✨ Chapter 2 ✨

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Marian wrapped an arm around her best friend as they walked to lunch. "It's okay, Sal," she whispered. "You tried."

Sal Minikin hid her face inside her notebook and muttered, "I couldn't get it to do anything. Let's face it, Mari, I'm going to get eaten by a rabbit."

"Don't say that, Sal," soothed Marian. "In fact, don't even joke about it." She froze when an arm reached behind her and gently tugged at Sal's purple braid.

"Are you all right?" a male voice said. "Prof. C seemed extra worked up today."

"Is that you, Endrik?" said Sal, still hidden behind the folds of pages.

"Yes, little cousin." He tugged at her notebook. "You're not crying in there, are you?"

Marian bit her lip as she took in Endrik's pained expression. She focused on the crease between strawberry-blond brows that matched the scruff on his chin. "She's worried about getting fed to the rabbits," she said finally, looking directly into Endrik's pale blue eyes.

Sal groaned and stuffed her notebook inside her satchel. "I don't know how I'm going to make it through the afternoon session. I can't focus with Caustica staring at me like that—with those angry yellow eyes and her red-streaked hair. She looks like a lit match, ready to burn everything in her path."

Endrik chuckled as he took Sal's arm in his and dragged her to a cafeteria table. "Sit down and try to relax. You too, Marian," he said. "I'll get us something to eat."

She blinked. "You don't have to—"

"I know." He shrugged. "I want to. It's my treat today."

"But you're the one who got poked in the elbow with a trowel." Sal sat up, giving herself as much height as possible, and shoved a pile of silver-rimmed coins in his hand. "At least let me pay for it."

He laughed again, pressing the money back toward Sal. "It will take more than that for her to burn me. I'll be right back, ladies."

Marian's mouth hung open as he walked off.

"What's the matter, Mari? Rabbit got your tongue?"

"No, it's—" Marian shook the cobwebs from her head. "He's just so—"

"Eww, no," said Sal, faking a gag. "Please, don't say he's hot, or worse yet beautiful. He's like a brother to me. And that's gross."

"I was going to say nice." Marian rubbed her eyes in an attempt to smooth the dreamy look from her face. "Endrik Sparks is buying me lunch. I can't believe it."

"Yeah, well, you can have mine too," said Sal, sulking. "After this morning, I don't have much of an appetite."

Two trays of dishes filled with food plopped down before them. Endrik gave the girls an apologetic look. "I hope you like pollen nuggets. I've never trusted the stew here."

"No worries," Sal said, wrapping her hands around a glass of carbonated nectar. "I'm not hungry. Marian loves nuggets, though. Don't you, Nugget Head?"

Endrik laughed lightly as Marian's face burned red. "Careful, now you're turning into a flame lily." He smirked. "You should save that for this afternoon."

Marian glared at Sal as she reached for her plate. The smell of crispy, deep-fried goodness made her stomach rumble, heightening her embarrassment, but only momentarily. She popped a nugget into her mouth and smiled. The combination of the fried, chewy coating and pop of powder from the pollen relaxed her from the tensions of the day. "Thank you for lunch, Endrik."

He nodded as he chewed, his pale blue eyes sparkling. His gaze with Marian broke when a voice purred from behind him.

"How sweet of you to cheer up the dullest of the Glistens. Are you giving tips on how not to fail this afternoon?"

"Funny coming from someone no less delinquent than us," grumbled Sal without looking up. "You're in summer school too, you know."

Minx's head drooped nearer until it nearly rested against Endrik's cheek. "That's because of all the leave I took during the regular year. I'm only catching up." Her grin wasn't pleasant, and it held a touch of pain.

Marian blinked, considering what Minx had said. She vaguely remembered Minx having been absent during the regular session. No wonder it seemed like such a good year, she thought. She popped another pollen nugget in her mouth and chewed thoughtfully, taking in Minx's appearance. Her silver hair and honey-gold eyes were the same, but her complexion was different somehow—grayish with no hint of pink across her cheeks. And her clothes were baggier. Some girls will go to such lengths to be thin. The more she thought about it, the more difficult the nugget was to swallow. 

Minx tightened her grip on Endrik's shoulder; then, her hand snapped away as if she were embarrassed. She smoothed out her blouse with hands wrapped in fingerless gloves, casting a shimmer of light on the table. "See you in class."

"That was weird," Sal said between sips of nectar. "It's like she was trying not to fall over. Maybe her meanness is finally catching up with her." She sniffed.

"Maybe," said Marian, staring at the space on Endrik's shoulder where Minx's hand used to be.

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