Author’s Note: Welcome to Transient everyone. It’s been a long time going and I hope it’s raised the anticipation. Before you begin please remember to Like and follow this blog for more updates on stories, artwork, and reviews. I’ll be posting regularly and who knows I might hook you with something good. If you end up liking or hating this installment, leave me a comment and tell me what you think, I’m always open to critique! Now, sit back, relax and enjoy.
CW: This story contains violence, abuse, disturbing imagery, and child death. Read at your own discretion.
The scent of dry-erase markers was one Ayida had been certain she would never smell again. Its pungency permeated the quaint classroom with its dusty yet sunny windows and grid of worn-out dark wood desks. It mingled with the burn of lemon-scented cleaner the janitor passed over the years-old tile that morning. What a strange thing to notice, yet it felt safe in the way that the dozes of eyes on her didn’t. The dull whispers that accompanied them echoed loud against her ears. Having been accustomed to a certain volume of noise from nurses and even more so from the single voice of her father, Ayida found she hated the noise of others. Much like the scent and sun, those whispers refracted inside like decade-old nostalgia despite her last encounter being less than a year ago. Time was more than relevant in the revolution of a twelve-year-old. A “successful and speedy” recovery of twelve months was long enough for the world to move on without her and place her in front of a dozen unfamiliar faces. Ayida stood completely out of time… even in body, coming diminutively to her new teacher’s bust.
“You’re much smaller than I expected, Ayida.” Mrs. Shipline brought her to her desk.
Ignoring the eyes on her as most of the chatter quieted in favor of curiosity, Ayida tugged her hood a bit closer to her face. A barrier was a barrier, even if it made a larger spectacle of her. Mrs. Shipline skimmed her little packet that Dr. Chandler explained she needed to keep on her at all times and give a copy of it to each teacher.
“No direct sunlight…?” Mrs. Shipline searched the room for a desk before going back to the packet. “Hmm… we’ll have to put you in the corner—sweetie, take that off.”
“Don’t want to.”
Mrs. Shipline frowned, her careworn face lifting from the papers to look at her. “Well, you can’t have a hood on in class, honey. Rules are no hoods.”
Ayida lowered her head further, as Mrs. Shipline’s eyes narrowed. “It’s too bright here.”
“Too bright? Okay sweetie, look. Either you take that off or—”
“Read my paper, please.”
Mrs. Shipline put the packet down, almost in direct defiance. “I’m not sure how it was with your tutor, but children don’t boss around adults in this school, Miss Ayida. We have a dress code and one of them is no hoods or hats.”
The room grew silent in the face of Mrs. Shipline’s raised voice, save for a few whispered “ooo’s.” Ayida stared at her feet, fingers clenching the yellow pleather though Mrs. Shipline didn’t back down. And why would she? She wasn’t going to have a child tell her what she will and won’t do. It would’ve come to this anyway so, no point in getting in trouble on her first day. Ayida took a deep breath, unmoved by the tone of voice. The crinkle of the material assaulted her ears as she removed the hood and lifted her face, subtle calm in the gaze she gave the middle-aged woman. An impressive spring of coiling sable fell from beneath her hood that she wished behaved in a way that would shield her face. A raised, discolored line ran from her hairline down to the apple of her dark walnut bark skin where it intersected a larger one that ran from the corner of her plush mouth to her jaw. It split the right side of her face in an uncanny smile that appeared harlequin. An empty, misshapen pupil encased in dull grey created an almost necrotic quality where it interrupted the harsh line on her face. The disfigurement dulled the unharmed portion of her face and ran down to badly mended scars along her neck and further down where her robin’s egg blouse and raincoat shielded. Gasps preceded returning whispers.
Mrs. Shipline stared with gaping mouth, hand on her chest. She closed it quickly and blindly pulled the packet of paper back to her. It was obvious when she reached “severe scarring” and… the call for “delicate treatment.” She cleared her throat and put the packet face down on her desk.
“Let’s find you a seat.”
“You said the corner, right?”
Mrs. Shipline frowned. “You’re not going to make very many friends with an attitude like that darlin’.”
“Please? I’m getting tired.”
Mrs. Shipline smacked her lips and walked towards the edge of the classroom, away from the warm windows. It became an overdramatic gauntlet of whispers and snickering that made Ayida pull her hood back on and dip her head.
“This is going to have to be good enough.” Mrs. Shipline put her hands on her hip. “Next time learn to speak up, okay darlin’. Not everyone is going to read that paper every time.”
Ayida flicked her eyes to the teacher before letting the comment go and placing her bag on the desk. In the adjacent desk, a boy with a head of dirty blond hair huddled in sleep, his snore soft and just a bit raspy—easy to miss among the chatting. Mrs. Shipline slammed her hand on his desk, causing him to bolt upright and Ayida’s heart to skip hard.
“Jesus! I’m up! Been up! Was restin’ my eyes!” he blabbered groggily. His crackled voice carried a thick drawl. After a listless blink and a yawn, he pinned Mrs. Shipline with a long-suffering glare. A kind reserved for an archnemesis. “S’up, Mrs. Shipline.”
The casual grin did nothing for the nasty tone.
Mrs. Shipline towered over him and Ayida stepped back to not be involved.
“Since you’re paying such apt attention, why don’t you be the first to introduce yourself to the new student. Hmm?”
Ayida’s eyes narrowed immediately and she snapped her head up at Mrs. Shipman. The boy affixed her with a blank stare and Ayida could almost hear something nasty on his tongue. Instead, he scrutinized Ayida with a frown that sunk her stomach. Ayida’s teeth grit behind her expressionless face as she stared back impassively. He studied her face, head tipping this way and that. It was slow, giving her the full focus of his eyes, splotchy in their blend of green and brow. Just ever so slightly, Ayida mimicked the motion and showed her impatience through the squinting of her eyes. It was forever before he stood up from his desk—a full head taller than her—and with a lazy stretch pinned her with a careless grin.
“I’m Dakota Fisher! And your face is seriously badass.”
“Dakota! Detention for swearing!”
“S’not a swear!”
“Make it two!”
“Pfft. Anyway, nice to meet ya. I don’t know why I ain’t seen ya before, but glad I did now!”
With that, Dakota looked Mrs. Shipline right in the eye as plopped back down in his seat, crossed his arms on his desk, and laid his head down. Mrs. Shipline gave an exasperated scoff.
“Detention after school and I’m calling your mother.”
“Oh no, my mother.”
Mrs. Shipline returned to the front of the classroom, not bothering to make him sit up, and left Ayida to awkwardly sit down. Ayida kept a wary eye on him as she did so. He turned his head to her and gave her a playful wink. Her brows furrowed and her mouth twisted. He laughed and nested back into his arms.
“You can go to sleep if ya wanna,” he said. “She ain’t gone do nothin’ bout it. We’re her homeroom. Not like she does shit.”
Ayida shook her head and turned to face the front. “Even if I wanted to, I can’t sleep through my first day.”
Ayida glanced at him. What a weird thing to say. He only smirked at her.
Ayida paused in pulling out a small notebook glancing at him before shrugging. “Journaling.”
“Oh. You one of those, like, bullet journal girls?”
Ayida clicked her pen. “No. Just gotta.”
Dakota asked nothing else and Ayida pretended she didn’t notice him watching her. She turned to the page she’d started this morning. When he turned back into his arms, she released a breath and began to write. A clack sounded from next to her, taking her attention away from her notebook. She looked down seeing a pencil and then at the girl who dropped it. The girl’s gaze flicked between Ayida and the pencil before she curled her pink glossed lip.
Don’t make them scared.
Ayida picked up the pencil and held it out to her, tipping her head enough so that her hood hid most of the scaring.
“Nah,” she shook her head. “Keep it. I don’t want it.”
“Don’t be an ass, Brittany. Ain’t like she got cooties or some shit,” Dakota sneered from beneath his arms.
The girl—Brittany—smacked her lips and turned away. Ayida shrugged and let the pencil fall back onto the linoleum. She picked up her pen again and began to scribble, irritated at the sun rays that still manage to throw too much heat on her cheek despite her hood. All there really was to do in homeroom was write down what was happening and remind herself of the flimsy logic that brought her here. So, she did; this entry would be more scathing than usual as she didn’t want to be here.
Coming out into the world wasn’t really what I wanted. It was all Dr. Chandler’s big idea. Him and my dad said it was time for me to “reacquaint with reality” and somehow that meant dropping me into freezing water. I don’t wanna be at school but what I think doesn’t matter much even if Dr. Chandler says it does. I just wanna be back in my home where it’s quiet and safe. All the whispers and looks were always going to happen. I don’t know these people and they don’t know me. I’m just a stranger here and now I’m an ugly one. But that’s the point, right? “Get them used to seeing her face.” Get them “adjusted” to seeing me and living next to me… It’s messed up, isn’t it? Why doesn’t anybody ask me if I wanna live next to them?
But. It’s not about me huh… I don’t matter. It’s so frickin’ stupid.
The lunch bell went off and she looked up from her journal. She closed her eyes for a long moment and breathed out a sigh. Right, fourth period. Ayida gathered her things and waited patiently for everyone to file out. Once the class emptied, she adjusted her hood and shouldered her bag as she stood up to go. The math teacher, what was his name… she couldn’t remember. He watched her through squared frames and a kind, but pitying smile. It appeared uncanny—an imitation of empathy. Made her reluctant to pass his desk, but she was hungry and there was no other exit.
“Miss Jean-Baptiste? I wanted to talk to you.”
Ayida eyed the door before approaching his desk.
“What is it… sir?”
He spoke gently and leaned down a bit in front of her, undeterred by her looking past him. “Is everything going okay your first day?”
“O-oh. It isn’t?”
“I don’t like lying.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
Ayida shrugged. “Just the obvious.”
“You speak so well. But please, it may not be obvious to us adults?”
She lifted her head a bit, making eye contact for only a moment before looking past him again. “If it’s not to you then I don’t think there’s a problem.”
“Oh, I beg to differ. I try to listen to my students. You seemed zoned out, so I wanted to know if there was anything I could do.”
“No. People are just getting used to me. I know what I look like.”
“You shouldn’t take their reactions to heart, Miss Ayida. You’re all children right now. Most of them don’t even know better and it’s even harder to teach them better. You’re handling it well though. I had your participation for the first fifteen minutes, but you seemed to drift off and stare at your notebook. I’m proud that you tried, but try a little harder? It might ease things up.”
Ayida breathed in through her nose and nodded. “I’ll try to pay attention.”
“I didn’t mean to imply that, darlin’—”
Ayida flinched and her eyes fluttered.
“—I know that it all seems… kind of messed up right now.”
“Yes, it seems complicated. I know that dealing with this sort of thing can be difficult, especially after all you went through. And it feels like everybody wants to poke the new, special kid.”
Ayida’s brow quirked and she was glad her hood hid it.
“But you know what, Miss Ayida?”
She really wanted to leave.
“You’re a very brave girl for facing it head-on. There’s nothing wrong with you and soon the other kids’ll see you’re just like them despite all of this. You just have to show them.”
When Ayida lifted her head, the pantomime of a smile twisted and his face bulged. Flesh stretched in a lopsided, nauseating bulbous pulp. Ayida inhaled shakily through her nose to suppress the sudden bile in her throat and she blinked rapidly as the room greyed.
Why are you here?!
It’s no good. We have to revert her back!
But she’s almost there!
Who are you?!
The Math Teacher touched her shoulder.
WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?!
Ayida jerked away. “I’m fine! Really… I’m fine. I don’t need reassurance.”
“Reassurance. I love your vocabulary. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“I just gotta eat, okay.” She pulled her hood lower around her face so she couldn’t see him anymore. “I have medication to take.”
“Alright then. Well, you’re always welcome to come to me any time.”
Ayida couldn’t leave the room quickly enough.
In the cafeteria, Ayida occupied the emptiest corner she could find. Closed eyes. Deep breaths. The skipping in her heart became steady beats and allowed her to exhale the nerves. She decided not to write about the conversation since she couldn’t remember his name. She wasn’t going to make a red flag where wasn’t one. Instead, she unpacked her lunch, spreading out each item. Soft tuna sandwich with the crust cut off in the middle. Fruit cup, top left. Juice carton, top right. Medication, top center. Dr. Chandler insisted that she handle her own medication much to her father’s objection. She didn’t know why he’d objected when she’d been handling it since her discharge. It was one of the few things she and Dr. Chandler understood the importance of. Ayida needed a safety net and she was no stranger to caring for herself. Her father’s need to control this aspect of everything didn’t change that Ayida needed that control more or she would’ve never been able to attempt this school thing. It just sucked a bit that freedom came in a small amber tablet that tasted like sawdust and aspirin.
Ayida sipped from her juice box, passively avoiding medicating by watching her new peers from beneath her hood where they couldn’t meet her gaze too openly. Normalcy. People playing around; whooping and hollering above the dull roars of countless conversations speeding past her ears like bees buzzing. Being overlooked after all the questions and hostile attention was a relief. A soft quirk of lips relaxed her expression and she turned back to her food.
There was a Girl in Red sitting across from her.
She was gone.
Ayida shook her head, startled. She looked around the cafeteria, honing on any glimpse of red she could find but didn’t see the girl. She licked her lips and eyed the empty chair one more time before she grabbed the pill bottle and cracked it open. She took out a single tab and bent over to shove it back in her bag, afraid someone would see her or worse she would forget the medication.
“Hey!” A tray slammed down next to her.
Ayida screeched, sitting up immediately and her hand bumping the table. The capsule was knocked out of her hand and disappeared on the linoleum floor somewhere. The ache in her tensed jaw watered her eyes and she cast an icy glare at the culprit. Dakota stood grinning down at her, though it faltered after a moment.
“Scared ya, right! I… I didn’t hurt ya did I?”
Ayida glowered and cradled her jaw.
“Oh… shit I did! Sorry…” He had the decency to look sheepish as he gestured to the empty chair next to her. “Uh, any room at this inn?”
Ayida wanted to tell him no and to get lost. Whether his being here was a joke or not remained unclear and he was off to a bad start. Still, as the pain ebbed away, she made room for him while she massaged her jaw. As he struggled with a prepackaged spork, Ayida took in the bright hazel tincture of his eyes while they focused away from her and his small, slightly pointed nose. It was cute, really. Though cream-colored, his skin held a sun-kissed hue that darkened it just so. Her stomach fluttered and Ayida averted her gaze. The silence stretched, awkwardness growing with Dakota’s valiant fight with the cutlery. Ayida took it from him and punched the sharp prongs through the plastic. He stared at her when she handed it back to him. The pregnant pause turned the nervous flutters into sinking dread. Did he have a problem with her touching his things too? Was he going to be disgusted?
“Thanks. I always have so much damn trouble with those things.”
He took the spork from her with nothing further. Tension released with a slight smile in exchange. Dakota jabbed the spork into a nondescript pile of cafeteria fare—a giant… chicken nugget, maybe?
“Sooo… can I touch it?”
The request took a moment to register considering he didn’t even look at her when he asked.
“That is chicken fried steak! And no, yer face.”
“Uh, I dunno. Ain’t seen nothin’ like it and they’re kinda cool, so I figured I’d ask. You can say no. Just was curious.”
Many descriptors were used for her face, but ‘cool’ wasn’t one. Her mouth opened and closed a few times as she fought to form a response. To be honest, no real objections or apparent harm came to mind in letting him test his nerves and if this was a dare, he’d probably freak out. Though, there was a certain curiosity. She knew the feel of the raised scars at her neck and shoulders. A leathery texture that she found no desire or even curiosity in. So, what curiosity did Dakota find? Maybe a dare? Showing off how brave he was to approach the scarred-up new kid? Ayida eyed him, scrutinizing the casualness of his gaze. Whatever. He could dig his own hole.
Ayida turned her scarred side to Dakota and gripped the edges of her hood. She didn’t pull it off but pushed it back just a tad so that the scars were more visible and accessible. Her fingers were already clammy and her stomach churned. She could barely sit still. He’d chicken out. Because who wouldn’t?
Fingers brushed over raised skin.
Ayida almost jerked away. Instead, her cheek tensed and she cracked her eyes open. Dakota was a bit closer than he’d been when she closed them. He focused slowly on her as he traced the scar up her cheek to her forehead. The focus moved to split mouth and followed along the rough skin in a gentle sweep of careful fingers. Dakota’s gaze moved directly to the gray that held blown pupil and Ayida quickly focused her vision past him so she wouldn’t have to fully see his expression.
What she only just managed to look past was an aberrant curiosity that blended with a captivated smile. Her face grew red.
“Do they hurt?”
“Uh, sometimes. Yeah.”
“Does…does this hurt?”
“No.” He was very gentle. “Just… only hurts when I talk too much.”
“Let’s not make you talk too much then.”
Dakota pulled away, leaving a tingle where his fingers had lingered. She pulled her hood back into place.
“Car accident, right?”
“Thought you slept through that whole thing?”
“Eh, jus’ cause I’m sleepin’ don’t mean I ain’t listenin’.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what that means…”
“If yer gonna be a smart ass—”
“You sat next to me.”
Dakota snorted. “I’ll let ya make it. Started listenin’ when the hag said yet to name. Ayida. It’s pretty. Never heard it before.”
“You… have a nice name too?”
“There’s like three different Dakotas in Calista. Ain’t gotta be nice.”
“There are six Ayidas at my old school. Don’t have to be nice. You’re the first Dakota I’ve met, though.”
“I’m the best yer ever gone meet.”
Ayida’s lip quirked but she kept her deadpan expression.
“Hah! Almost got ya!” He nudged her but gave some distance when she shied away from his touch. “You, uh, live on Maple Street, right?”
“Yeah. Monster of Maple Street.”
“That what they call ya?”
“That’s what I heard. Haven’t you?”
“I must be deaf.”
“Got you,” Ayida replied, smiling softly beneath her hood.
“Fast learner. Ya know, you ain’t far from me. Should totally walk home together.”
“I don’t know you. And aren’t you scared?”
Dakota looked her up and down, brow raised skeptically. “Of?”
“Me?” she gestured to the hood. “Aren’t people gonna be weird about you hanging out with me?”
“Mm… yeah, I guess yer kinda scary when ya first look at ya. Specially if ya ain’t payin’ attention.”
“But I ain’t scared. Everybody else. ‘Specially those guys over there! HI GUYS!”
Ayida jumped and looked in the direction that Dakota flailed comically in. A group of boys she hadn’t noticed before watched them from across the room. All of them were a lot bigger than Dakota—no doubt athletes growing into their bodies. Expressions were sour and dodgy when Ayida looked their way directly.
“They’re my friends.” Dakota snickered his grin wide. “Buncha chicken shits, but they’re cool. Called me stupid for comin’ over here. Ya see did it anyway.”
“They aren’t wrong, you know,” Ayida scrunched her face at them and pulled her hood a bit closer. “Why?”
“Why’d you come if they didn’t make you?”
“Not too trustin’ huh?”
“I don’t know you.”
Dakota rolled his eyes and spoke slowly, enunciating each word. “Cause. I. Wanted. To.”
Ayida narrowed his eyes at him. “Okay. Why. Did. You. Want. To?”
“I wanted to meet you, Ayida. Get to know ya. Be your friend if ya wanted. I kinda liked ya when we met in homeroom.”
Ayida lowered her head, obscuring her view of him and his of her. Dakota leaned down a bit so he could peek at the brim of the hood.
“Havin’ a hard time with this aren’t ya?”
“Just don’t get it. I’m supposed to make friends, but it’s like everyone acts like I have snot on my face. You’re kinda the first person who hasn’t.”
“Hood probably don’t help, but there’s not much else to ya to be worried about.” Dakota screwed his face up. “Snot’s the line tho, I’m just sayin’.”
“Got ya.” Dakota poked her hood rather than touching her, making her laugh harder and move away. She flinched and covered her mouth, willing the smile away. He leaned in again with concern. “Hurt ya? Wanna stop?”
“Nah. I’m fine.” She really was. When she pulled her hand away, Ayida no longer smiled, but the tension eased out of her completely. “Really. It’s fine.”
Dakota gave a half-smile. “Wish you’d come out of the house earlier. We coulda been friends.”
“It’s alright. We’re friends now.”
Her brow arched. “You sure your friends didn’t dare you to come over here, ‘cause this feels pretty fake.”
“Yer awful suspicious.”
“So are you.”
A beat of silence. A snicker. Both broke into laughter; Ayida’s a bit softer than Dakota’s.
“Did I win?” she asked.
“Yer a real smart ass. I promise all I wanna do is be yer friend. So… let’s be friends.”
“…okay. Let’s be friends then.”
Ayida thought that once she gave in, words would run out. Dakota quickly proved that he wasn’t the type to run out of words. He engaged her until the unease faded from her and she didn’t mind it. He was the first kind interaction in nearly a year. The more he spoke, the more eager to know him she became. Thirteen already — started school late. Enjoyed climbing trees and scary things. Every subject brought to the table Dakota naturally included her into. A genuine kindness radiated between them and the sincerity in every offer he made – including wanting her to meet his sister – made it sound almost possible. Ayida knew that it wouldn’t be. The only thing she could really do was agree to walk home with him since they went the same way. This was a good step, right?
The shrill bell brought their conversation to an end. Ayida was very reluctant to stop talking despite the dull throb in the joint of her jaw. Dakota was nice enough to cut the conversation though. To her surprise, he didn’t leave. Instead, he waited for her to pack her things and didn’t question the methodical way she did it. As they threw their trash away and moved to the exit, Ayida ended up passing Dakota’s friends. She kept her head down, hood shadowing most of her face. It didn’t stop one of them from flipping her off. Or Dakota smacking him.
“Quit bein’ a dipshit, Caleb!”
A/N: thank you for reading! If you enjoyed or hated it, lemme know what you think in the comments. Don’t forget to like and follow this blog for the next installment. If you guys want to help support what we do here, consider joining our Patreon starting at $2 or donating to our Ko-Fi. You could also patron our Shop to help us keep the doors open. Thank you so much! Please follow all our social media to stay updated! Consider joining our Discord Server as well!