What I Learned at SRU
Chapter 6 - Secure
-Tuesday, August 31st-
["YOU HAVE...TWO NEW MESSAGES. FIRST NEW MESSAGE."]
["Smellerbee, what the fuck is up with Katara? I thought you said she was fine. I just ran into her at the pub and she was not fine. She's acting fucking crazy. What did you say to her? I told you not to talk with her about anything. That's none of her business. That's our business. Freedom Fighter business. And she's not a Freedom Fighter - not yet."] There was a pause after a long, frustrated sigh. ["Anyway. Listen. I'm gonna take her out and hopefully she can chill the fuck out. I can't deal with this shit on top of everything else. If you know what her problem is, gimme a call, help me figure this out."]
["END OF MESSAGE."]
["MESSAGE DELETED. NEXT MESSAGE."]
["Hey, Bee...It's Katara. I...I'm sorry, I know you're probably with your boyfriend right now, but...Oh, tell him I said hi, by the way."]
"Kat says hi."
["But, um...I dunno, I just...I'm not doing so great right now."] Her voice was kind of shaky. ["And I just have this bad feeling about...everything. Fff. Real specific, right? Heh. I don't-...I thought you might be able to help me figure some of this stuff out. Call me? Or...Or maybe I'll just see you tonight? Anyway, I'm sorry. Just..."] A raspy breath. ["Not having such a good day, I guess. I'll talk to you later."]
["END OF MESSAGE."]
["MESSAGE SAVED. YOU HAVE NO MORE MESSAGES."]
"Damnit," Jane grumbled as she closed her phone, glancing around Appa's. She ran her lanky hand through matted orange hair and cast her tired, dreary eyes to the young man before her. Longshot was sitting across the booth from her, chewing on his bacon cheeseburger with a thoughtful expression. They exchanged concerned glances before Jane picked at the remains of her curly fries.
"I'm thinkin' this is gonna blow up in my face, Johnny," she mumbled gloomily. "I don't even get why Jet got mixed up with Kat in the first place. They're so different." She scratched her neck as she popped a fry into her mouth. She rested her head on her wrist, her other hand extended across the table on her closed phone.
I envy you, Katara. Your friends seem so...awesome. It's like you live in a completely different world than I do.
Rough fingers squeezed her own on the smooth surface of the table. Her gaze crawled up to meet his. He was smiling sympathetically at her dull, tired spirit. He wore a look that said 'Everything's going to be all right.' She couldn't help but smile - just a little. She'd never admit it, but his presence always made her feel safe in a way no one else did. Johnny "Longshot" Johnson was her backup, her partner, her security.
"I need to figure out what the hell to do about this," Jane moaned, her hand sliding a few inches across her eye. "'Cuz I know the two of them well enough to see an explosion coming from a mile away here. And I don't want be caught in the fucking crossfire, ya know?"
["Sons of Scotland! I am William Wallace!"]
["William Wallace is seven feet tall!"]
["Yes, I've heard."]
"Yes, I've heard," Sokka mimicked, complete with proper Scottish accent. He continued to quote, imitating Mel Gibson's every gesture on the TV screen.
["Kills men by the thousands. And if he were here, he'd consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and lightning bolts from his arse!"]
A flurry of laughter - big, manly laughter, of course. Except for Aang - he kind of giggled a bit. Toph's slight snicker was more manly.
["I am William Wallace! And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny."]
Suki shook her head in amusement at Sokka's wild eyes. Her face contorted into an involuntary smile that was at once endeared by his energy and embarrassed by it. Her dyed brown hair was fluffy and thick, with a small half-back ponytail poking out.
When did you get into Braveheart? And trying to act all manly? That's not the Sokka I remember. But I can't say I mind very much. You seem like you've changed a lot. I wonder how much I have changed?
To her left, Toph's body was leaning away a bit into Aang, her head nestled on his right shoulder, facing down a bit. Her left arm was wedged between their bodies, fingers locked around Aang's, while her other arm was flopped across his lap. They seemed very close, very comfortable. Very...not like Suki's last relationship the year prior at her previous school. She was brought back to Sokka's exuberant performance.
["Would you be willin' to trade all the days, from this day to that, for one chance - just one chance - to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take...our freedom!"]
Cheers erupted - jubilant, determined cries. And, unexpectedly, the boys joined in, as did Toph with some delay.
["Alba gu brąth!"]
"Alba gu brąth!" Aang roared, pumping his fist into the air and shaking Toph around, her eyes wide.
The boys repeated the line with much gusto, and Suki even managed to find it in herself to join in as best she could.
"Yeh need ta werk ohn yehr Scaw'-ish, Lass," Sokka criticized her, stroking the short hairs on his chin with a dubious expression as he sat back down beside her.
"Jest a weh bit," Toph agreed, her face lit up in jest.
"Hey, you're not paying attention," Aang scolded rapidly, prodding her armpit. She squirmed a bit, her foot almost kicking Suki's shin.
"OK, OK," she growled playfully, settling down. Suki couldn't help but find it funny that Aang was concerned with a blind girl paying attention to the movie which she couldn't see. No one had been explaining to her what was happening. She watched through the corner of her eye as Aang stroked Toph's neck slowly with his index and middle fingers as their focus returned to the film.
Suki remembered feeling that same kind of peace with the excitable boy to her right, three years prior. A 'freshman fling' of sorts, Suki and Sokka spent a good portion of their freshman year dating. They immediately didn't get along terribly well, though, largely due to Sokka's chauvinist attitude during his first semester. Suki was quick to knock that right out of him. She could remember them watching TV in this same lounge - 2nd Aero - on this same couch.
"So, wait," Suki interjected, pausing their DVD. "I don't get it. I thought The Others were bad."
"Well, yea, that's what they wanted you to think," Sokka pointed out, jabbing a finger slyly in her direction.
"Aaaand I thought they were like, tribal people who lived in the woods. Why are they in nice little houses and stuff? Where did the houses come from?"
"That's the Dharma Initiative. They were that bunch of scientists that were here a long time ago - remember?"
"That Asian dude with the rabbit, right? In the creepy video tapes?"
Suki could feel the gears in her mind grinding together. How did he understand what the hell was going on?
"I'm completely lost. That must be where this show got its name from."
"Well, it's kind of your own fault for skipping the first season and a half, Suki."
"Later, when it's my turn to pick the show, and we watch Friends, it won't matter what season we start on. You'll still find it funny."
"All right, all right," he grumbled, dismissing her negativity. "Maybe I should pick something else." He began fumbling through his pile of DVD cases, but Suki leaned over and grabbed his hand. He froze, his face flushing, as his eyes shot up to her.
"I have a better idea," she announced, running her fingers from his hand up his arm and eventually around his neck. She pulled Sokka away from his collection and into a quick kiss.
"Uhhhh, yea," was his goofy response. "That is a better idea."
"I thought you were supposed to be the smart one?"
"Yea, that's why I'm listening to your idea right now," Sokka replied, his eyes twinkling with mischief.
A retreat to Sokka's bedroom yielded some privacy, but they managed to keep themselves relatively under control. One had to learn to do so in the dorms, as you never knew when someone might come waltzing in - especially in Aero. Despite his clumsiness, Sokka offered a lighthearted sense of protection. Somehow, despite his lanky frame and childish demeanor, Suki found something admirable in his spirit. He was determined, a guardian. Over time, Suki came to realize this was likely a result of his close bond with his younger sister, and some of the same skills involved translated nicely into the realm of romance.
But this Sokka that stood before her now was a new man. He had filled out a bit - in a good way. His arms were tougher, his shape less squishy and more hard. He had to have been working out. There was no other explanation that she could ascertain.
He seemed...less happy, though. Suki couldn't pin point it. He seemed smarter, more confident, more aware of who he was - she could already tell these things just after a couple of hours. But there was a melancholy there, hiding beneath the surface. As if all of his exaggerated humor was an effort to hide it. At first she wondered if it was the death of his mother, but it didn't add up. As memory served, he had wrapped his mind around that before they had even met. Whatever this was, it was something else - something that had broken him. And this mattered to her - that he had been broken - which was not something she had been expecting to care about when the decision was made to come back to SRU.
[hey sorry didnt catch ya i will talk to you tonight. will see you at the concert k? on our way. jus keep it chill]
[Yea, that sounds good. I'll try.]
"Who's that?" asked Jet casually.
"Oh, it's uh..." Katara clasped her phone shut. "It's Smellerbee, they're gonna meet us here."
"Awesome. Was wondering where those two were." He reached his arm out and slipped it around her hip, joining their sides together.
The music from the recently started concert outside filtered out from the Treetop pub into the street. It was a surprisingly tame rock band - sounded like a reggae/rock combination, if Katara had to decide. They actually didn't sound too bad. At least the Freedom Fighters supported half decent bands, she'd give them that.
"So you're feelin' better?" Jet checked, running his hand up and down her hip.
She nodded forcefully in reply.
"Yea, I'm fine," she lied calmly.
"Good, I was worried there. Is school stressin' you out or something?"
"Totally," she answered with a sigh, digging her hands into her hoodie. This was a half truth. School was always stressful.
I'm lying to my own boyfriend. Because that's what he wants to hear.
"That's a good sign," echoed Toph's words from earlier.
A few minutes and a brief kiss later, Smellerbee and Longshot arrived.
"Hey, guys. You didn't have to wait outside for us," Smellerbee advised as she approached hand-in-hand with Longshot, who was wearing a black baseball cap with a green crosshair design on its front.
Katara and Smellerbee shared a moment of telling glances. Respectively, one said 'Something is up' while the other said 'Chill the fuck out.'
Katara wanted to just grab Smellerbee by the ear and yank her aside, demanding answers, but she managed to keep her cool. She had to convince herself that answers would come later.
"It's fine, I needed some air," Katara explained with a shrug.
"What are we waitin' for?" Jet cried, charging headlong into the pub. The sound levels were admittedly too high for Katara's liking - she honestly wasn't a big fan of concerts like this. There was just too much noise. It was uncomfortable. Thankfully this one wasn't as bad as others she had been to, at least.
"So who's this band?" Katara shouted through the noise, hardly able to see the group in the back of the joint through the thick crowd - many of whom being people she recognized from that group she'd stumbled into earlier.
"They're the Flamey-O's. Small band workin' their way up!" explained Jet loudly, his eyes focused ahead. "Pretty good, right?"
Katara couldn't really make out their lyrics too well but the melody was strong. It was lighthearted and upbeat, and at some point her foot had started tapping along. Katara simply tried to enjoy the music for a few minutes, Jet's arm encompassing her. For some reason her mind wandered to her brother, then to her friends. When Jet was around her, it...wasn't the same feeling. Being with Jet didn't feel...secure. It felt risky, dangerous, exciting, intoxicating...but not safe. The next span of time passed by without much incident - there was too much noise for there to be much incident, anyway. Katara danced, she sang along to choruses when they repeated, she held Jet, she kissed, she hugged, but it was already tainted. Her mindset going into the evening had blackened it like burnt toast and eating it wasn't doing her any favors. Those same words kept pounding at her skull from the inside, trying to force their way out.
This. Isn't. Right.
[Boomerang Blog: Back At Ya!]
[We Shall See]
[Posted on August 32nd at 1:32am]
[by Noble Sir Kesuk Esquire]
[Tonight went better than expected. Thank God my friends were there or I probably would have wiffed it. I tried to just be cool and be myself, but it was hard. It's just hard to believe my ex is back after a few years...We just didn't really stay in touch at all after she left. Not gonna lie, though, I'm glad she's back. I'm still not sure how I feel about everything but everyone seems supportive, so...guess we'll see. She seemed awkward at first but once we hung out I really think she got along well with my friends and I was able to just relax and be me. Me = awesome BTW. So that's good, am I right? ;P]
[Classes and junk are fine. Second week now, though, so things are gonna pick up in a hurry. Our camping trip this weekend went great until it rained at the end. Oh, and guess what? It's been more than a week and guess who I haven't so much as seen? Yea, that prick who's dating my sister. Guess how I found out what his real name was? THE NEWSPAPER. Why? Because he VANDALIZED our President's office. Freaking awesome, right? You can bet I'm just TOTALLY COOL with my sister dating this guy.[/sarcasm] Seriously, I feel like a broken record and I can't believe she's just going with it. It's not like her. She's SMARTER than that! This guy's bad news and she knows it. So what gives? I'm trying really hard to give her space on this but once I read that newspaper article I felt like going right down to Wayward, pulling out the Big Brother Card and kicking this guy's ass. If Katara doesn't break up with him soon I'm gonna have to intervene because this is just bullcrap and I'm not gonna wait until something bad happens to her.]
[Oh, BTW the cafeteria FINALLY added coffee-flavored ice cream this year. THANK GOD. Took them long enough.]
Katara clasped the door handle gently, twisting it ever so slowly as she eased it open. Lucky for her, their room didn't have a door that squeaked. She pulled out her cell phone and used it as a makeshift flashlight as she tip-toed into the room and pulled off her hoodie, setting it on her chair before bending below her bed. She smiled as Toph snored abnormally in that odd way Katara had already grown accustomed to. Toph had this odd habit of snoring loudly at seemingly random intervals during the night - it was endearing in its own way. Katara found her small shoebox stash of snacks below the bed and retrieved a pair of Baby Ruth peanut bars from withihn before sliding it back in place and sneaking back out. Relieved at her accomplishment of not disturbing her roommate, she glanced at her phone: [2:04am]. She walked across the hall and closed the door behind her.
Smellerbee had changed into pajamas - yellow and black stripes. Katara had to hold in a laugh. It looked cute, but 'cute' wasn't what Smellerbee tried to associate herself with, so the image was jarring in a comical kind of way. She wanted to ask the simple question 'Why?' but opted to save it for a later point in time.
"Where's your roommate?" Katara inquired as she offered her second candy car, perplexed by the lack of roommate. Now that she'd thought of it, she still hadn't met Smellerbee's roommate.
"Hell if I know," Smellerbee grunted with a shrug, accepting Katara's food. "I hardly see her. She's always working."
"At two in the morning?"
"Probably doing homework or some shit. I don't know." Clearly, Smellerbee didn't seem to care one way or the other. Chances were that her roommate didn't either, if Katara had to guess.
Katara cocked her head in a semi-shrug and sighed as exhaustion washed over her. She sat in Smellerbee's desk chair while her companion was hunched on her own bed, her sheets printed with a pine forest pattern. Katara unpeeled her candy bar and munched into it, seeking comfort through sugar and peanuts.
"So what's the deal, Kat?"
Katara rubbed her bleary brown eyes, which were avoiding the placid gaze of the redhead sitting feet away.
"Jane," she muttered. She refused to call her 'Smellerbee' during this conversation. She didn't want to talk to 'Smellerbee,' the Freedom Fighter. She wanted to talk to 'Jane,' the gruff girl she had somehow befriended through association, the girl who actually had bothered to maintain contact with her during the summer. The girl who 'had her back.' "We're...We're friends, right?" She set her sights on those heavy, dark green eyes beneath the freckles. A smirk appeared, which brought relief.
"Sure," said Jane plainly, unwrapping her Baby Ruth.
"OK," Katara breathed. "Then, Jane? I'm asking you this as a friend: is there something I should know about Jet? About the Freedom Fighters?" Jane's expression went listless and she nodded knowingly - not in reply to Katara's question but in a 'that's what I figured' kind of way. Katara quickly followed up, "'Cuz I know something is going on. He's hiding something from me. I'm honestly not sure I want to...keep going with this."
"When you're with him something feels wrong," Jane mumbled tiredly.
"Yea," Katara sighed. "I guess it's that easy to tell, huh?"
"Well, I know the feeling," Jane clarified with disgust.
"You-? Wait, you mean...-?"
"Freshman year," Jane grunted. "Not too happy with pretty much anything I did Freshman year," she specified.
"Oh," Katara blurted, shocked and suddenly sympathetic. Her gut instinct was correct, then: Jane probably was the person she needed to talk to here. "OK, so...If that...-" She cocked an eyebrow at Jane's vacant stare. "I guess I just don't understand why you're still with his group, then."
"The Freedom Fighters found me. Said they thought I had the right stuff." Jane scratched her nose. "They were right."
"So you're behind what they're all about, then?"
An incredulous laugh burst out from Jane.
"Are you fucking serious? Hell no. All this bullshit about art and supporting local business? I couldn't care less." She laid down on her bed, crossing her legs and staring at the foam tile ceiling. "Besides, they're just a bunch of hypocrites."
Now we're talking. He is hiding stuff from me.
"If you hate them so much, why are you with them, Jane?" Katara asked.
"'Cuz. I get to go to concerts. And I get free drinks. Fff, I dunno."
"Why do I feel like that's not the reason?" Katara said with a skeptical smile.
"Hey, I really like drinks," Jane chuckled. "And I really hate working fast-food or custodial." That actually wasn't a half-bad point, as most student jobs on campus fell into either of those two categories.
"C'mon," Katara insisted. "Really."
"The Freedom Fighters accepted me, Kat," Jane defended, eyes still glued to the pattern above.
"I accept you," Katara assured.
"I know," Jane confessed, almost dismissively. "But everyone's not like you, Katara."
"My friends are like me."
"Maybe." She huffed irritably and ran her hand through her greasy orange hair. "Whatever, it doesn't matter. This isn't about me."
"Rrrright," Katara slowly admitted with a nod. There was a shell there that she had managed to worm her fingers under but it wasn't coming off - not yet, anyway. "So what should I know about Jet that he's not telling me? Why did you call the Freedom Fighters hypocrites?"
"I'm not supposed to talk about that crap," Jane groaned, covering up her eyes in frustration. "If you can't deal with that then maybe you just shouldn't be dating Jet."
"So now you want me to break up with him?" Katara asked in disbelief. "I thought you just said earlier I should give him another chance."
"If you're going to be fucking paranoid all the time then maybe I changed my mind, Kat. OK?"
There was a moment of tense silence as both girls wore their angry masks and cast their attention away from one another.
"Jane," Katara said at last, her voice firm. Jane didn't move. "Jane," Katara persisted with ferocity. "Look at me."
The boyish face rotated and languid olive drab eyes scowled back.
"I don't know what's all...going on in your head, all right?" Katara impatiently conceded. "But I like you. I want us to be friends. But we can't be if you can't be honest with me - if I can't trust you. If being part of the Freedom Fighters means keeping secrets then..." Katara shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "I can't date Jet anymore," she put it simply. "And I can't be friends with you."
Another high-strung moment of interlocked eyes passed by.
"Sounds like you've made up your mind, then," Jane's words smoldered.
"I have," Katara agreed without hesitation. "But I'm asking you to make up your mind."
"What the fuck do you want me to say?" Jane growled, sitting up, tossing her arms to her sides. "If you don't like the way we roll, then piss off."
No, you don't, girl. You're not pulling that crap on me. Not today. I'm not just walking away.
"Jane, I know you aren't happy with the Freedom Fighters," Katara pointed out. "You spent all freaking summer complaining to me about how frustrating they were. Then we come back on campus and you're offering to bring new kids in and everything? What happened there? Huh?"
"You don't get it, Kat. You can't just leave the Freedom Fighters, just like that."
That sounded distinctly suspicious.
"What do you mean?" Katara asked carefully.
"You're not in, Kat. You don't know what I know. If you wanted to leave, you could - no questions asked. Frankly, you should because if you can't handle secrets then you're just going to be digging yourself into a hole you can't get out of."
Katara was at about the point where the phrase 'sleeping with the fishes' could get thrown into the conversation and she wouldn't bat an eyelash.
"OK," she muttered solemnly, leaning forward and resting her chin against clasped hands as she considered the situation. "Are you saying that the Freedom Fighters are doing things that are dangerous?"
"'Dangerous' is all a matter of opinion," Jane vaguely responded. "In your opinion? Yea. Probably."
"Do you want to be a Freedom Fighter anymore?"
"What I want isn't really important, so-"
"Don't give me that, Jane!" Katara commanded vehemently, rising her seat. "I asked you a question. Answer it."
"Jesus Christ, Kat," Jane spat irritably. "Why the fuck do you care so much, anyway?"
"When I started dating Jet-" Katara paused, her mind short-circuiting against itself. "When I started dating Jack," she corrected, "you kept an eye on me. You were always trying to make sure people didn't give me a hard time. And during the summer, you kept talking with me when no one else would. Everyone else I tried to stay in touch with ignored me. That's why we're friends in the first place. Right?"
Jane shrugged, glancing elsewhere as she nibbled on her candy bar.
"You never seem happy, Jane. It's like you're always...mad all the time. You don't have to be. I don't like seeing you like that."
"Maybe I'm just a pissed off person, Kat," Jane proposed, tone lathered in cynicism. "I know your type. You try to fix people. I'm not something you can fix, all right? So just back off."
"If you know my type and don't like that, then why are we friends at all?" Katara inquired, doubtful that Jane was being entirely open. She never had been up until now, so Katara didn't have reason to believe this was any different.
"Like you said, we gave a shit and stayed in touch. Why? I dunno. Maybe we shouldn't be, then."
"Is that what you want?"
"I don't-!" Jane smacked herself in the forehead and let out a gruff "Rrr."
This isn't going anywhere, is it?
"If you can't make up your mind, then fine." Katara stood up and shoved Jane's chair under her messy desk and put her hand on her hip, waving her half-eaten Baby Ruth around as she rattled. "I like you, Jane - I really do. And I care about you. And you aren't happy. I know you aren't happy." They traded yet another sharp stare, and Katara willed herself to attempt to pierce the windows of olive.
When I look you in the eyes it's like something's dead, like something's just not there that should be.
"Thanks for pointin' that out, Captain Obvious," Jane snapped. "Got your fucking notepad with ya? Gonna take some damned notes so you can cure me, Doctor?"
"Jane," Katara quelled, like a mother does to its pouting child. "Please, just cut the crap, OK? You're better than this."
Jane rolled over onto her side, facing the wall beside her bed.
"Keep me out of your drama. If you wanna break up with your boyfriend, that's your own fucking business."
"Good, 'cuz that's what I'm going to do." Katara marched to the door and grabbed it by the handle, her patience worn out at this point. "But that doesn't change anything I just said about you. It's your business if you want to keep being 'Smellerbee' and playing mafia games or-or whatever it is that's going on. If Jane Fitzpatrick, the girl I became friends with over the summer, decides she can be trusted, and wants to keep being friends? Well..." Katara opened the door and stepped out. "She knows that I'm right across the hall."
Katara almost slammed the door in her frustration but the dim lighting of the hallway at night caught her in time. She slipped into her own room and kicked off her shoes. She pulled the tie from her ponytail, noticed that the door to their dual-room bathroom was open on their side, and closed it before shutting the door to the bedroom itself. She fumbled her way to her bed through the lack of light.
"Whuzzafuckzatabbutt?" whispered a voice from across the darkness.
"Did we wake you?" Katara quietly asked, instantly apologetic.
"Nah, haffagohbaffroom," Toph replied half coherently. "Herdjootalkin."
"Oh, it's...Jane and I just sorta...Had a spat. Don't worry about it, let's just get some sleep."
Toph hummed out a tonal 'OK,' and that concluded their conversation.
That girl is so stubborn. I don't get her at all. She says one thing and does another. I can't believe I thought she'd be honest with me. I can't trust Jack, I can't even trust her. This whole situation was a bad idea. I'm done.