Raven looked down at the schedule in her hand with some confusion. The sounds of the cafeteria danced around her. She was both curious and dreading the classes she was scheduled to be in today. It was frustrating that she had only gotten her schedule this Monday morning so she had no time to really study it except now.
“Your face is all scrunched up. What’s wrong?” Ethan asked as he crunched on his nice crisp bacon.
Raven looked on with envy, before turning back to scoop up a spoonful of soggy eggs. “I don’t understand some of these classes. What is reality therapy?”
Ethan plucked her schedule out of her hand. “Ooh! Reality therapy on the first day. You lucky girl.”
“I still don’t know what that is,” Raven said, pouting a little.
A boy across from them, Benji, spoke up. “It’s this room where they can make the scenery whatever they want and you have to figure out how to react to the situation. They even let us use our powers in there sometimes, well as long as you’re sponsored at least.” He gave Raven an apologetic smile.
Raven smiled back. Benji was nice. Ethan tended to sit with a different person every mealtime and each person’s attitude towards her varied. Benji was one of the nice ones. What all Ethan’s friends had in common was they were all sponsored. There was a clear divide between the sponsored and the unsponsored and she gathered that if a person didn’t eventually get sponsored they would be sent to a detention center.
“Yup, what he said,” Ethan said. “One of the few good experiments we got to keep. Supposedly, even West Merrick is using them now.”
“I heard the guy who designed it based it on an old comic he used to read,” Benji chimed in, excitedly.
“That’s cool,” Raven said. She didn’t read many comics, but she and Penny used to eat up the romantic graphic novels at their library. The thought of Penny made a twinge of pain go through her chest. She knew Penny had been okay for the most part, but Raven had still hurt her. During all this, she hadn’t seen or heard from her friend. She wasn’t sure if that was because Penny couldn’t see her or didn’t want to.
Ethan interrupted her dreary thoughts. “Besides the Reality Room, your schedule is pretty boring. You really need to get a sponsor,” he said, handing her schedule back to her.
She rolled her eyes. “Ethan, it is literally my third day here.”
“I know, but why does it have to take so long,” he whined.
Raven laughed and shook her head.
Raven looked up in surprise as two guys strode towards Benji. Benji stiffened, but Ethan just looked bored as he watched the guys walk over. A thin guy with shoulder-length hair slung his arm around Benji’s shoulder. The other boy with him, a beefy guy with narrowed eyes, grabbed Benji’s tray.
“Look at this, Jason,” the bigger boy said as he ruffled through Benji’s food. “Man, you sponsor kids get all the good stuff.”
Jason tightened his grip around Benji’s neck. “You don’t mind sharing, do you Benji?”
Benji sat there, his body trembling. Raven’s hands fisted in her lap. She hated bullies. A part of her knew she shouldn’t butt in, but she didn’t want to sit there and do nothing.
“Hey!” Raven shouted, starting to push up from her seat, but Ethan grabbed her arm and shook his head. She looked at him in confusion.
“Yeah, get a handle on your girlfriend,” Jason sneered and then looked Raven up and down. “Or maybe I’ll enjoy handling her myself.”
Raven felt her skin crawled. At that moment it really hit her what kind of people were in this school. If someone like that was to attack her with her suppressor on, she didn’t have a way to protect herself. The thought made her shrink back a little.
“Sorry gents, but she’s off-limits. Matter of fact, all the girls here are off-limits,” Ethan said.
Jason glared. “You don’t get a say in this.”
“Oh, I do,” Ethan said with a smile that was all teeth. Ethan stood up and waved his arm dramatically to encompass the entire room. “You’re all my girlfriends from this point on!”
Laughter and groans filled the cafeteria and a few girls rattled off a, ‘Sure, Ethan.’ Ethan grinned and settled back in his sit. “See. Totally off-limits.”
Raven stifled a giggle, but it immediately vanished when she saw how red Jason’s face got. A vein at the boy’s temple throbbed and he looked like he was ready to explode.
Jason growled as he let go of Benji to lean over the table. “Don’t play games with me. From where I’m looking at you’re barely above Benji in the hierarchy.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment. Benji seems to have things well taken care of.”
Raven and the other two boy’s attention turned to Benji who was sitting a little further away from the two bullies. His tray was back in front of him and he was munching happily away on his food.
“What the hell?” Jason shouted and then looked at the bigger bully.
The bigger bully looked down where the tray should have been. He looked stunned before he shook his head and marched up to Benji, his fist raised in the air. He slammed it down and was met with hard plastic as he smashed his fist into the cafeteria bench. Benji was just a little further down, his tray still in front of him.
“Damn it! Get him already,” Jason said, starting to push off the table, but Ethan slapped his hands on top of the bully’s.
“Two against one isn’t very fair,” Ethan said and winked.
Jason growled and started to pull his hand up, but it wouldn’t budge. His hands were stuck to the table.
Raven’s eyes widened and she looked at Ethan. Ethan wiggled his fingers. Raven grinned. Guess Ethan’s sticking magic was used more than just for climbing on walls.
Ethan gestured to Jason. “And this is why you need a sponsor. Otherwise, you end up a target by thugs like this.”
“Let me go!” Jason shouted followed by a colorful rush of profanity as he tried to rip his hands off of the table.
Behind him, the bigger bully kept trying to hit Benji, but whenever he tried Benji would blink out of existence and reappear a short distance away from him.
Raven was both surprised and amused at their antics. The two bullies went from menacing to a pair of fools. A burst of laughter spilled from her lips against her will and she quickly covered her mouth.
Jason’s face was almost purple at this point. He glanced at Ethan and then at Raven and a vicious sneer curled his lips.
“Paco, teach this bitch a lesson!”
The big bully’s head jerked up and he turned away from Benji and his attention focused on Raven. Raven only had a moment to take in that she was suddenly the target when Paco charged towards her. Ethan grabbed her, trying to pull her out of the way at the same time Raven tried to scramble backward. They both ended up tumbling to the floor. Paco didn’t pause in his charge. Raven’s eyes widened, knowing she wasn’t going to make it out of the way of his meaty fist.
She closed her eyes, wincing as she braced herself for the blow. A second passed and then another. Raven opened her eyes. Benji stood in front of her, his arms spread out protectively, Paco’s fist only an inch from him.
An even larger hand held Paco’s fist back. Raven followed the hand up to its owner to see Pete Burros. A hush had settled around the cafeteria at his appearance. Pete looked coldly at Paco and then something black slithered over Paco’s arm and wrist. The sickening sound of bones grinding and crunching together filled the air.
Paco screamed. His voice pierced the silent cafeteria as the boy’s face was clouded in pain. Pete’s expression never changed. He let the boy go and Paco fell to his knees clutching his crushed hand to his chest.
Pete’s gaze drifted over the boy and then to Benji and Raven. For a moment Pete’s cold eyes met hers before turning their frosty gaze to Ethan. “You and Benji take Paco to the infirmary.”
Benji and Ethan scrambled over to the bigger boy who was still whimpering in pain. Ethan gave her a quick worried glance before he began leading Paco away. Pete went to the other bully. Ethan must have released the sticky effect, because Jason’s hands were no longer stuck to the table. The bully flinched back.
“You follow me,” Pete ordered.
Jason nodded and Raven watched as the two walked across the cafeteria to where the guards stood. Raven had forgotten the guards were even there. During the whole fight, the guards had sat back and watched. Raven bit her lip, anger and fear mixing in her stomach.
The slap of footsteps sounded in front of her and then Lisa was crouching down next to her. “Hey, you okay?”
Raven nodded and looked at her roommate. “That was intense.”
“Yeah,” Lisa said. “They must have been Benji’s old bullies before he got sponsored. They were stupid. You don’t mess with sponsored kids.”
“Pete is…” Raven tried to put into words what she saw.
“He’s terrifying,” Lisa said plainly as she helped Raven up from the floor. “That boy is a true monster and he’s in charge of the boys’ side.” Lisa shuddered. “I would hate to have to face getting on his bad side. But don’t worry. It’s his job to make sure all the boys stay in line and none of the sponsored kids get damaged.”
Raven took this in. “Does that mean you have to do the same with the girls?” she asked.
Lisa nodded. “Yeah. One student from the girl’s side and one from the guy’s side watch over everybody. It’s to help teach us responsibility or some bullshit. Anyway, I think I’m a little less terrifying than Pete.”
“Only a little,” Raven teased.
“Hey,” Lisa said in mocked outrage before slinging her arm around Raven’s shoulder. “Ethan’s a bad influence on you. Come on. You can sit with me until breakfast is over.”
Raven nodded. She glanced back to where the guards were. Pete and Jason were gone. What had been the black thing that had come from Pete? Was it like what happened with her? She shuddered and pushed that thought away. Right now, it was better she focused on getting a sponsor like Ethan said.
This entire breakfast fiasco had taught her an important lesson. Without her magic, she was just another weak kid with a target on her back. That would have to change, one way or another.