It was almost midday on Sunday before Rune bothered getting up from her bed. Her head was hurting, and her stomach growled like a lion. The book of magic was still sitting in her bag, alongside her phone and ear phones. Checking the phone, she groaned.
Three messages on instagram - one from Taylor, one from his new girlfriend, and one from Henry. She sighed, groaning, as she opened the three of them.
"Hey," read the one from Taylor. "Sorry if you're mad that I've got a new girlfriend, wish we could talk it out properly. Phone me." Rolling her eyes, she closed the conversation, instead reading the one from Taylor's girlfriend.
"I'm really sorry," it said. "I didn't know that Taylor had just broken up with you, or I wouldn't have made any moves on him. I really hope there are no hard feelings, if it would make you more comfortable I could break up with him, we've only just met and I don't want to upset you, especially since you've apparently just moved to a totally different school. Sorry. xx"
That made Rune smile a little, as she quickly typed out a reply, telling the girl it was all okay. Her name was Alli, apparently.
Her smile fell as she read Henry's message. "Bitch," was all that it said. Sure, he hadn't exactly done anything - to be honest, she'd probably hurt him more than he hurt her - but still. She just didn't really want to face him, or Giselle, any of her 'new friends', really. But she rolled out of the bed anyway, before getting washed and changed. They all had a free day today, though they weren't allowed in the town. Suzanne was probably in a practice room for her music, she thought, and Laelia would either be with her or at football try outs - she was sure that was today. She didn't know where Henry would be, though she hoped it was somewhere she wouldn't have to talk to him, and the same for Giselle. That left Avery, who, if she knew him at all, would be in the library.
That's where she went.
He wasn't really all that difficult to find. He sat at a small round table, poring over a book and jotting down notes.
"Hi," Rune said, sitting down opposite him.
Avery glanced up, and smiled faintly. "Hi yourself, Rune. Had a good sleep?" She raised her eyebrows. "Well, you weren't at breakfast, and Suzanne said she didn't want to wake you. What happened last night?"
It was like a mask falling from Rune's face, as her shoulders slumped with tiredness. "A - I can't talk aboot it here. There's too many people and a mean, a just - "
"I get it," Avery said, standing up and tucking his book and paper into his own bag. "Walk and talk?" he suggested.
She gave him a grateful smile. "Sure."
Together, they strode out of the school library, into the warm sunlight. Rune winced at the brightness, as Avery stifled a laugh. "Hey, you haven't had anything to eat yet, have you?" he asked suddenly, frowning. Rune shook her head. "It's still an hour or so until lunch, but I always keep an apple in my room. Come on, it'll only be a minute."
"Avery, am no hungry, it's fine."
"You haven't eaten in seventeen hours. You'll be ill if you don't eat enough."
Rolling her eyes, Rune said, "A ken how tae take care ae masel', Avery. Am sure am going tae be fine until lunchtime."
He huffed out a breath of exasperation. "If you're sure, then. But I'm not letting you skip lunch, if you're planning on it."
A lump rose in Rune's throat. Here was someone she'd only known for around a week, making sure she was okay because she was his friend and he was worried about her, while her old friends barely bothered to talk to her. Of course, it was partially her fault, but still. There was something there for her.
She tried to smile.
"So," Avery continued. "What did happen?"
Rune breathed in a sigh, like she was trying to inhale the world's strength. "Am an awful person, Avery." She laughed a mirthless laugh. "All ma aeld friends hate me, abandoned me, and it's all ma fault, our group just sort of... Unravelled. And a was upset, a mean, ma fire ... it scares me, Ave, a could hurt people wae it, sae many people, and what if a lost control? An yesterday? A saw fire fae a second, saw it right in front ae me and leaping like some sort ae strange ... oh, a dinnae ken. Something that leaps, anyway. But... a dinnae know, a was just kind of freaked out by it.
"And then, when a left the hall, Henry came after me tae see if a wis alright, and he wis weird. Like he thought that because he wis being a halfway decent person, that a should thank him, fawn over him, even, and he freaked me out and a just... I cannae deal wi this. I hate being here, I dinnae even ken why am still here. I wish a had left that first night, when you saw me on the stairs. I just... I hate it."
Her shoulders began shaking slightly, her stomach twisting and churning, head spinning like she was tumbling, tumbling, down into a black hole. "Hey," Avery said, turning to her. "I know you must miss your friends, but we're here for you if you need us, me and Suzanne and Laelia, even if Henry's a di- an idiot. You don't trust us like you trusted your old friends, and that's fine, Rune. It takes time. But we're here for you. And the Henry thing, I'll tell the others for you, if you'd like, so he won't sit with us if it makes you uncomfortable, I mean I don't know how well he's respond to it, but it is quite shan to make you sit next to him if it makes you really uncomfortable, and I mean I don't know everything about you but you -"
"Avery!" Rune hissed, tears brimming in her eyes. "Stop. Whit aboot Giselle? She willnae want her brother tae sit withoot her."
"Oh. Yeah. Well, I don't know, I'll sit with Giselle and Henry, if you'd like, that is. I'm sure Suzanne and Laelia wouldn't mind it if you just sat with them, at least until you feel comfortable."
His gorgeous grey eyes were wide and caring, like dying stars granting a wish for Rune, and Rune only. She flinched, skin crawling as she smelt smoke. Trying to sound normal as her heart beat frantically in her chest, she said, "Thank you."
Avery smiled at her, looking like he was somewhat relieved, though Rune wasn't sure why. What did he have to worry about? "Anytime, Rune. Now, do you want to just keep walking, or go back to the library?"
They were just about at the primary school sleeping quarters by this point, and there were loads of younger children sitting about in front of it. One of them looked up, a little girl, and squealed "It's Avery!"
Another dozen or so of them looked up at the mention of his name, smiling as they rushed over to him. "Hi, Avery!" they shouted, hugging him around his waist, for most of them were too short to reach any higher. "Did you have a good summer?"
"Look at my new dolly! She's called Carrie!"
"My mummy bought me a toy car, and it's blue, and didn't you say that's your favourite colour?"
Avery chuckled. "Yes, I did, Mary, did you?" The girl, Mary, nodded. "And your Carrie is lovely, Robert, can I say hi to her?" Robert nodded, holding out his doll. "Hi," Avery said, and a girl laughed.
"His doll's stupid, Avery! My car's way cooler!"
"Uh, I think they're both very cool, Katy. Have you shown Rachel your car, I'm sure she'd love to see it."
"I haven't seen Rachel yet," Katy said. "But I'm going to show her as soon as I see her!"
She nodded solemnly, as though making a silent promise. It made Rune smile, as Avery seemed to suddenly notice her standing with him. "Oh!" he said, jumping a little. "This is my friend, Rune. Rune, these are the kids I read to last year. Robert, Katy, Mary, Lewis, Hayden, Katrina, Percy, Charlotte, Genevieve, Blair, Luke, Xander and Allison."
Rune tried to remember those names, and forged a smile. "Nice to meet you all."
"Do you like reading?" Katy asked, staring up at Rune, who nodded.
"I love reading."
Out the corner of her eye, she saw Avery raise his eyebrows. "Are you going to read to us too this year?"
"Um, I might," Rune told her, more than a little uncomfortable at the idea. "What books do you all like reading?"
"I like Harry Potter," Robert said. "But we're not allowed to read more than the first three, because they're too scary and Mary started crying."
The little girl stamped her foot, but Rune stopped her from saying anything.
"Yes, I know they are very scary, I still get scared by them. Don't you, Avery?"
"Oh, yes, that's why I didn't read it to you, I still get nightmares. Mary was very brave for only crying."
She smiled, looking up at Rune with adoration in her eyes. "You're very pretty," she said.
"Aw, so are you, darling. Now, I think Avery and I have to go and get our lunch, but we'll see you all very soon."
"Bye!" the kids all called, as Rune and Avery strolled away.
"Well, you got them to love you in about one minute," Avery chuckled. "You know, they don't talk to just anybody."
"I used to help out at my cousin's childminder's a lot," Rune explained. "For some reason, children seem to not hate me."
Avery laughed. "It doesn't seem like it should be very rare for anyone not to hate you."
They ended up at the doors to the lunch hall, and Avery led Rune in. Fortunately, Henry and Giselle hadn't gotten there yet, so it was just Suzanne and Laelia in their little corner of the hall. "Hey," Avery said to them as he sat down. "Is it all right if I just sit with Henry and Gisele today?"
Suzanne frowned. "Why? Did something happen?"
"Yeah. I don't want to talk about it right now, but yeah. It was ... Last night."
They seemed to get the message. "Avery, you just spin something about why we're just going to be with Rune right now. Come on." They moved a couple of spaces down on the table, as Avery sat alone, tapping his fingers on the table.
"So, what happened?" Suzanne asked, her and Laelia leaning over the table. "Did Henry hurt you or something?"
"No," Rune said. "He was just being a bit, well, creepy." She looked to where there were empty seats on either side of her. "In fact, I don't want be rude, but could I possibly sit over there, in between you two? A dinnae mean tae be a nuisance, but -"
"Of course." Suzanne and Laelia cleared a space for her between them on the other side of the table.
"So, a huvnae spoken tae you guys alone fae a bit, how wis your morning?"
"She was amazing at her football try out!" Suzanne gushed. "If she doesn't get in, I will literally eat my hat."
"What hat?" Laelia laughed.
"None, I don't have a hat. That's how confident I am in you getting in."
Rune tensed a little, as she noticed the Baker twins walking into the hall, and Avery waving them over, greeting Giselle with a hug and Henry with a tight smile.
"You okay, Rune?" Laelia asked, fiddling with her hair.
"Aye, am fine. A think am just gonna go and get something tae eat just now. See yi in a minute."
The girls have her sympathetic smiles as she walked to the counter, hearing footsteps behind her. Paranoid, she turned around, but it was just Avery.
"So, you're eating now?" he asked, as she took a couple of rolls from a basket.
"Good. And you're feeling okay, yeah? You're not feeling uncomfortable with Henry around?"
"Seriously, Ave, am fine. A wid tell yi if anything wis wrong." She flashed the lunch lady a smile as she picked up an orange. "But thanks, fae checking, and fae being sae nice taedae. Yi might no be one ae ma old friends, but yi arenae awful."
"Well, I should hope not." Avery got a couple of bits of fruit, before turning and walking with her to his seat. "See you later."
Rune felt Henry's eyes on her, but she forced herself not to look at him. "See ya, then."