“Right?? We went to the Bahamas and I just could NOT stand my mum. She wouldn’t even let me use my phone.”
“Tell me about it girl, I dropped mine in the water on the cruise…”
"3... 2... 1..."
"Here we go!"
And right as the icy water bit into your skin, you thought to yourself-
"How the bloody hell did I get here?"
8th September, 2022. Following the start of term at Harbour Academy, the corridors were once again filled with the lively chatter of students, returned to school from their homes or having stayed at the academy over the holidays.
"Hey, you did the homework for Miss Sparrow's class, right? Can I see it, I'll change it up so she can't tell I copied..."
"Fuck, man, have you finished your uni application? I'm so screwed for this admissions test, there's only a few weeks left to study."
Amongst the new first year students, many spoke with each other with the familiarity of having known each other for years - and in fact, many of them had. It came as no surprise that a fair portion of HAGAY's students had filtered in from several other boarding schools of the same kind. Even many of the new students who had only just met were fast forming cliques of their own. This was due to the innovative thinking of Harbour Academy, housing some of the brightest minds of the country - the Icebreaker system.
It went without saying that the no-nonsense attitude towards academics made it often very difficult to make friends with the very people you had to compete with every fortnight. As such, the institution had not decided to change its educational practices, but instead to give each new student several HAGAY-assigned friends, usually from different tracks, along with a senior. Often, these were the people you'd end up spending the most time with at HAGAY. Or, well, you'd have a catastrophic falling out a few weeks later and never speak again. This, of course, was not meant to happen on your first meeting.
Your assigned senior advisor was a light brown-haired girl who sported a mishmash of colourful accessories in her hair and at least 6 wristbands. She spoke like a church youth leader–starting with a jab flurry of terrible jokes, following up with some half-hearted attempts to “be real,” and dealing the final blow with 4 (four!) outdated pop culture references.
"Hey everyone! I'm Sofia and I'll be the captain of your 'Icebreaker', haha. Um, there's supposed to be eight of you? Wow, a few of you are... not here! Doesn't matter, let's just get on with the activities." She snuck a glance at the scrap of paper in her hand. “So, let me introduce myself properly. I’m a top 15 sciences track student - so if you need help, you know who to call - though I’m no good with ghosts, aha. Sorry. Anyway, moving on…”
The group was finished before the school year even began.
About five minutes in, she made a blustering excuse about having something to do and the meeting was thus dissolved. That was the last time you had heard from your Icebreaker group.
That was what Maive had most often repeated to other students. Whenever someone looked like they needed assistance, Maive offered a helping hand. Of course, it resulted in mixed responses. Some students looked at her with emnity. A busy-body getting involved with strangers and being annoying. Some viewed her with distrust, as though she had ulterior motives. Others had been genuinely glad they had someone to help carry a few boxes around. Though, many other students didn't quite remember her name from these interactions. She was often called things like Blondie, Glasses, and Shortcake. Such names didn't bother her, but such names did often lead to weird and awkward back-and-forths.
The icebreaker meeting was fairly lackadaisical. Sofia had left extraordinarily quickly and Maive assumed she was just busy. The possibility that Sofia simply didn't want to deal with the group wasn't something she thought about. Maive introduced herself to the others before they had dispersed from their sudden lack of leadership and memorized anyone else who had introduced themselves. If she saw them in or between classes, she would pleasantly greet them. Of course, this was a rare occurrence if they also weren't part of the arts track or lived in the same dorm hall.
Her room in the dorm halls was well-organized, but mostly empty. She had little personal amenities besides family pictures and childish handicrafts. The majority of it consisted of basic amenities, stationery given to her by the school, and a keyboard on loan from the school. Even though she was given a living stipend as part of her scholarship, she most often chose not to spend it. This was especially true about things that could be considered as frivolities. One of the few things she bought was a basic first-aid kit. After all, she always wanted to carry one. Though, her idea of a first-aid kit was frightfully modest; it consisted of a tube of antibiotic cream, some bandaids, and some regular soap. Things she individually bought on sale on her first weekend.
Once she returned back to her dorm after classes, she usually studied and practiced. As a result, her initial classes were fairly easy outside of the occasional confusion from her rickety foundation of knowledge. Such studying and revision was the life of someone who had not yet joined any extracurricular. While she often got held up helping a stranger or a teacher with something, her initial week at HAGAY had her inundated with time. Nobody to look after, no meals to make, and quite literally one chore that most students would entirely ignore throughout the school year. She couldn't tell if it was pleasant or unpleasant. It was more like something was missing.
It came as a surprise when a note had been slipped under her door on an uneventful night. While Maive functioned with little sleep, she wasn't the type to stay awake during ungodly hours. It was early in the morning when she noticed the letter. Was it someone asking for assistance...? A strange way to do so.
After finishing her Thursday classes and, like usual, being slowed by helping other people, she prepared to visit the dockhouse. After stuffing her boo-boo kit into her backpack, taking one of her school-issued towels, and grabbing a few water bottles, she followed the winding path down to the dockhouse.
Really, she was wondering what all of this was going to be about.
How more evident could it have been than in the first week; to see a young lad barely feel at home. It was pitiful, even by his own standards, to have drifted somewhat between people. One night, he had hung out with four lads, only to lose sight of them the next day. The following morn, he'd taken the side of a girl for the day, and soon found it hard to relate to anything she said at all. Not that it mattered, but that bothered her more than it did himself. It was a silent, cordial drift between people. It was nothing like schools before, where by that communal drive, groups formed by the first hour. Sure, they broke apart a few weeks down the line, or held against the test of time, but they were there. And across many other students, he saw them do such. But Franciszek hadn't experienced that in the academy. It was drifting, like the ships they held so close to their image.
Icebreakers fell apart. People roamed classes. Introductions were often short but he saw them as without sweetness. It was a trove of awkward encounters. The reputations and know-hows of other students. Perhaps the other scholarship students, maybe even of similar background, would have been worth finding but even they were hard to spot. It was no great matter at first - it was a small academy, eventually he'd find someone. But as days ticked by, one after the other, then it became troublesome, then loathsome, then agonisingly slow. Days were often just a series of work assignments and studying, then to appear in a small crowd, and then to be a stranger to them the following sunrise. And he kept telling himself that there was no chance it could continue, not at all. But it did, and often he gave his best shot at ignoring it as if it were the nature of the forest he'd stumbled his way into.
The ocean made him a little nauseous, honestly. It was a large expanse. Sure, maybe Europe was across the other side, but it never felt close enough. Perhaps reading Moby Dick wasn't the smartest of choices before he'd arrived but, well, that was just how things were. That little cycle of pushing sensational experiences into his system, forever to find a niche of relation to latch onto.
Not that he thought of it that way. He'd heard one psychology student say it once - the ones that used very large words that often flew over his head, even as an avid reader. They were fine, but a little heavy to work with. One of them had helped him move some boxes of textbooks back to his dorm. It was a kind gesture, but of course it was the last the two really spoke. By that point, Franciszek hadn't been too picky with his crowd, and that lacking connection had grown burdensome on his thoughts.
In his room, there were still a few unpacked boxes and bags. Less of the essentials, actually. Spare clothes he hadn't worn yet. A few stationary kits. Books he'd not stacked on his shelves. A spare toothpaste tube, half spent. Honestly, looking at it, he asked himself why he hadn't just cleaned it. It would've taken a few minutes. Then again, it wasn't like it was mandatory. There was no real drive to do that. That first week had taken a toll of awkwardness that seemed to have inflicted change in his daily tidiness. Then again, it hadn't affected him to the point of ruin, so it was never treated as anything serious. He kept his uniform clean, and his health in check. It was a similar routine to back home, when there was incentive to have a routine.
He was sat there, that night, when something slipped underneath his door. He heard the paper struggle to get through at first. It gave him time to react - to listen and watch the folded piece get pushed through underneath. But he remained on his seat whilst it was in motion. He didn't react or intercept it. It just acted, and he watched. In time, it eventually broke through, and he cautiously walked to the door, and slowly opened it. There was no one there by the time he had looked. Wasn't unexpected - the knock & bolt ways of students was still alive and well. He'd even done one himself on the first night. So all else there was to do was to look down at the paper, and he retrieved it with a quick swipe, then a study of its amphibious appearance.
"Hmm..." He hummed along to the unfolding creases. His thumb buried between the bolds and out came a message, and a printed guide. He was puzzled. "The Dock...house? Bring towel?"
He didn't sleep that much that night. Even so, he went out early in the morning, and sat on a bench between the main institution and dorms themselves. In his hand was the small paper frog, crudely folded back together. He'd memorised the message - a natural occurrence of rereading it the entire night. Sure the tiredness was in his eyes but he was more confused as to who would've sent him such a message. None of the groups he'd temporarily stayed with seemed avid dockgoers, in fact two had expressed great distaste for it. The frog folding was poor as he'd tried to reconstruct it, but it was close enough. The map, though, that was all he held onto. He looked at it. It didn't seem particularly unsafe but it wasn't exactly the prime area. And near enough to London, it was a daunting ask. But he sat there, on that bench, as time went by when the early morning feet shuffled by. He'd wait for some time.
England was a cold place, Orlando had realized in the 6 months he stayed in the quiet port city near the boarding school, and he wasn't referring to the weather, even if it could be a little less foggy for his taste. No, what made England cold was its people. He found it difficult to put it into words, perhaps it was the distance with which they treated strangers or their strange sense of humour, but they were the complete opposite of your average Brazilian.
Don't get him wrong, his time in Harbour City wasn't bad by any means, he even found a part-time job as a cashier in a small market and earned some pocket money!... but the monotony of the small city quickly got to him, and there's just so many times you can visit the museum before you start to memorize the script the poorly paid intern they use as a guide repeats every time. But now, having survived 1 week of classes in a highly competitive school full of students with more money than all the families in his old neighbourhood combined, Orlando was sure he could listen to that guide a few more times.
Classes were difficult, and the still hard-to-grasp accent of the teachers didn't make the already high level of the material any easier that's for sure. To be completely honest, Orlando chose to be an Arts student just because, of all the other options, it sounded the easiest, but he didn't expect to be learning about all these strange words like renaissance and baroque. He was sure that he would be dead last in the upcoming test, and wouldn't that be an excellent way to start his school year, he wasn't sure how lenient his scholarship was, but surely that wasn't a good showing at all. He only hoped that the guys in charge of that matter didn't expel him in the first month, wouldn't that be hilarious after all the big talk he made to his family?
At least he already made some acquaintances. It wasn't hard honestly, his exotic looks and place of birth made for good conversation topics, the majority of the rich kids never met someone from South America, never mind being peers with one. Sure, being asked to say this or that word in Portuguese got old really fast really soon, but hey if they had fun with that who was he to judge? He even offered his services as a city guide for some fellow students, his time spend looking for interesting places in his free time already paying off. The only awkward time he had was that one Icebreaker thing they had. After their... counselor? left, they only managed to introduce themselves before leaving the room to never go back.
His room was ok to his tastes. It had all the necessary things to be called a bedroom, and he had long unpacked the few things he brought from home: some airy shorts, sandals, a poster of Ronaldinho, and a family picture they once took. But once again it lacked that familiar warmth he was accustomed to. No sounds of kids playing in the street, no sound of his mother cooking for dinner, no anything. It was at times like this that he remembered just the tremendous amount of distance between him and his homeland.
At times like that, he liked to practice capoeira. The movements and flows of the martial arts worked wonders to relax him. He felt he could let his body speak for him in ways that his word could never do, and, in a way, connect with his family even if they were an entire ocean of distance away. It was after one of these sessions that he realized someone left a paper under his door, in the shape of a little frog. When he read what was on it, Orlando was puzzled. Who would want to send him such a letter and why?
Well, it wasn't like he had anything better to do, and if this was some kind of prank he was confident he could get away cleanly. The next day, he once again tried and failed to understand what he was listening to in classes and, after going with some other students to sign in for the football club, clarifying that while he was good, he wasn't as good as Neymar or Vinicius just because he was Brazilian, walked toward the point the map marked.
If there was a constant in the chaos and uncertainty of the great universe and whatever was beyond the veil from human comprehension, it is that the sun exists merely as a concept in the UK. One had to have faith that it was actually there behind the curtain of grey that so frequently encompassed the island nation, and that tune certainly had not changed for today as Victor looked out the bus window up at the sky. Only two hours ago he was back in sunny, vibrant Marseille and now he was on his way towards his new boarding school neighboring the quaint South England city of Harbour. On the bus, he made polite conversation with the other student passengers, flashing that Hollywood smile of his as he introduced himself. There were some when they learned who his parents were that made the usual requests about getting them their autographs and so on, to which he responded with a playful, "Maybe" and a wink.
Eventually, the bus would slowly crept to a stop outside where the academy was. Victor stepped out and took a deep breath of the crisp ocean air before he got a cart provided by the school and wheeled his belongings to his dorm where he unloaded boxes filled with various objects. There was no time to unpack at the moment though; apparently, he was scheduled to go to some sort of icebreaker with a small group of students and while he did not need to go, it was better to at least give it a chance. That was a mistake.
The icebreaker and the Titanic both had one thing in common: they both sunk, except the captain of this icebreaker did not go down with the ship. Still, he flashed that award winning smile and introduced himself to the rest of the group, or at least whoever was still there. Victor glanced around the room to see any familiar faces to no avail. Actually, that was not entirely true. The one face he did recognize was that of Maive, though that was because of the viral video of her singing with an incredible set of pipes. It really was a small world.
Soon, he was back in his room and was welcomed by the boxes he had stacked about the place. Victor hung his jacket up and rolled his sleeves up as he got to work. It took some time, but eventually he had his room setup. His room was organized but filled to almost the brim with his own belongings. The walls of his room were covered with posters of various stage plays and movie posters, such as West Side Story, Cabaret, Rent, Moonlight, Casablanca along with a selection of music posters of musicians and bands like Kishi Bashi, Rayleigh Richie, Bon Iver, and Charles Mingus. The one family photo that he brought with him was put on his bedside in a black frame. Then there his collection of books neatly organized by categories. He brought his own electric keyboard and microphone, which he could connect to his gaming rig that he brought from home, which also had music production programs. Of course, he brought his headphones because it was just proper etiquette to not subject neighbors to the sounds of raging metal music, demons screaming, and gunshots from his computer. He even brought a rug with a modern geometric pattern on it because why not?
Victor's first week of classes went well. The things that they were talking about is many of the classes were things that he was already knowledgeable of because this was what he grew up with. Overall, it was an easy week for him though he got the feeling that things were going to ramp up soon. The real challenge though wasn't going to be the classes though; it was the drama club. The first thing he did when he heard that he extracurriculars were now available was to sign up with the HATS, the Harbour Academy Theatrical Society. With auditions Victor kept himself busy by working out in the gym to keep his physique maintained, practice dancing, and of course made sure to keep practicing his singing with great fervor. He needed everything to be perfect. No one was going to outdo him in effort or talent, even if he was just a freshman against those with seniority.
Beyond classes and clubs, Victor was a social butterfly; he took advantage of his natural charisma and charm to easily catch the attention and 'befriend' many of his classmates and those around him. It probably helped that he was easy on the eyes and that his parents were celebrities within the acting world. His popularity was ever growing, and he was starting to assert himself within the school's hierarchy.
It was all set to be a normal year and that thought alone would jinx it. Something odd came by to his own surprise, something that would set off a series of unforeseen events.
Victor woke up, his arms outstretched as yawned as he rose out of bed. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes as he placed his bare feet on the floor when he noticed a clump of paper by his door. Curious, he walked over and picked it up to see that it was an origami of a frog and upon unfolding it revealed a message and a map.
"A message with no sender?" mused Victor. This could not have possibly been from that Sophia girl from the icebreaker and if it was anyone that he actually knew then they would have texted him like a normal person. Also, why bring a towel? They surely weren't going to swim in the water, right?
He struggled a bit to focus on the classes for the day. Victor had been more fixated on what the purpose of the letter was and who it was sent by. If it was Sophia, then the letter itself would've probably been designed to be colorful and friendly, not a frog origami containing a letter with less than ten words and a map with no signature.
After a lackluster day of classes, he found himself heading towards the docks with a towel draped over his shoulder. He was not sure what to expect though he was going to get his answer soon.
Although, it didn’t exactly feel like a big day. In fact, it felt very much like boarding school. Imogen sat alone in her dorm room, munching away on her breakfast and doing her best to drown out any worries about her first day at Harbor Academy with a days-old VOD from one of her favorite streamers. Eating couldn’t occur without something to watch, after all, but she found herself glancing away from her laptop screen rather often anyway, even if just to rove around the familiar shapes that surrounded her. It was a different room, a different desk situated so close to a different bed that she could roll straight from her different sheets into her different computer chair if she so desired, but it all felt pretty much the same. In a way that was reassuring, but it did invite the gnawing, nagging feeling that Imogen wasn’t treating this new experience with the respect it deserved.
Oh, well. Soon enough her trepidations were beaten to a pulp by the firestorm of flashing lights and casino sounds from the game the streamer had been playing. Even if Imogen wasn’t playing herself, seeing the 2D avatar in the corner of the screen jump and bounce around in elation for a lucky drop was like a squeegee to the girl’s reward center. She quickly checked her laptop’s clock -thirty-five minutes until her first class- then got back to enjoying her breakfast. Courtesy of her expensive minifridge, laden snack drawer, and excellent coffee machine, she had everything a busy student could ask for. Little plastic packets of fruit snacks (Not a substitute for real fruit, my ass) provided all the vitamin C she needed, while salty cured meat sticks and jerky offered a convenient and non-perishable source of protein. It perfectly complemented the main course: a bag of powdered sugar mini-donuts. The coffee she was guzzling down didn’t exactly taste good, like at all, but that wasn’t coffee’s job, and copious amounts of sweet creamer made it a moot point, anyway. All coffee needed to do was tear her free from the warm, enveloping embrace of her bedsheets to face a new day. And what a day it was, her first at Harbor Academy!
Imogen pulled a tissue from the box beside her laptop and carefully wiped powdered sugar from her lips. As she threw it away the streamer popped off–a loot chest just so happened to deliver five whole level-ups at once, including two weapon evolutions! Forgetting that she was watching a VOD and not a livestream, she hurried to add her pogchamps in with the rest of the recorded viewers’. She watched her emotes scroll up and disappear, smiled, and reached for her coffee.
Twenty minutes later, Imogen entered the hallway bathroom. Her tank top and sweatpants had been replaced by her school uniform, and her favorite green coat was ready to confront the brisk air of the English fall, with her backpack slung on top. She took a moment to smile at her reflection, happy with how her beanie and scarf looked. Then she removed her glasses and bent down to wash her face. She felt a little discomfort somewhere behind her face, some pressure in her sinuses perhaps, sore eyes, maybe a slight headache or just fatigue. A splash of warm water rubbed around her cheeks and eyes always helped whenever this happened, to chase away the buzzing and set herself at ease. Imogen sighed in relief, dried off her hands, and went away.
It was several hours before Imogen encountered her first real disappointment. When she arrived at the Icebreaker meeting, as instructed, she quickly realized that not everyone had shown up. If I’d known I didn’t have to come, Imogen thought, a little ruefully. I wouldn’t have. The Icebreaker didn’t make her nervous or anything; she just didn’t see the point in it. How out of touch did these administrators have to be, to think friendship could be forced? Luckily, a dragged-out episode of forced socialization wasn’t in the cards. To her credit the group’s senior advisor made an effort, but it came across as…well, cringe. Everything went downhill fast, suffocated by the sheer apathy of those roped into coming here. Before she could slip away, though, another girl introduced herself. Imogen gave her a polite, thin smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “How d’ya do, miss Kalde,” she replied, rather formally using the girl’s last name. “Nice to meet ya.” A handsome guy introduced himself too, but Imogen didn’t want to just repeat herself and look foolish, so she said nothing. After neglecting to mention her own name at all, Imogen left.
Imogen looked up from her coursework, taken ever-so-slightly aback. Although her second psychology class had just let out, she’d remained in her chair for a couple minutes before hightailing it to her next one, just so that she could get some slight headway on the introductory assignment while the professor’s words were fresh in her mind. When she raised her head, she found another girl standing in front of her, a young lady with glasses like hers, but glossy black hair pulled into a side ponytail. Her voice carried a pronounced Indian accent, and her eyes shone with friendliness. “I’m Spoorthy,” she greeted Imogen. “I just so happened to see you the first day. It looked like you wanted to say something when Mr. Pierce asked if we had any questions, but it was dead silent!” She gave a sympathetic smile. “I’m the same way. I hate being the first one to speak up. It’s so awkward when the teacher calls out the class for not saying anything, too!”
Extending a tenuous smile in reply, Imogen closed her textbook and leaned back to make sure Spoorthy knew she had her full attention; anything less would be bad manners. “Oh, I just realized I could probably look it up myself, is all,” she said. Trying to think of a way to make relevant conversation, she reached back for an anecdote. “Usually I’ll ask when I need help. When people say oh, how d’ya get such good grades, I just tell ‘em it’s because I get help when I need it. That, and doin’ my homework on time. Turns out the big secret is not crammin’ everything into the last hour before it’s due, haha!”
“Haha,” Spoorthy offered a halfhearted giggle, feeling like she was supposed to. Her attempt to find common ground and maybe make a friend fell flat, and instead she got something that sounded more like condescension or bragging. “Sounds like you’re on top of things. Me, it always seems like I end up cramming…” She glanced at Imogen’s schoolwork, then up at the wall-mounted clock. “Well, I’ve got to get going, so I’ll get out of your hair. See you around?”
“Have a lovely day,” Imogen replied, giving a little wave. What a nice person. I managed to make her laugh, too! Maybe there’s hope for me yet. She started packing up her own things, ready to move on to the next class. On the way she stopped in the hallway bathroom to wash her face.
The week rolled by uneventfully. Any ceremony that accompanied the start of a new school year quickly gave way to routine, and Imogen settled in happily. She attended every class, did every assignment, and partook in lunches and dinners at the school cafeteria, all alone in the midst of a burgeoning throng of humanity. In psychology she kept an eye out for Spoorthy, waiting to see if she wanted to talk to her again, but any further polite exchanges of pleasantries lasted even less time than their first encounter. Imogen didn’t try to push it further; she could take a hint, after all. Things really weren’t all that different here compared to boarding school. The schoolwork was harder, but that just meant she needed to work harder herself. She was here to learn and improve herself, and after spending her school days doing just that, she could enjoy her evenings relaxing with games or videos. Her favorite content creators were always there for her, after all. How’d she ever managed to get so anxious in the first place? Everything was perfectly fine.
The night before, Imogen was up late thanks to a latte she’d gotten a little too late in the day, grinding out some levels in a sci-fi MMO with her ears full of frenetic breakcore. She hadn’t noticed anything slipped under her door until she stepped on it on her way out to use the bathroom before bed, squashing the origami flat with a crinkling sound. After unfolding it -and tearing it a little in the process- it took a couple tries for her bleary eyes and frazzled brain to fully comprehend the note’s contents. “Huh…” Was this another Icebreaker-type social event? Or just a prank? And why would anyone need a towel? Well, if it was the school’s doing, she couldn’t just ignore it. With a yawn Imogen tossed the note on her laptop’s keyboard so she’d remember it come morning.
Somehow, the next day’s classes seemed to go by quicker than usual. When it came to drudgery Imogen was a well-oiled machine, and with her strategy of spreading homework out evenly to not overload herself she predicted that it would be a while before the sleepless nights of pulling hair and gnashing teeth began once more. With her days all to herself, her focus was absolutely, and when it wasn’t either a quick break to wash her face -or a longer one for an extra shower- set her to rights. When seven o’ clock rolled around, Imogen headed to the dockhouse right on time, her backpack full of extra towels. If this was a school-mandated event, after all, she needed to excel. That said, she did enjoy the pleasantly cool walk on the way over, and the fresh air felt like it cleared her head. Maybe I should get out in the evenings more often, she said to herself, tucking away the map she’d been given into her coat pocket. Before her she could see the dockhouse, sitting glumly at the water’s edge, and after tucking away the hair pulled loose by the playful coastal wind she meandered on over.
In the days leading up to his arrival, Daniel had somehow worked the idea into his head that Harbour Academy would prove to be the solution to all his woes. So far, it hadn't quite measured up. Parental approval hadn't magically fallen into his lap, and it likely wouldn't unless the boy did exceptionally well here. Or came home with a girl on his arm and an adamant reassurance that he was over his little phase. Even the relationships with his colleagues hadn't been mended to the standard Danny formerly enjoyed. Sure, nobody knew who he was here and no gossip about his romantic tastes yet flitted about the halls, but it didn't really matter if everyone barely talked to him. The preexisting connections of the affluent apparently knitted many friend groups together already, but Daniel unfortunately chose this school precisely to avoid any such prior acquaintances.
The administration had to have seen the same issue occur frequently, given they took steps to solve it. Ineffective steps, but steps. The mandatory meeting thing may have been called an icebreaker, but quite frankly, it looked like winter was coming, to quote his cheesy upperclassman's humor, and the ice was staying put. He tried his best to introduce himself and be friendly, but after Sofia promptly vacated the group, Daniel allowed himself to suffocate in the oppressive awkwardness of the room for only a few minutes before restlessness overtook him and he got up to leave.
"Alright, good talk, guys." And that was that. Goodbye, whoever they were.
The brunet chose to fill the void in his social life with aggressive small talk; he had no issue musing vaguely about the weather to the other occupants of an elevator or turning abruptly to the person behind him in line at the cafeteria to butt in on their conversation. Sometimes they laughed, sometimes they stared at him like he'd grown a second head, but that was show business, baby! Or... at least he thought it was. He should probably confirm with that actor kid in his icebreaker group; that'd buy him at least a fifteen minute conversation.
Though, his social woes were but a temporary hurdle. Once clubs started up, he'd have an entire swim team to talk to. Daniel could subsist on meager interactions with classmates for a week or two, even if nothing truly stuck and the rapports were as fleeting as his rambling. If one couldn't find camaraderie in an enclosed space with fellow athletes, they weren't trying. The real issue stemmed from his financial woes. His parents had all but cut him off and his grandparents offered little beyond his exorbitant tuition. Given the demographics of the student body, he had a feeling lack of funds would exclude him from a good portion of social activities. It was a small comfort that the nearby town might just have been boring enough for the students to seek their entertainment on campus - where such amusements were usually free.
Though, his newly-emptied bank account didn't cease causing problems so long as Danny remained safely tucked away on school grounds. Running out of contacts and being left without the means to order more was, admittedly, a bigger roadblock than he had anticipated. He was accustomed to taking them out before swimming anyway and he'd managed to find a spot where he could see the television well enough over the summer break, but the reality of how poor his eyesight was didn't sink in until classes began. Daniel had managed on the first day - everything was mostly introductory, he managed to snag a seat close to the front in a few classes, the guy next to him in math was nice enough to let Daniel peek at his notes - the situation seemed manageable. On day two, it was much of the same; he just made sure to pay extra close attention to everything the instructors said for want of the lesson's visuals. On the third day, he noticed he had already started to slip academically when he was put on the spot to answer a question he couldn't even read and he floundered embarrassingly. After a mere four days into his sixth form career, Daniel finally admitted defeat and, when he arrived back in his dorm, immediately scoured through the still-yet-to-be-unpacked boxes piled in the corner for the glasses he hadn't worn since he was eleven. By some grace of God, he'd actually packed them - or rather, they were coincidentally tucked into an old backpack of his that he'd packed in case something happened to the bag he used regularly.
They didn't do their job perfectly, old as they were, but Danny could at least read the poster on the other side of his room now. His newfound joy lasted exactly two minutes and forty-three seconds (not that anyone counted), when he chanced upon a mirror and, being sixteen and thus the arbiter of all things cool and fashionable, decided that nearsightedness was preferable to the ignominy he'd suffer walking around in glasses again. Sure, no one had ever told him they looked bad when he was younger, but surely they were thinking it. Probably.
Regardless of his feelings on the matter, the stupid glasses ended up being a big help. The old prescription held up enough to get Daniel through most of his classes, at least once he deigned to fish the poor frames out of his bag and begrudgingly seat them on his nose, though he still sat too far back in math to release the guy seated next to him from his most solemn duty of letting Daniel copy his notes. A girl even said he looked good in them once, though Danny couldn't discern what ulterior motive could've possibly driven her to lie like that.
Nevertheless, an eager conversationalist was a boon in these troubled times, and when Daniel happened upon the girl again later, now bereft of said hated eyewear, she seemed just as amenable to talk as before. Her mannerisms were a bit reserved, but she seemed to relish in his attention where other students simply blew him off. Danny thought nothing of it until he noticed the way she giggled at nearly everything he said. Surely he wasn't that funny-
That was it! That would be his ticket to squash any rumors before they even began. While no stranger to the attentions of the fairer sex, Daniel never really paid it much mind, for obvious reasons. But if he had a girl on his arm every so often...
No, he didn't even need to go that far. Just be a bit of a tease and let the rumor mill flow. Of course, he'd never been one for subtlety, and it wasn't like he was fearful of rejection. That girl - Daniel hadn't even bothered to learn her name - probably walked off thinking they were soulmates. He'd let her down gently in a week or two.
Apparently she didn't want to wait that long, since Danny found an invitation to a moonlit tryst down by the boathouse on the floor one morning. Or rather, he found a cool origami frog and finally noticed it had writing on it after he tried to make it bounce on his desk a few times. He had to say, she certainly knew the way to his heart - he'd missed the water desperately since his arrival. It was unfortunate she'd probably expect him to kiss her after their little swim.
When he arrived at the designated area on the map that night, garbed in only a loose t-shirt and a garishly bright orange and teal bathing suit, that he realized all the people gathered couldn't possibly be here for a weird... octuple date.
"Oh, hey! It's... uh... you guys," the boy greeted, his mind failing to provide any of their names at the moment. "This like a prank, or a hazing thing, or did I just miss some event announcement?"
As Sofia left the room, she saw someone, waiting right outside.
A flimsy, short girl, pale as can be, the fluorescent lighting of the hallways casting a dull sheen on her large forehead. Her eyes, once transfixed upon the gap between the door and the doorway, turned up to the Top 15 Sciences track student. It was a steady, focused gaze, darting from the accessories to the wristbands to the balled-up fist that held up crumpled notes to the redness of her ears to the growing confusion, apprehension, building up as wrinkles upon the tastefully-applied makeup that she never went without.
“Um, you m-”
“Oh, don’t mind me.” The girl broke her gaze immediately afterwards, making a shooing motion. “Carry on as you would. And, mm, good luck. In five years.”
And with that comment, she turned a one-eighty and strode off. Right towards the window. Right onto the window. Right off the window.
Of course, they were on the first floor, but also, an exit was just ten meters away.
It was the 15th of September, and Verity had adjusted well enough. Harbour Academy was, after all, a relatively expensive international school. Competitive as it was, no-nonsense as it was, the school’s approach to academics was such that so long as you passed, you remained. Classes were immensely beneficial, for sure, but when you brought the best, the brightest, and the richest together, even mandatory classes could end up becoming…optional.
After all, a prodigious programmer certainly didn’t need to attend the computer sciences classes his track demanded of him, when he could get much more done on his own time. And would you truly expect the reincarnation of Mozart to sit through music theory classes that covered materials she learned five years ago? Indeed, so long as one continued to compete, so long as one didn’t absolutely fail, there was no problem, in particular, with not showing the greatest enthusiasm in class.
Or, well, with showing up to class at all.
It was the 15th of September, and while other students stressed over the first exam of the school year, Verity was playing with a frog. A paper one. The bell for first classes had rang some time ago, but she was still lying on the hard, wooden floor, enjoying the coolness of it as she rolled from side to side, flicking the frog to and fro. Her room was barren. Minimalistic, if someone wanted to nice about it. A sleeping bag and an air mattress. A desk and a stool. The outlets were plugged with her laptop’s charger and her phone’s charger, and a hanging closet contained all the clothes she cared to keep.
And on the wall opposite of the patio?
A map of Harbour and its surroundings, blown up to encompass nearly the entire face of the wall, from floor to ceiling. Printed piece by piece on A4 paper. Pinned with brass thumbtacks, marked with scribbles in blue ink.
The dockhouse. Evening. And a towel. Swimming? Oh, hazing? Sounded like an experience.
But it was all still in the evening. As for the hours that preceded it…
Verity’s eyes settled on her map once more, tracing the network of roads, the names of buildings, the shifting of elevation and the crisscrossing of blue ink. Wouldn’t be a full-day sort of thing, not when she woke up so late today, but there was an area nearby she’d like to take a peek at.
Mm. Decided then.
She stuffed the frog into her pockets, hopped onto her feet, grabbed her bag, and promptly fucked off.
Out through the window, of course. She didn’t pick a suite with a tree nearby just to not use it, after all.
Afterglow dyed the waters red, the skies still ablaze with the sun’s fall. Up atop the roof of the dockhouse, Verity leaned back against the warmed tiles, tearing open a bag of chips to much on. This high up, the sea looked just that much more expansive, while the breeze that drew inland actually felt like the autumns she was used to. There was the tang of salt working their way into her sinuses, but anything that had to do with smell, sound, or taste was promptly obliterated upon the first bite of Takis. Spices burned her palate, and crunching deafened her ears.
But not enough, it seemed, to drown out a boy’s voice from below.
"This like a prank, or a hazing thing, or did I just miss some event announcement?"
Shuffling over to the edge, the young lady peered down upon the bobbing heads down on the boardwalk. Some were colorful enough to be instantly recognizable. Others were vague blobs that seemed to fit the parts. Icebreaker group.
Top 15 Sciences Track did this? Huh.
She popped a couple more dynamite sticks into her mouth and crunched away, continuing to lounge as she watched those below her.
Victoria Yarwood had experienced hazing before, though not quite like this. The girls back home employed much different tactics, though she wasn’t able to make heads or tails about it. Her hands were buried in her pockets with her backpack concealing the towel that she was encouraged to bring to the location at the end of the dockhouse. The waters were likely not the ideal temperature for any sort of activities, though she felt compelled none the less to show.
“Erm…” Words struggled to leave the tall girl, “I’m not sure I get it, either.”
She sighed as her eyes looked around and she joined the boy’s side with her backpack in tow. It was awkward, weird, it didn’t make any sense. She wasn’t so bold to hoist her towel over her shoulders like others and her eyes bounced across every corner as if trying to make sense of the invitation to the dockhouse. Her words felt like they were glued to the roof of her mouth as she mumbled hesitation and confusion. If she was already being hazed at this academy she felt she had failed to start a new leaf, but at the same time she had been noticed by someone all the same so it wasn’t the same old situation of being ignored either.
“This is weird.” She finally said clearly, though with about the same confidence as before.
The group stood along the pier, no more than two metres above the water and devoid of other life. The sea itself was calm, reflecting the end of a sunset and shimmering gently. It had been warm during the day, but the bite of a light breeze made it ever so slightly uncomfortable to be standing in place.
The door to the boathouse slammed open as Sofia jumped out, arms spread wide. “Surprise! I bet you didn’t see this coming, huh?”
Nobody really reacted. Considering everyone was part of the Icebreaker, they’d all reasonably expected her to show up eventually.
“Ahaha. Yeah. Surprise! Again, I guess..” Sofia’s smile wavered slightly as she hit the jazz hands, her wrists jingling. She’d taken off all the wristbands and replaced them with equally busy metal bracelets. “Um, anyway… You may be wondering why I gathered you all here! And first of all, I want to thank you all for um, being here.”
“Okay well, this is sort of a Harbour Academy tradition. You’re supposed to jump into the water, and it’ll give you luck in your exams. Well, you’re meant to do it in the first week, but… it'll do!”
She clapped her hands together, a wide smile plastered on her face. A little awkwardly, she continued, “If you’re wearing anything heavy you should um, take it off first. Just leave it on the pier. The water isn’t actually that deep, so make sure you tuck in your legs when you jump, and it’ll be really easy to get out after. There’s some psychological explanation or whatever for why this helps, actually, but I won’t bore you all with the details.”
Sofia pointed at the multiple ladders and the set of stairs attached to the pier. “...And there’s nothing in the water that’s dangerous. Probably. Haha! So, um. Yeah! Let’s hop to it!”
To say that nobody reacted was a bit of an overstatement. Someone certainly reacted. And on the part of the girl on the roof, that reaction came in the form of slow applause, one that was neither ironic nor mocking, but one that seemed to hold a certain tinge of condescension. Like an older sibling, perhaps, slapping their hands together when their younger sister and her equally young friends showed off some double dutch skipping. Verity was impressed. It was fun to see that Top 15 Science Track could do cryptic messages too! And the origami had been hers? Certainly, there was some depth to her after all!
And as for the whole tradition of jumping into the waters for exam luck...
She tipped the remaining contents of her bag of chips into her mouth, wiped the powder and crumbs off the corner of her mouth, and then, in a very cat-like fashion, licked clean the back of her hand. It was in a very human fashion afterwards that she crushed the plastic bag into a ball before stuffing it into the pockets of her sweatpants. Shallow waters, but she was pretty light. Distance from dockhouse to water was doable too. She'd confirmed that earlier. And while she had been 70-30 on whether or not Sofia was going to show, she was 100-0 on whether or not water was going to be involved.
Verity laughed. Almost derisively.
Then, she began to strip, flinging her clothes down onto the boardwalk haphazardly. If anyone was buried beneath it, well, it wasn't as if she was carrying rocks in her pockets or anything.
"Like penguins, Sofia?"
Gooseflesh rose from pale skin that was awash in the afterglow, the sting of the sea breeze felt ever more keenly now that Verity was in nothing more than her swimsuit, a plain yellow bikini that complemented her figure only in that her body itself was plain and non-descript, like a eraser right out the box.
The girl was certainly nothing to look at.
But the way she stood, standing on the slant of the dockhouse roof, one foot raised as she rolled the digits of her toes, both hands back to pull her hair into a ponytail, her forehead gleaming the magenta hues of twilight, perhaps one would get a strange feeling.
Whether weather fair or foul, whether winter or summer, whether traditions or superstition, whether in solitude or in company, Verity Oxenbridge had always intended on a swim.
The day had gone by as a slog - no change there from the usual. Yet on his mind was the eternal ponder over what it was he was asked to attend. It occupied half of his attention and only led to the day dragging. In time, however, the school hours were over, and he was back in his dorm, debating himself as to whether he should go. Of course, he thought it wasn't exactly something promising, but he hadn't made any enemies to his knowledge to justify something targeted. The school year was far too early for that to happen. Still, it did beckon as to why anyone would've requested him in any secretive "under-the-door" fashion.
In the end, there was only one way to truly know whether the experience was to be grand or pointless. Attendance. Franciszek wasn't that particularly enclosed in the social sphere. There were ways to put yourself forward without risking anything, and for all he knew, that was just that. He grabbed a towel and made headway for the docks by the time the daylight turned sour. It wasn't anything atypical about the land; all the same, bitter, homely feeling, rather. Autumn's early bites were, however, rather demanding when it came to swimming.
He'd changed into some nondescript swimming wear - some trunks and a spare t-shirt he'd had still packed in one of his bags. It wasn't anything fancy, nor really useful for swimming, but by the time he'd arrived, it all felt a little off. There were just people stood around. Waiting. Not talking. It was quiet. It was a little too uncomfortably quiet. And then all that silence was wiped away when Sofia sprung her surprise, and for once, Franciszek felt like he was the only one to actually jump inside of himself. He tried to hide it at least, barely.
Sofia was...something. Enthusiastic, nonetheless, but not exactly on par with the school staff. There was a veneer of awkwardness, the slight second-handed embarrassment that came with trying just a little too hard. He didn't mind it though. It was loose, and gave an impression of genuine attempt when it came to witnessing failure. He didn't want to look too deep into it. Then, of course, she disclosed the purpose of their gathering. A belated tradition, left to hang at the last minute. That seemed to be her style - a little after it was cool for everyone else to do so. Honestly, he liked it. It was a lot less crowded, though the unrecognisable faces didn't exactly help ease him into volunteering himself first. He lingered just barely to the side of whoever, whilst some prepared themselves to jump in.
Then it struck him - he hadn't gone swimming in a long while. There was a slight anxious tick to that thought. Did he still know how to swim? Well - she did say it wasn't deep, but what was her idea of not deep, she had acclimatised to the nautical school? She did come up with an answer but...bah, who paid attention to that? He stood amongst the unhazed, of course this was how it was meant to be; nervousness and confusion and just a general lick of anxiety to cover all his bases. He stood there, a little frozen. He wasn't scared of swimming, but he wasn't enthusiastic about what he was leaping his way into.
"Right..." God, he kicked himself at how untalkative he had been. There was just standing there, and inaction, and spectating the others as they conversed a little with Sofia and back. He didn't interrupt, not straight away. But eventually, he did raise a halfward hand - though whether Sofia or who else had paid much attention was beyond him - and slowly ask. "Like...right now? What happens after that?"
Her hands tightly clutched the sleeves of her coat as she took in all of the information she could get at the moment. The taller girl could feel her nerves like they were on fire and she wasn’t sure what exactly was the truth of things. Old school traditions. Luck. There were a lot of things being said, but Victoria didn’t particularly trust any of it. Sofia didn’t seem like the kind of person to put on a face and make an entire ruse to make an embarrassing situation strike her classmates, but then again, that’s usually how it went with those styles of pranks.
As she stepped forward she dropped her backpack on the ground before opening it and taking out a baby blue towel.
Huh. For a semi-remote, almost forlorn dockhouse, there seemed to be a surprising amount of people here, all about her age too. This must be an official school event after all, to have somehow roused so many students from their warm dorms to brace themselves against the nippy coastal gusts at sundown. But as Imogen looked between their faces, a sensation of familiarity quickly built up within her. She might not know -or she might have just forgotten- their names, but something about this particular assembly of students convinced her that she’d seen them all before. Or was that just her own wishful thinking tricking her, out of a subtle urge to do right by others where she felt they did wrong by her, and conscientiously avoid letting others fade unceremoniously into the background?
Regardless, there really were a lot of people here. For a little while they made no attempt at conversation, instead listening to the gentle chorus of wind and sea under the implicit assumption that they were all here for the same reason, not just bystanders drawn into awkward proximity by the whims of fate. Imogen felt no need to disturb the peace and quiet, or to insist on meeting anyone else’s gaze, even if just for a rhetorical questioning glance. They probably didn’t know any better than her, after all, and she gauged that the air of resignation here, about an evening wasted on probably nonsense, outweighed the air of curiosity. There was even a girl up on the dockhouse roof, chowing down on a bag of snacks while she gazed imperiously down. Imogen admired what struck her as bravado, and wondered which of the frozen meals in her fridge she ought to thaw out when she got back. She’d been so busy with her homework that she forgot to eat before coming, and to her chagrin she felt a little weak from hunger.
A couple more people trickled in to join the small crowd in waiting for whoever orchestrated this event to reveal themselves. Some of those who arrived, however, couldn’t stand the silence, and felt the need to break it. A guy with brown hair greeted his forerunners halfheartedly, asking them what was going on. Not that anyone would know, but Imogen felt it would be rude to ignore him. “Wish I knew myself,” she replied, just loud enough to be heard over the breeze-licked surf if the others were listening, but quiet enough that her response could just as easily slip away if nobody cared to hear. After coming to a stop next to Danny the eighth and final arrival, a fidgety beanpole who seemed so slight and shy that one of the stiff winds around here might knock her into the water, dithered about the ambiguity and weirdness of the situation. The weirdest thing to Imogen, though, was how lightly dressed some of these people were. An English shore was no place for shorts!
Then the dockhouse door flew open with a crash, startling Imogen pretty badly. It took only a split second to realize that everything was fine, but the sight of Sofia -whose face and name she did acutely remember, for better or worse- threw all her expectations out the window. Some of her peers might have expected this, but it did come as a surprise to Imogen. After what happened at the Icebreaker, she figured that Sofia might as well vanish off the face of the earth; by her reckoning, there wasn’t a single soul on God’s gray earth with enough guts to try and follow up that act. But here she was, just as abashedly goofy as she’d been before. At least this time she spared her audience the dated pop culture references in favor of a simple ‘thanks for coming’.
Imogen’s face had morphed from one of mild shock to a wince, with eyebrows both furrowed and upturned accompanying a thin, uneasy smile. It was the sort of expression one might make at a kitten who’d just failed to clear the jump from coffee table to couch. “...Sure,” she replied tentatively. She didn’t want to spit in the face of Sofia’s clear -if woefully misguided- sincerity, but she realized that she could now leave at any time with zero academic consequences.
Then Sofia told the students what she wanted them to do. Imogen blinked. “Wh…what?” Her word wasn’t bashful or fearful. It was sharp and flat, like someone had said something so incredibly stupid that she was checking to make sure she heard them right. “Are you mad?”
Imogen suddenly realized she was breaking character, and cleared her throat with an apologetic glance at Sofia. “Ach, forgive me for sayin’, but surely you don’t really mean it, right? Tradition or not, it’s freezin’. We’d catch our deaths of cold.” She backed away from one of the ladders the girl pointed out as if it might reach out, grab, her and hurl her into the drink. “I’m not about to…”
A raucous laugh cut her off, and when Imogen glanced upward she came to the sudden realization that some people were about to. She watched in stunned silence as Verity began to disrobe, then turned her gaze on the others. Wait a minute. Those weren’t shorts on Frankie. They were swim trunks! And in Danny’s case, not some kind of vibrant exercise wear, but a competitive swimsuit! Her eyes continued to widen, her mouth ever-so-slightly ajar. Were they really planning to throw themselves into that frigid water? Did they expect her to?
“No. Way,” she blurted out, despite her usual calm and agreeable manner. Maybe she should have inferred it from the note’s mention of a towel, looking back, but the thought of a swim in the ocean didn’t occur to her even once. Now several people were readying themselves for a dip. Even the shy girl was pulling out her towel! “You all must be off your nutters!” Imogen stared at Sofia with a mildly pleading expression, and tried to compose herself. The organizer was watching the others like a hawk, waiting for them to take the plunge with a smile that to Imogen looked rather gleeful. “I didn’t bring a bathing suit,” she confessed, attempting to negotiate. “I don’t even own one. Besides.” In a pouting manner she crossed her arms, turning up her nose at the whole superstitious premise as she looked off into the cloudy sunset. “I got where I am today without any luck at all. Just blood, sweat, and tears. Sorry to disappoint you, really I am, but I’m not gonna risk my life for a wee bit of luck now.”
Despite what sounded like a firm refusal, however, things were a little more complicated on the inside. Accepting the mantle of ‘uninteresting, unlikable, and unmemorable person’ did not mean that she ever stopped struggling with that lot in life. Even as she vocalized what she knew must be a perfectly reasonable and understandable objection, Imogen couldn’t help but wonder…was this sort of thing why nobody ever cared about her? By now she knew that she couldn’t expect anyone to come to her, that was just asking too much after all. But it was true she’d given up on going to them, too, and being a stick in the mud on the rare occasion a chance came her way probably didn’t help. The intrusive thought crossed her mind: if she did do this, maybe it would score some points with these people. It might give them something to remember about her, and even help her fit in. Would it work? Did it matter in the first place? Hard to say. But even after her refusal, Imogen did not go away. To an onlooker, it might be obvious that she, being a little too close to the edge, lacked the strength to stand by her convictions. A little push could be all that was needed to send her over.
To say that Victor was surprised to see what would typically be a rather lonesome boathouse be occupied by several people just loitering around wouldn't be incorrect though at the same time he really was not. They were not random faces either; they were the same people that he met during the icebreaker that went disastrously last week. He was starting to get a better idea of what was going on. Well, either that or there were hidden cameras everywhere and he was about to be made of a fool of for the whole world to see.
It would be untrue to claim that this was not the least bit awkward. The only people that he was somewhat familiar with were Maive and Orlando due to the fact that they were on the same academic track though they really did not interact with each other. Let's be real, no one ever likes to be forced into a group with people that they don't know and be told to get along and sing bloody Kumbaya like they were lifelong friends. Hell, he could barely remember everyone else's name and for some damn reason the awkward silence was broken by the sound of chips being crunched by a girl on the dock house roof that oozed with smugness. Still, he maintained that calm, charismatic composure as he stood straight with confidence as to not break the illusion even if this whole endeavor was going to be an absolute waste of time.
There was not much conversation to be had besides them asking if they knew what was going on. The thing that filled the silence besides the sounds of corn chips being decimated was the sea kissed breeze and the crashing of waves against the pier. No one seemed too keen to make much small talk, which was fine with Victor. The sooner that whatever event Sofia had in store for them ended, the better.
Well, he got his wish. The door to the boathouse swung open with great vigor as if it was on cue and out the girl came from the proverbial backstage. Victor had actually already anticipated that she was already in there, mainly because of how theatrical the note and map they all received were presented. Sophia had already been planning to surprise them and the only hiding spot on the pier was the boathouse. It was only a matter of time that she reared her church-youth leader head. At least this was sans outdated pop-culture references.
His fears were correct though. They were going to have to jump into that icy cold English water. Did his sister not tell him knowing that he would absolutely hate it? Now he was thankful that he left his watch and piercings back in his room.
"This is going to be a brisk dip," said Victor as he tossed his jacket off and just as he was about to take his shirt off, his head was buried by Verity's clothes that was haphazardly tossed from above. No one could see it, but his eye twitched in annoyance, and he muttered some curse words in French before he grabbed the clothes and threw them to the side. If he were petty, he would have tossed them into the water.
He sighed and just continued to undress himself to show that he was wearing dark blue swim trunks underneath. Victor also cut a pretty fit figure himself. His figure was lean, yet with obvious muscular definition that looked like it was suited for endurance, strength, and movement though there was an aesthetic beauty and elegance to it that was different from the average athlete and weightlifter. One could tell from looking at him that there was real dedication to maintaining that level of fitness.
Everyone was resigned to their fate of jumping into the cold waters, all except for this brown-haired girl. She kicked up a storm of protest and he really couldn't blame her.
"It's really fine if you don't want to. No one can force you after all," said Victor as he was folding his clothes. "But that's really a wrong point of view to have. Think of it as taking a chance on something, like a first step to being who you want to be. Besides, I'll lend you my shirt if you need a change, so you don't really have a reason to say no," he said with a playful smirk. If he was going to go into the water, then he sure was going to make sure he wasn't going to go down alone.
He had to admit, after that disastrous first meeting he truly did not expect to ever see Sofia again, but it seems she took her position seriously. After hearing her explanation, Orlando took a look at his peers. Most of them accepted her words and were in the middle of changing into their swimwear, hell, the girl on the roof just took her clothes off, a swimsuit under them.
He was no stranger to weird traditions or rites of passage. Back in his home, the first time he participated in the main event of the Carnaval, he got his whole head shaved clean and had to dance barefoot, something all dancers went through. So with that in mind, he took off his shirt and got his towel out of the backpack he brought with him. While not on the level of someone who dedicated their lives to the gym, Orlando's body was fit and lean, specially his legs, but it wasn't something obvious to the eye, having what he liked to call "work muscles", gained through a life of constant physical activity in his youth.
If this was some kind of prank, at least he wouldn't be the only victim of it, and if what Sofia said was true, he wouldn't like to appear dismissive of the school traditions, who knows what the rest of the rich kids might do if they though Orlando didn't respect their customs. The rest of the people in the dock appeared to have the same idea as him, except for one girl that seemed to be extremely against the idea. He could sympathize with her honestly, the weather in England was the total opposite of that of his home, where you could go for a swim on the beach at any time of the day knowing the water would be at the very least temperate, but he could not say the same about here. He was sure at least one of them would catch a cold.
Victor was the first to try to convince her. He and Maive were the ones he was most familiar with here, at least by sight. He heard some girls already wondering if he was single or not, maybe he could ask him and sell the info later, as long as he didn't trace it back to Orlando it would be ok. He felt the need to add. "Yeah, Victor's right, and besides if you get sick or something you could always sue Sofia, it's her idea after all, we can even be your ehh, what's the word... testemunhas, the people who saw it happen and speak about it to the police" he said with a smirk directed at Sofia. There were still traces of Orlando's acute, almost flowing-like maternal accent in his speech. He didn't really mean it, but well, it was true that the girl in question abandoned them just to appear one week later with a weird request, some playful revenge was in order. There was just one question he had to ask Sofia.
"I just have one question, why a frog? is that the mascote of the school or something? or you just like the animal"
Oh, Icebreaker girl set this up. That made sense, given how she took off abruptly before, though Daniel figured she would've wiped her hands of the whole situation rather than make a repeat attempt a week later. Was the secrecy really necessary then? Well, maybe because nobody would show up otherwise, but... was there really a guarantee that a cryptic note would fare any better? It seemed to work pretty well, so he supposed he couldn't critique her methods too much. Even the girl who hadn't shown up the first time had made an appearance, unless the one perched atop the dockhouse was an unlucky bystander rather than a participant in Sofia's little game.
Either way, an excuse to swim was an excuse to swim, and Danny had already peeled off his shirt before complaints about the water's temperature reached his ears. His mouth opened to offer a suggestion that perhaps Sofia should've picked an earlier hour to do this so that the water wasn't quite so unpleasant, but he cut himself off with an amused snort as the actor kid he'd meant to concur with was unceremoniously slapped in the face with a pair of pants. To his credit, Lafayette recovered admirably and even offered his shirt to the bespectacled girl that had floated in after Daniel.
Actually, that was a splendid idea - who said he had to wait for his little date to get the rumor mill started? If he wanted to paint himself as a notorious womanizer, every female on campus could be his canvas. Theater kid already had one girl taken, and doubling up on her would just make him look weird. Roof girl was low hanging fruit, given how carelessly she was flinging articles of clothing off her perch, but he couldn't well make thinly-veiled suggestive comments about her body when he could barely make out what she looked like at this distance. Plus, she looked about ready to dive in and break her neck from up there; if he was going to shout anything, it'd be a warning. Glasses girl number two - Maven or something - seemed way too sweet in their admittedly minimal interactions for Daniel to debase her and walk away without a guilty conscience. So that left... whoever the last girl was and their unexpected host.
Boys liked older women, right?
"Well, you aren't the beautiful woman I thought had invited me out here tonight, but I can't say I'm complaining," Daniel professed with a charming smile in Sofia's direction. He tried to do that pectoral flex thing that shirtless ripped dudes always did in commercials and stuff, but unfortunately nothing moved. Damn. He'd have to look up how to do that later, that would be a cool useless talent to have.
With Sofia suitably flirted with, he passed the others at a leisurely pace while they debated the merits of actually jumping in. Or suing Sofia, which he definitely thought was an overreaction to a bit of chilly water. He came to swim, and that was what he would do; the luck was just a bonus. And Danny needed all the luck he could get right now, if he was being honest. Besides, the water was tolerable after a few agonizing minutes anyway.
"Hey, you might want to wait until someone else jumps in first and sees how shallow it is," Daniel called up to the girl on the roof, "I dunno what 'not actually that deep' means, but I'd hate to see you get hurt." He flashed another winning smile up at her briefly, then turned his attention to some light stretching before he entered the water. Granted, it wasn't like he was going to get any exercise, but the ritual had been ingrained in him nevertheless.
Sofia gave a double thumbs up as she answered the hesitant questions.
"Yeah! We're just going for a dip. No need to go full swimming, unless you're like Daniel or, uh, Verity here. Just a light step in."
She turned to Orlando. "Not a mascot, we don't really have one. Just the anchor. Uh. I practice origami sometimes, you know? Just helps me keep my mind off things, or does a mental brain reset. I read about it in an article once, uh, that moving your hands? Or was it your whole body? Can help your brain work better. So. Yeah. I picked it up. I think one of them turned out a little funny, sorry! I think I gave that one to Maive. Heh. Oops."
Some of the more enthused members began to prepare themselves, so Sofia joined them. She took off the light jacket and sweatpants she'd been wearing, revealing a standard athletic one piece underneath. Daniel said his line, and she looked at him with equal parts confusion and embarrassment.
Maive, of course, gave a sea-side wave to the other students who had arrived. It would appear that the icebreaker group was reconvening once again. How nice, she thought to herself. They did seem fairly reserved. Most of them didn't say much as they arrived. Not necessarily a bad thing. The brunette boy--Daniel--spoke the most. The tall Victoria seemed nervous. The group was rounded off when Sofia had once again appeared to little fanfare but her own.
Of course, there was the sudden appearance of someone who wasn't present at the icebreaker meeting. Maive's eyes went wide and her face went flush as she looked away from the unrecognized student who was suddenly undressing. People didn't do that kind of thing in her home country. Well, perhaps those in well-developed cities with warm summer beaches did. Maive was a girl of the boonies. The most they did was kick off their shoes once they reached home.
More people began to undress in public, even though it was technically fine because they had swimwear underneath. Everyone else seemed to be much more prepared than Maive. She hadn't brought a swimsuit even with the implication of having to bring a towel. Not that she owned a swimsuit in the first-place. As the swimming pool was non-mandatory, there wasn't a school-issued swim uniform she had access to. She was lucky to not be in her uniform, though. She considered it too nice to get dirty. Her old and oversized clothes may had been threadbare in places, but they still had enough life in them to not immediately disintegrate if they touched the sea.
"I thought it was nice." Maive gave a polite reply to Sofia mentioning her note. Though, Maive didn't hazard a guess as to what her note was originally meant to be.
The group was pretty quickly split on whether or not leaping into autumnal waters was a good idea or not. The girl who Maive didn't recognize, Victor, Daniel, and Orlando were on team plunge. Victoria and Frankie were apprehensive. Imogen was downright hostile to the idea. Daniel was also flirting immediately and had his heart crushed immediately. It was another thing that brought roses to her cheeks. Maive herself was apprehensive about jumping into water. However, she was also one to both try things out and be peer pressured (despite her telling others to not be peer pressured). The water may be cold, but it would be no worse than one of Maive's cold showers.
Speaking of cold showers, Maive was definitely in need of one with so many of her cohorts ripping off their shirts and a certain someone's attempt at flirting and immediate rebuke. Secondhand embarrassment and all.
Then came the peer pressure towards Imogen. If it was towards herself, she'd have likely not noticed. Like a good noodle, she moved to stand between Imogen and Victor.
"No pressure!" She weirdly announced as her thoughts were moving faster than her ability in English could match. "The only want-to-be after the first step is wet." It wasn't the most convincing defence, especially since the colour of her face was closer to beetroot and her body seemed to struggle with how to place her arms.