And you must be Jonathan Star, right? Well, you may come from a long line of fancy wizards, but magic won't get you anywhere if you don't have the stamina to use it!"
"Thanks," I said, although I wanted to be sarcastic with her. I figured it would be best not to stir up trouble on the first day.
Now, I'm not the most athletic person in the world. I'm not overweight or lanky, don't get me wrong, but I'm certainly no linebacker. I've been in a few sports now and then, but that was mostly just to fit in with the other guys and get a little exercise. Sports just aren't my thing. Standing beside Fraylick kind of made me feel pretty weak, because Fraylick looked jacked in his striped muscle shirt, not bodybuilder jacked, but close to it. I felt as if I was missing out on some much-needed testosterone.
To my right was Saffron, who wore an outfit similar to Ms. Dashner's, only her tank top was dark green instead of yellow. I resisted the urge to gawk at her like an idiot and looked forward every time she looked at me. She laughed to herself every time I did it, which made Mura scowl slightly.
"Alright, kids! Today we'll be doing some basic training exercises! There won't be any activities until I whip you guys into shape!" We all groaned in response, and Ms. Dashner rolled her eyes. "Careful! Groaning gets you fifty push-ups!" We all shut up instantly as we saw her serious expression. "That's better! Now, let me think... what shall we do first? Oh, I know! Some push-ups! A classic!"
We all got down into a push-up position and prepared ourselves. I could see an intense look on Saffron and Augustine's faces as they looked at each other, giving each other a nod and a grin. "Are they in a competition or something?" I thought to myself.
"Alright! I want twenty-five push-ups, on your own time!" She made sure we were all ready. "Go!"
Fraylick and Augustine took off like a rocket, breathing in an out as they went up and down at the speed of light. Mura, on the other hand, was taking her time and doing push-ups not only with one arm but with her fingers instead of using her knuckles or regular palms. Mura wanted to get the most out of the exercise, and she did every single push-up with precision, and never lost momentum or stopped. They were all pretty impressive, and it kind of made me feel like a total wimp. Miles did okay, but he kind of slacked off once in a while like me. Although, I wasn't sure whether he was doing it to make me feel better about myself, or if he was legitimately exhausted.
After forty-five excruciating minutes of workouts, we were all soaked with sweat. Well, except Mura, she was breathing just a bit heavier than normal. I was positively dripping with sweat, and I was almost completely out of breath after our ten minute run around the gym. I had to sit down for a moment just to recollect my strength. Ms. Dashner approached me soon after with a smug grin on her face. She aided me to my feet, and I shook my hair a little, a few bead of sweat dripping down my face. "C'mon, man! We aren't done yet!"
"Yay..." I croaked.
"Alright! It was good seeing some sweat today! I'm glad you're all feelin' the burn!" She clapped her hands together and grabbed a large plastic container on the other side of the gym and opened it up. There were some boxing gloves for all of us to wear. "Now it's time we gave you a little break! A stress-reliever!"
"Boxing...?" I said to Fraylick as I stood up straight and panted. "Are you serious? But, this isn't even... boxing club!"
"Just go with it, or she'll make you box her," Fraylick warned me. "Every Phys. Ed. class is different. Different warm-ups and everything."
"That's... fantastic..." I was so out of breath I didn't even have the energy to make my voice sound sarcastic.
"Find a partner, kids!" Ms. Dashner commanded us. "I'll give you two minutes to spar, then you'll switch and fight with someone else!"
I did the smart thing and picked Miles first, who didn't really put up much of a fight, and I felt bad after the two minutes were up, and I apologized. He said it was okay, but I still felt like a wimp. To regain my honour I picked a fight with Fraylick, who fed me some pretty nasty blows to the chest and head. I may have been in martial arts, but experience was no good when you were pitted against a guy twice your weight. After he destroyed me, I moved on to Saffron. Actually, she wanted to fight me. I wasn't keen on hitting girls, as it didn't feel right to me, so I mostly blocked and jabbed. Saffron hated that and pummelled me whenever I got too close, knowing I wouldn't retaliate. I suppose it was her way of saying, 'your morals make you weak'. After her, I sparred a few other guys, and I did my best to avoid Mura, who was sizing me up like a wild cat getting ready to pounce. Eventually, she caught me, and we sparred.
Mura must've had a black belt in "Kicking Jonathan's Ass Fu" because that's what she did. Every time I tried to use my size against her and close the distance, she'd uppercut me right on the chin or deliver a crushing right cross to my jaw. Even with her thick mitts on, it still felt as if I was being hit with a brick. Even when I let go of my morals to try and overpower her, she'd simply tank the hits and drive her fist into my gut. Every time she hit me, I could feel her contained rage being released through her fists. It was pretty confusing for me, because even then, I still had no idea what was bothering her. The bell rang loudly, and we all showered and got changed into our uniforms. It was time for supper.
Our dinner was pretty good. We all had prime rib and mashed potatoes, and the meat was so tender it practically fell off the fork. Miles wrote about it in his blog like every other break, and Fraylick was checking out some attractive girls as they passed by, which made Augustine roll her eyes at him. Mura --like always-- sat in silence as she played with her food, giving me the stink eye now and then when I wasn't looking, although I could see it in my peripherals.
"So..." Saffron tried to break the awkward silence. "That was some gym class, huh? Ms. Dashner really knows how to get us ready for supper!"
"She always does," Fraylick replied.
"So, John. Did you enjoy your first day of classes?" Miles added, cutting off a piece of his prime rib as he looked over to me.
"Yeah, they were pretty cool," I said with my mouth partially full. "Although, the day isn't over yet. We've still got Art Club."
"Yeah," He agreed and continued eating his prime rib.
"Did you meet any girls? You know, someone you're interested in?" Fraylick grinned mischievously.
"Oh hush, Fraylick," Augustine growled at him. "You're such a pervert."
"C'mon, August, I'm a guy!" Fraylick threw up his arms in an outrage.
"I'm sure the other guys are thinking about stuff like this right now, aren't you fellas?"
"Na," I said as I ate a piece of prime rib.
"Maybe just a little..." Miles blushed.
"See? Who's the girl? Is it Maria again?" Fraylick chuckled to himself as he played around with his food a bit. "Man, you've got to talk to her sometime! Get to know her, man!"
"No- I, I just couldn't. I can barely speak to other girls, and I still have troubles speaking to Saffron!" Miles shook his head.
"Because I'm just so smoking hot, right?" Saffron winked at Miles teasingly.
"Arrgghh! See what I mean?" Miles' face was pretty much on fire.
"And that's why we love you..." Saffron teased him again, and we all laughed together, even Miles.
Professor Cordia wanted to test us on the first day of Art Club to see our artistic talents, so he set up dozens of easels for us to freely paint on whilst he observed. I sat in silence on my stool and looked around Professor Cordia's art room before I started painting. The room was filled with abstract paintings of, well, everything and anything, especially butterflies. There was one painting of a butterfly right hanging on the wall, in the back corner of the room. It was a monarch, but being abstract, it didn't really resemble one too well. It had prismatic and jagged qualities to it that made it look more like a bunch of diamonds all huddled together, and the paint used to make the wings was an odd orange-copper colour that was partially reflective. It was actually quite mesmerizing to look at.
Mura was next to me, and she stared at her painting intensely as she splattered crimson-red paint all over her canvas. It was quite frightening to watch to be honest. Watching her paint in that way immediately made me think back to the day before when she almost ripped off those kid's ears.
The professor moved about the room, viewing our progress. He stopped once in a while to offer advice, and as he made his way to the back of the room, my body tensed up a bit. I still hadn't painted anything, and I began to tap the handle of my brush against my lower lip to think. I didn't really know how to start. I was about to paint, but, I saw a few pieces of charcoal to my left on a trolley filled with assorted art supplies. I grabbed some and began to look around the art room for something, but nothing seemed to catch my eye, except Mura, who was scowling at the bloody mess on her sheet of canvas. I Looked to my left quickly to not draw her attention, and I began to outline her features. She stood perfectly still, and it made me wonder what was going on inside her head. What was she thinking? There was something so alluring about her, not in a romantic way mind you (most people would've assumed a kid my age was just horny), but I suppose her character sparked my creativity.
After I finished the outline of the side of her head, I began to add detail to her left eye. A fine layer of black soot began to coat the tip of my index finger and the end of my thumb as I pressed down on my piece of charcoal. When I finished her eye, I moved on to her nose. It was small and unpronounced, and as I shaded it I began to notice her lips. Though you didn't see them often because of her scarf; they were fuller than expected, and luckily, she tilted her head up just enough for me to see them clearly. I figured I'd leave the scarf out until the last second, and I suppose, in a way that seemed right to me. As I finished drawing her blue hair, and as added more detail to her rounded cheeks and her chin, I realized that the Professor was watching just over my shoulder. As I looked over to him, he nodded his head in delight, pleased with my work.
"Not bad, Jonathan, not bad at all," The professor nodded. "Who is this girl?"
"Oh, um- she's just my mother. When she was younger, of course." I explained with a nervous stutter. Mura rarely allowed others to see her face, so I assumed he wouldn't recognize her.
"I see..." I exhaled a little as he moved on, and left me to continue my drawing.
As my eyes moved back to the canvas, I caught a glimpse of Mura, whose face was beet red, although it was hard to tell at first due to her white wool scarf. "Mura- I, um- sorry?" Her face changed from embarrassed to angry, and she pulled her scarf up further, over her nose to conceal everything, preventing me from finishing the drawing. She then switched places with Saffron, who was at the front of the room. "Smooth," I talked to the little artist inside my head. "You could've picked that apple on the professor's desk, but you had to pick her, huh?" That little artist was a bit of an idiot if you ask me.
"Wow, congrats, Johnny," Saffron clapped slowly and sarcastically as she placed her canvas on the easel and sat down on Mura's stool.
"You're a fairly dense guy, huh? So, what did you do?" She stood behind me and observed my drawing of Mura. "Wow, that's... actually really good. But still, that was pretty weird, buddy. Don't be a weirdo, John." She sat back down at her stool and continued to paint.
I sighed softly to myself and grabbed another sheet of canvas from the trolley next to me. "So, what are you painting, Saffron?"
"Oh, nothing. Just the apple on Professor Cordia's desk," She replied as she turned her easel my way. That damn apple. It was pretty good, although she shading was a little off. Then again, I was no art critic.
"That's pretty good," I said as I went back to my new picture and brainstormed.
I tried to think of something, and... it wasn't that I lacked ideas. I was drawn to this single idea, buried in my head for so long. I thought of drawing a comic book character or some kind of interesting tessellation, something interesting. But, for some reason, it just didn't feel right. I started to draw a crow.
I thought back to that day in the park, that day I spent time with my grandfather. It was the last time we visited the park together, as he became too weak to walk only a few days later. I thought about when we sat at the bench together just before we left. It was about to rain, and you could smell the moisture in the air and feel the thickness of the gentle wind fill your lungs. There weren't many birds out, they had all sought shelter from the incoming rain. Except, there was this crow that persevered and sat on the sidewalk just a few feet away from my grandfather. I was prepared to scare it off, but my grandfather insisted that it should stay, then he smiled at it and slowly bent over to feed it some breadcrumbs. Surprisingly, it went right up to his outstretched hand filled with breadcrumbs and perched itself along the edge of his palm, devouring the crunchy pieces of bread as it bobbed its head up and down.
Before that afternoon in the park, I always thought of crows as annoying pests, uncompassionate parasites that fed off the dead. But, I think I learned something from the crow. Crows understand death better than us humans, they know when an animal has met its end. They accept death, because death is what sustains life, and in a way, I think my grandfather knew that too. He knew that it was his time and he accepted it, but it took me a while to comprehend his passing. After all, I'm no crow.
After applying the finishing touches to my crow, I stared at it for a while, taking in a big breath of air, then letting it out as I rose from my seat and put away my charcoal. Truth be told, a part of me wanted to put my hand out and feed my drawing, but I figured I've had enough of feeling like a moron. I looked up at the clock: eight o' clock. The class was over.
Everyone grabbed their finished artwork and handed it into Professor Cordia, who offered criticism to each member or Art Club. I grabbed both of my drawings, and I handed the raven into the professor when it was my turn.
"Well, this is marvellous! Simply marvellous! I think I just might hang it on my wall!" Professor Cordia announced to the class. "But, I must know... whatever happened to that portrait? May I see it?"
"Sorry- I, um... I messed up. I'm going to throw it away." I said as I hid it behind my back with one hand.
"Very well, but don't get discouraged by one screw-up! You have talent, son!" He encouraged me. "Have a good day, my boy!"
"Thanks, and I won't get discouraged," I assured him as I walked out the door and into the hallway leading to the door, with Saffron following not far behind.
"Hey, John, wait up..." She stopped me, and I turned around to face her.
"Don't throw that away, let me have the picture. I'll just say that I wanted you to make it for me so that I could give it to her for her birthday."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Yeah, I think it's a great drawing." Saffron admired my work. "She's so beautiful... and she's always hiding from everyone. I think this will be a perfect gift for her birthday next month."
"Huh, so she's got a late birthday like me," I said to her as I looked down at the drawing. "So, what's her deal? She's been weird all day. Is she mad at me or something?"
"She's like that with everyone, she probably thinks you're trying to steal me away from her. She's a super protective girl." Saffron explained. "But, don't worry, she'll open up eventually. She's a really nice gal."
"Yeah, well-." I trailed off as I heard a faint noise in the distance. It was some random person who frantically opened the door to the outside at the end of the hall.
"Please, someone help! My friend was attacked! Please, help me!" She begged us as she ran towards me. "She's bleeding!"
"Oh shit..." I began to panic, as did Saffron.