Melody curled up on a couch in the library, her eyes scanning the pages of a rather thick book. She wasn’t having a good time, though, which was sad. Reading had always helped her relax, but recently she felt like that wasn’t the case. She just couldn’t calm herself down, and it was starting to get worrying.
When Melody read a book, she was used to the words jumping off the page, wrapping around her and pulling her in for a gentle hug. But right now, the words were just words, and her eyes were blurring as she read over them. Nothing was jumping out to her, nothing was drawing her in. Her mind was still occupied with thoughts about her friends, and worries of the real world, which made her feel like she was doing something wrong.
It wasn’t her fault that the book wasn’t reaching out to her, though.
The last few months hadn’t been great. And the worst part of it was plain to see. Her friend had gotten injured, attacked by Estvalian terrorists, and Melody hadn’t been there to help. She had come back to see Elly’s body covered in blood and injuries, and the only thing Melody could do was try to keep from crying while she felt helpless.
Could she really help feeling helpless? At this point, it seemed like that was just a normal state for Melody these days.
Melody had tried to convince herself that it was just the last few months that were rough for her, but really, the whole term had been rather painful for her. And that was because Melody was a weak person at heart. She knew it, and she hated it, but she couldn’t do anything about it.
It was because she was weak that she took solace in books. They let her escape from the things she couldn’t change in the world. And her friend Elly had been exactly the same way. It was that that had inspired their friendship, their shared love of escaping into books, where they could use their imaginations to be whatever they wanted to be without having to worry about anything.
Melody felt a little embarrassed saying it, but she was actually envious of her friends. Elly had been through so much worse than Melody could imagine. Melody escaped into books because she was too shy to talk to others and make friends. But Elly? Elly had been running away from real problems, from the bullies in her life that she had been too weak to stand up for.
That was another reason why Melody hadn’t liked this term. She’d watched her friend getting picked on by Sabine Scarlet, and what had she done about that? Not a thing. She had been too afraid to stand up for her friend, and what did that say about her?
Elly had never blamed her. Not once. Melody had apologized to her for not being tough enough to stand up to Sabine once, and Elly had just smiled at her and assured her that it wasn’t a big deal, and she didn’t think badly about Melody for not being brave enough.
Elly was so sweet. So understanding. She smiled at Melody and told her she didn’t have to feel bad, and ironically that made Melody feel even worse. She couldn’t believe that someone could be that kind. But Elly wasn’t just kind, either. She was brave and strong.
So brave and strong she had done what Melody didn’t have the strength to do, and tried to change herself. And she had changed a lot. Melody certainly still saw her around the library, because Elly’s love of books would probably never go away. But she wasn’t reading to escape anymore, she was just reading to read. Melody wanted to be like her, but she didn’t know how.
How many times had Melody read this passage at this point? She still couldn’t remember one thing on the page. With a sigh, Melody closed the book and got off the couch to go put it away. It seemed like the thought that she could get some reading in this morning was just wishful thinking.
“Melody! Hey!” In the library, Wendy’s voice was no louder than a whisper. But Melody had been expecting peace and quiet, and the presence of her friend was a surprise enough that she had practically jumped out of her shoes.
“O-Oh, Wendy,” Melody said, turning to see her friend. “Hey…”
Just seeing Wendy was enough to bring a smile to Melody’s face. She couldn’t help herself. Wendy was just… well, she was great. With her cute smile and curly brown hair, and that bright sea of freckles behind the rims of her glasses, she was everything Melody wished she could be. But best of all was her brain. She was smart, and cool, and amazing, Melody had thought so ever since they first met. They were the only two girls in their day-care who could read, and they had been the closest of friends ever since.
She was Melody’s best friend in the world, even if Melody was always trailing behind her a little in everything.
“So what’s up with you, Mels? Haven’t seen you around recently,” Wendy asked. “You find a really good book that’s got you up here all hours of the day?”
“Y-Yeah, something like that,” Melody said, nodding. She didn’t have the courage to tell her friend that the reason she wasn’t spending as much time with here and Elly was a mixture of shame and guilt. Wendy had been offering to help her study all year, and while Melody had taken her up on the offer at first, her own doubts had slowly caused those study sessions to become fewer and fewer
“I definitely get wanting to read,” Wendy said, looking at the towering shelves of the library with joy glimmering in her eyes. She quickly turned back to Melody, a stern look on her face. “But still! You can’t let it get in the way of your grades! I saw your scores on the finals, how did you let your grades slip that badly?”
Melody winced. She knew that Wendy didn’t mean anything by it. Her friend was concerned for her, and expressing that concern in the only way she knew how. But Melody’s grades were a sensitive subject. “I-I’m doing my best,” she said. “It’s just, well… with everything that’s happened this year, I guess studying sort of… got out from under me?”
Wendy’s stern expression shifted to a look of sympathy. She reached out and patted Melody on the shoulder. “Hey, come on now. That’s not like you. You’ve always been the kind of girl who puts her all into her studies. Is there anything bothering you? I’d be happy to listen, if you want…”
Yes, so, so much. But Melody wasn’t going to tell her what. She didn’t want Wendy to think any less of her. She only wanted to show her best side to her friend. “It’s okay,” she smiled. “I talked with Professor Darkflame, and I agreed to get some support for next term to keep my grades from slipping again. I’m going to be speaking with a councilor.”
“Oh, well, as long as it works, I guess?” Wendy said, and Melody could see she wasn’t sure. But that was fine, because Melody was sure for her. Melody smiled, and shrugged her shoulders.
“I’m going to make sure that I do my best next term,” she assured her friend. “Elly’s not the only one who can turn things around.”
Melody looked up to Elly quite a lot. Almost as much as she looked up to Wendy, maybe more. She used to think that she could try to change herself, too. That she could be as strong as Elly was. That had been why she’d signed up for the Chess Games. To show that she could be tough and strong like Elly now was, herself.
That had gone miserably. She had tried to win, she’d tried to help her team, and what had she gotten for it?
She’d gotten knocked aside like she was nothing, and her team had won without her. That had been when her grades had started to fall.
Elly had been so shy and withdrawn at the start of the year, like a leaf desperately clinging to a branch. She had been scared of her own shadow, and a prime target for bullies like Sabine Scarlet and her posse. And somehow, with just a few words of encouragement from her friends, she had been able to move past all of that.
Now, Elly smiled all the time. She joined the Chess Games and had protected the prince from attacks, helping to win the whole thing. And when the Estvalians attacked and Melody was nowhere to be found, unable to help at all (not that she’d be much help, weak as she was) Elly had risen up and protected everyone, even putting her own body on the line to do it.
Melody couldn’t believe how much Elly had grown. And she wished she could do it, too. But it felt like she was just…
Just not the same kind of person. Sometimes, Melody wanted to cry.
“Hey, are you okay?” Wendy asked, snapping Melody out of her thoughts about Elly. “You’ve kind of just been giving me this glassy stare…”
“O-Oh,” Melody said, faking a yawn. “I guess I just, um… awwwwwwaaaannn…” She yawned a second time, drawing it out longer. “Yeah, sorry.”
“I didn’t see you come back to the room last night,” Wendy said. “You didn’t spend the night reading in the library, did you?”
“Um…” Melody had done exactly that, actually. She wasn’t tired because of it, she pulled all-nighters reading all the time. But it was a convenient excuse, so she nodded her head. “Yeah, I guess I did… heh… sorry…”
Wendy huffed. “No wonder your grades are slipping! That’s no good! Talking to a councilor isn’t going to be enough if you’re not going to take care of yourself! Have you even gotten breakfast yet?!”
The elicited another awkward sound and averting of her eyes. No, Melody hadn’t had breakfast yet. She hadn’t had dinner last night, either, for that matter, but she didn’t think mentioning that would be particularly helpful.
“That’s what I thought,” Wendy sighed. She took Melody by the wrist. “Okay then! Come on, let’s get going! We’ve gotta get some food in you, fatten up that skinny little stick figure of yours!” Melody felt her face heat up with joy as Wendy dragged her out of the library. Her best friend fawning over her was more than worth it.
“So what kind of books were you reading, Mels?” Wendy asked as the two walked towards the cafeteria. Melody paused at the question. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember a single passage from the book she’d spent all morning flipping through, a testament to how jumbled her thoughts had been all morning.
“Uh… you know, stuff,” Melody said half-heartedly. She quickly corrected herself, knowing that Wendy would sense something amiss if she let it drop there. “I was… reading about dragons, mostly. There’s a lot of interesting books on them in the library, you know?”
Wendy brightened. “Yeah, dragons are cool, right?” She agreed, pushing her glasses up her nose. She smiled in that way that dimpled her cheeks and made Melody smile too.
“They are pretty cool,” Melody agreed. Honestly, she didn’t really see the appeal. Yeah, it was pretty cool that one of the students in their cohort had actually hatched the first dragons from dragon eggs in a couple centuries, but that was the most she cared about it. Unlike most of the other students, she didn’t feel the need to gush about the dragons or go see them for herself.
“So I was talking to Elly, right?” Wendy said, her eyes shining with excitement. “And you know how she’s friends with Reed Rivers?”
“So Elly was saying that maybe we could go see the dragons sometime! She said that she might talk to Reed, and Reed would ask Blake, and Blake might just let us take a look, what do you think?!” Wendy asked. Melody was a little surprised. She knew that dragons were cool, but she didn’t expect her friend to be so… eager.
“Yeah, maybe,” Melody said, smiling a little to make her friend feel better.
“Oh, look at you, always playing it so cool,” Wendy giggled, elbowing Melody in the side. “Like it’s not a big deal to you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Melody said, a little confused.
“Why else would you be looking up details about dragons if you weren’t secretly hoping to wow Blake Harker with some knowledge and get him to show you?” Wendy teased. “Come on, you can admit it, you’re as excited to see the dragons as I am!”
“…Haha… Y-Yeah, you got me!” Melody laughed, forcing a smile to her face with a nod. She honestly didn’t care one way or another. And the Blake part of it was a real sticking point. While Elly certainly liked him and Wendy always saw the best in people, Melody had a much higher standard for acquaintances, and Blake, well…
He was violent and rude and a bit of a cold jerk. Melody just couldn’t stand people like that! She put up with him for Elly’s sake, but if it was up to her…
The scent of food pulled Melody from her thoughts, and her stomach began to rumble in a reminder of how long it had been since she’d last eaten. She patted her stomach and began to drool. She entered the cafeteria alongside her friend, and began piling eggs and potato slices into matching mountains. By the time she reunited with Wendy, there was enough food on her plate to feed two people.
Which seemed to work out pretty well, since Wendy only had a bowl of porridge and a few pieces of fruit.
“That’s all you’re going to eat?” Melody asked, surprised.
Wendy let out a strange, hollow-sounding laugh and averted her eyes, a look of resignation crossing her face. “My waistline is the sacrifice I have to make to take care of my friends,” she mumbled under her breath. Melody didn’t have any idea what that meant, but she didn’t press it, either.
The two girls found a table and sat down to eat. Feeling like her problems weren’t important for the first time in a while, Melody was about to dig into her feast when something came along and spoiled her appetite in an instant.
“Oh! Wendy! …And Melody, too! Hey girls! Mind if I join you?” Rayan Lavince walked over to their table with a grin on his face and a tray in his hands.
Melody was far too timid to shout “YES! I MIND!” at the boy, forcing up a neutral expression as she let Wendy answer the boy’s question.
“Rayan!” Wendy lit up like a Fireball spell and Melody’s heart sunk in her chest. So much for breakfast for just the two of them. “Sure, of course you can join us, right Mels?”
Melody was glad for her stoic reputation, because it meant that she didn’t have to try and fake a smile as she nodded and muttered a “sure”. Wendy scooted over and made room for Rayan to sit down next to her, leaving Melody to look across the table as her best friend turned her attention elsewhere.
It had all started not long before finals week. While Melody’s grades had been slipping due to her own feelings of worthlessness, Rayan had come to the two of them and asked if Wendy could help him study for finals. And suddenly their private study sessions had become a party for three, and about that time Melody just gave up on studying altogether.
Rayan was a nice guy, sure, but Wendy was her best friend! She should be helping her study, not some dumb guy she barely knew! And why was she always laughing at his dumb, stupid jokes? They weren’t funny at all, and yet every time Rayan spoke it was like someone had gone after Wendy’s toes with a feather duster!
“Rayan, Melody and I were just talking about that roommate of yours and his dragons,” Wendy said, glancing Melody’s way. “What do you think, think you could get us an invite to the Menagerie to come see them?”
“Ah, wish I could,” Rayan sighed, giving Wendy a smile that made Melody want to punch his stupid shiny teeth in. “But Blake’s really protective of them. I don’t think he’d do it even if I asked him. But if you want I can always try!”
Melody resisted the urge to throw up. She’d been so excited to eat breakfast with Wendy for the first time in days, and now Rayan had to come along and ruin it. She kept eating so as not to draw any questions, but her appetite had long-since fled, making her feel like she was chewing soap.
Why did he have to bother them? Wasn’t there someone else he could be talking to right now? And why was Wendy so cool with it? She’d been the one to ask Melody to join her for breakfast in the first place, and now she wasn’t even paying attention to her!
But of course Rayan was the one talking to her, trying to include her in the conversation, the jerk. If he wanted to be polite, he should just go away! Just go away, Wendy and I were having a perfectly nice time until you had to come along and ruin it, she seethed.
Melody couldn’t wait until Unification Break. No more tests, no more talented mages to make her feel weak, and best of all, no more stupid Rayan and his stupid jokes.