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4X+Y Chapter 01 - I'm Sorry (Part 1) by LemmyNiscuit

”Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,” the DJ's voice came through the speakers that hung from several points around the room; “I apologize, but The Frog and Her Five Princes were unable to make it tonight.”

The audience murmured, some letting out dismayed, “awww” and “boo!”

”But, don't worry! It doesn't mean Karaoke. Someone who knows them—and fairly well, I'd say—has come to fill in for them. Please, give your rounds up for: Ror—schach!

The small crowd clapped and cheered, some banging their fists on their tables, and rattling their plates and silverware.

To their surprise, what stepped into the light on the stage was not a long-haired, chiseled shredder; but just a calico kitten with a plain, electric-acoustic guitar.

The calico went to one side of the stage to drag a stool along, picking it up slightly to keep it from scratching the stage floor. It was set down near the mic-stand.

Awkwardly, the calico—who looked barely out of elementary school—sat upon the stool and hoisted their guitar into position. The right hand disappeared behind the guitar, and a static crackle came over the speaker.

”Mic ch—”

The calico, hearing their own voice take up the whole room, felt the cold chill of nervousness. Shaking its head, the calico steeled itself.

”Evening… everybody…” The calico said, voice nervously coming through. “How… y'all doing tonight?”

A meager round of whistling and a holler was the response.

”Um…” The calico plucked the guitar idly, listening to the tuning while speaking. “I… I have to say it's… really different… being on this part of the stage.” The calico looked out, and could barely see silhouettes at the tables because of the blaring stage-lights. “I um… I'm usually,” the calico thumbed toward the back curtains, “I'm usually back there… You just, never really see me cuz… I'm not good at this kinda stuff.

“But I'm here all the time,” the calico said, “w—with Froggy. I think… I mean, I've probably missed one or two, but… I've been here for each of her performances…” The guitar hummed as it was strummed.

“I—I feel like… I should explain, see,” the calico took in a breath. “The reason Froggy isn't here is cuz… She's… In the med clinic.”

The voices at the tables rose, and the calico's nervous breath filled the room.

”She's… she's okay,” the feline reassured. “She just… I…” The guitar squealed as the calico's agitated hand slipped over the strings. “I… hit her… a few times… pretty bad.”

”Holy fu—uh,” the DJ's voice came over the speakers, and then suddenly cut out.

To the calico, the silence that fell over the room was worse than if they had booed and thrown rotten fruit. The feline gripped the neck of the guitar.

A loud sniffle made its way into the room.

”I…” The calico said, listening to the quivering words. “I feel terrible,” and took in a shivering breath. “I—I didn't mean to, and… I just…” The calico turned its head, the hand gripping the neck of the guitar briefly leaving to rub at the eyes and around the muzzle.

”I wrote… a song…” The calico's breath escaped in a calming rush. “Not… really it's… I made it up on the way here… I just… I dunno what else to do… And I figure… maybe she's listening—probably not. But…

”Anyway,” the calico readjusted, hooking one shoe-toe behind the support beam of the stool. “I… I call this… um… I'm sorry…

* * *

His name was Audrey.

Hm? That's right. His.

”But, isn't Audrey a calico?” I hear you ask; “Only a girl can be a calico.”

Two-thousand, nine-hundred and ninety-nine other times, you'd be right in thinking that. But, this is one time where you're not.

No offense.

Ray—that's what he preferred to go by—looked like a girl on the surface. But… just, take my word for it: he was boy. Really, it's all normal genetics. Nothing spectacular or interesting. In fact it's… kinda boring. His words, not mine.

Other than that, he was an average boy.

He was certainly a special one, that's for sure. We were good friends once, until he decked me in the face. That's… I mean, if you wanna hear that story, then I hope you don't get killed by your curiosity.

Sorry, cat-puns.

Nah, I'm just kiddin'. I'll tell you, if you promise not to be a kid about it. But, I gotta start from when we first met—otherwise, you won't understand.

Understanding was what Ray and I held most dear to our hearts.

Neither of us could forget our first meeting that fateful August morning. It was gloomy; looked like it was going to rain a little. I was so excited, and just a little nervous…

* * *

The crisp, morning air crackled in her chest with each breath as she briskly kept pace with her father. Her new steel-blue-colored tennis-shoes were still uncomfortable; she hadn't quite broken them in, yet. She had on her favorite pair of jeans, and her favorite purple shirt with a stylized image of a guitar made up of whites, oranges, and blacks.

Wafts of ginger tickled her nose when her locks bobbed with her steps. She may have overdone it a bit with the pomade in her morning rush.

The sky was dim and gray, a blanket of clouds. It was still darkish out, most things were still more black and fuzzy than anything, but with each passing moment it was getting brighter. A jet roared overhead, somewhere above the cumulus veil.

”C'mon little Froggy,” her father coaxed, “hop-to, we're almost there.”

They had only been walking for a few minutes, to a particular part of the neighborhood. But, she was still so sleepy, it felt like they had been walking for hours and miles. She hugged her plush ring-patterned tail against her waist to help speed herself up just a little bit more.

Then, down the sidewalk and at the end of the corner, amidst the gloom, was a tinge of red, in an octagonal shape.

Her father paused, and so did she. He squatted down to level his muzzle with hers.

”Most kids cry their eyes out leaving for kinder the first time,” he muttered to himself, tousling his little angel's head. “Not my Froggy, though. Wants me to stay the hell away.”

Staahp!” She giggled, batting at his hand, “you'll mess up my hair.”

”Psh,” her father chuckled. “Since when did you care about your hair being a mess?”

”I don't want everyone to think I'm a slob,” she reasoned. “Or a baby.”

”But you're my baby,” he said, opening his arms up for a hug.

She sighed, leaning in, wrapping her arms around his neck and rubbing the red-furred stripe on her cheek across his.

He stole a kiss on her chin.

”Okay, I'll stay here just to watch and you can walk the rest of the way all independent-big-girl-like.” He stood, looking at the stop sign where the bus would pick her up. “Oh hey, there's even a friend there for you to make,” he pointed, observing another kid standing a bit away from the pole, and in the grass of the lawn near the sign. “Remember: break the ice with a compliment, not a noogie.”

”Yes, sir,” she grumbled, mockingly. Her black-and-blue backpack was patted as she began heading toward the stop sign, on her own.

Even the first few steps away were a thrill. She looked back to wave, and seeing him standing still made it all the more exciting. Not that she wanted to get away from him, but she had been looking forward to kindergarten for weeks.

But, along with the excitement, that lingering and dragging sense of anxiety and hesitation still followed her. The more distance between her and her dad, the more encroaching it felt, and the more she had to fight it. She knew that the last hurdle was stepping on the bus, and until then the little girl in her was tempted to scurry back to paternal security.

The person at the stop sign had moved to stand on the sidewalk, holding onto the pole.

As she neared, the fuzzy bit of fog cleared and she could make them out.

Her hair was the first thing to be noticed. It was white, with bits of brown, ginger, and black speckled in it. It was tied in a simple pony-tail, tugged forward over her shoulder.

She wore khaki shorts, an olive-green shirt, and had on a navy-blue backpack. Her arms and legs were akin to her hair: mostly white, but with blotches of ginger and black here and there. Her tail was the opposite: orange and black with a few dashes of white, like sunlight peeking in between tree leaves.

The red panda breathed in deeply, preparing for her approach. Ten feet. Six feet, Two feet.

”Hi there,” she greeted, raising her dark-brown-furred hand in a bit of a wave. “This is the bus stop, right?” She was given a glance, the girl's eyes a striking light-blue, and then given a nod.

The girl adjusted her backpack.

”Um… My name's Andrea,” the red panda introduced herself. “I'm starting kindergarten this year.”

The girl gave her a thumbs-up, her thumb and fore-finger covered by an orange inkblot.

Awkward, was the silence that followed.

”I… I'm really excited, but kinda nervous,” she admitted.

No motion from her company. Just staring down the street.

”So… I love you fur; it looks really pretty.”

Just then, there came a chuff, and the languid gurgle of an old, clunky engine. A beam of light flashed in their direction as the gurgling hastened, their banana-colored chariot coming from the opposite direction they faced and turning the corner.

Before she winced from the flash of headlights, Andrea thought she saw her company scowling in contempt.

The bus stuttered as it turned the corner, cautiously navigating the turn. It finally approached them, the doors settling between the two, and let out a hiss. A beat later, the doors opened with a creak and a clack.

”G'mornin', li'l ladies,” said the woman rhinoceros with a bit of a twang in her inflection. “C'mon in an' gimme y'alls' names, if'n ya please.”

Andrea motioned, “after you,” she offered.

”Ladies first,” the feline countered.

Andrea's ear twitched. The kitten's voice didn't quite harmonize with the appearance.

”You kids goin' to Marlon Ridge, ya-huh?” The bus-driver questioned, politely trying to usher them on.

Andrea nodded, taking the lead. “Yes ma'am,” she confirmed.

”Gimme y'all's name, hun.”

”Andrea Lockey,” the red panda said.

”You in seat seventeen. An' you, hun?”

Andrea took a few stops forward and paused, looking for the seat number.

”Audrey LaRoux,” said the feline.

Again, the red panda found the girl's voice to be curiously… not what she would have expected, in some way.

”You's in seat eight, with Jessica.”

Andrea made her way, passing row after row of seats. Seventeen was almost two-thirds the way down, and so she got to see most of the kids. Most seats had two kids, but one had three and a handful still had one or were empty. Hers was empty, and she sat down in it, scooting toward the window.

After she sat down, the bus driver pulled on the squeaky metal bar. The doors clapped shut, and the bus whined with a jolt. Then came the rattling of the engine as it chugged forth, in a manner that sounded like it was fueled by rust and ashes.

It was eerily quiet. Not completely silent, for there was one seat of three kids that were all chatting away, letting everyone else hear their conversation. But their voices came from near the front of the bus, garbled by the rattling of the mirror above the driver, and creaking of bolted metal plates.

It was that perfect amount of disturbance to make her prefer it to be all quiet, or all a ruckus, over what it currently was. She felt like a ghost, sitting in the darkness.

A little over five minutes later, the bus gently tugged her forward and back as it came to a stop. The lights on the bus blinked on, the door clacking as it opened.

”Mornin' y'all,” the bus driver greeted. “C'mon in an' gimme y'alls' names, if'n ya please.”

She peeked over the top of the seat, and one of the kids on the other side glanced up at her. Nearly half a dozen kids had gotten on, different grades. Each one offered their name, and she gave them a number in return.

”Seat seventeen, with Andrea.”

The red panda's ears perked at her name. She caught glimpse of a raccoon boy nodding and turning toward the aisle as she hastily slumped back in her seat to pretend she hadn't been watching the whole time.

His shoes thumped lazily with each step, getting louder and louder, until he appeared beside the seat.

”Hi,” she said, as he slumped down in the seat and set his backpack between them.

”Hey.” He offered in response. He was much older than her, probably fourth or fifth grade.

”My name's Andrea,” she introduced.

”Kevin,” he said, again offering as little as possible. His hand went to the backpack, and began opening one of the pockets.

”It's my first day a—”

”Don't care,” he said curtly, tugging out a Discman with a tangle of earbuds attached. He crammed the buds in his ears as quickly as he could, and turned the player on.

She heard the faint notes in his ears as he set the player on his lap and leaned back, closing his eyes. Again, she felt like a ghost, but now one that was pissed off at someone being so rude to her.

She should have gone back to her dad. She forgot to even feel the magic of freedom when she first stepped onto the bus.

So far, everything she had envisioned about school was but a Disney fairy-tale. The reality was chilly, noisy-but-quiet, dark, and really really unsteady.

They must have been one of the last stops, because the bus went out of the neighborhood and onto the main road. Andrea looked out the window, watching as raindrops began to pepper the glass.

The bus driver turned on the windshield-wipers, adding another unsettling noise to the tangled mesh of dissonant murmurs and creaks. Though they had an even tempo, the wipers screeched across the glass, making everyone cringe every six seconds.

Andrea heard a sound that bothered her more than anything. It took her just a second to realize it was coming from the earbuds from the boy next to her. She could just make out the harsh sound of cymbals getting bludgeoned to death. She let it go at first, scoffing the overuse of it. But, after about thirty seconds straight, the cacophony crossed the line into heinous abuse.

“S'cuse me?” She asked. Then, again, louder, tapping the kid's knee with hers.

”What?” He asked with agitation, pulling out the far earbud.

”Can you turn that down? I'm trying to nap,” she fibbed.

”No,” he said, putting it back in. “Besides, you get nap-time later, little Kindie. I don't.”

Her stomach bubbled. She leaned over, fumbling for the front pocket on her backpack. She unzipped it, and pulled out a packet of tissues. Pinching, she pulled one out, and returned the packet. She tore small bits of the tissue off, rolled it up, and stuffed it in her ears.

It was a trick she had picked up for when Uncle Ricky snored, and it worked for the most part. She slumped into the corner of her seat, underneath the window. Her head was precariously balanced on the faux-leather strip just below the sill. The constant jostling of the bus as it amplified every imperfection in the road made it a conscious effort for her to stay comfortable, always fighting against the motion. All too often, her cheek would press against the cold, hard metal, or her temple would drift away from the strip and then bump against it when the bus became particularly unsteady.

Somehow, in that perpetual turmoil of a bus ride, she found a pocket of serenity. She closed her eyes, managed to find a relatively comfortable posture, and convinced herself that the dissonant jittering was, in fact, just the thrum of a bass-line and pulse of a drum-beat that she felt from beneath her.

She was genuinely roused when she noticed that the rumbling and squeaky-shaking had lessened, and the bus began to turn. She sat up, gazing out the window, and laid eyes upon the familiar site of the school's parking lot.

She had been there just a few weeks ago for enrollment. Though it wasn't quite what she remembered, the building, and the bus's deliberate turns, told her that this was her destination.

It was only then that she felt a sense of disorientation. She didn't truly know how far away from home she was, or how long the drive had been; and furthermore, where she was going to go once she left the bus. She watched the kids and teachers milling about on the sidewalk as their bus waited in line to settle and let them disembark.

She took the tissues out of her ear, and noticed that the boy to her left had stopped listening to whatever the hell he thought music was. After a few more tense minutes, the bus squeaked, and its engine gurgled as it pulled it up just a bit. She watched as the red line of the curb disappeared, the bus's wheels lining up alongside it. Then, a final whine, and the lights blared on.

The children began rummaging, but still few voices were heard. The bus door squeaked and clattered as it opened.

”Mornin' hun,” the bus-driver greeted, as a tigress woman stepped on the bus.

”Good morning, everyone,” the tigress greeted as she stood at the head of the central lane. “It's a little drizzly out, so when you get off the bus head straight to your right and into the lobby. Inside, you'll see tables with signs on them, and there will be teachers calling out for your grade. Go to the table for your grade, and you'll be given more directions, okay?”

Several grumbles were the reply.

Andrea took in a breath, still seated. She hadn't bothered moving, since she was far back, and the boy next to her hadn't bothered either. All of a sudden, footfalls tamped along the central aisle. She looked out the window as the kids double-backed toward the lobby entrance. Quicker than she expected, she saw the speckled locks of hair.

The calico shuffled slower than the others, and drifted from side-to-side as the kids behind her hrried past, nearly bumping into her. And pushing her aside

The boy next to Andrea quickly stood, smoothly pulling his backpack onto one shoulder and walking down the aisle. She scooted over, lifting her backpack up, and went when the girl in the seat behind her gave her the opportunity.

The drizzle was more a light mist. Tiny droplets drifting through the air, but just enough to wet the fur on her face and dampen the shoulders of her cotton shirt. She trotted on, passing up the boy who sat next to her, leisurely walking with heavy a clomp to his footfalls.

The lobby was a ruckus of noise. She could hear it even as she was approaching from the sidewalk. When she went inside, she looked about to get her bearings. However, doing so in the middle of the fray proved to be unwise, as she was bumped like a weeble-wobble.

”Kinders, over here!” She heard a female voice bark. She threaded her way toward the beckoning, ignoring the calls of the other grades that followed. There was a small crowd at the table, with one lady behind the table leaning over and asking kids their names. Another lady was darting around, doing the same.

”Your name, sweetie?” She requested of the red panda.

”Andrea Lockey,” she repeated, as she had earlier that morning. The lady held up her finger and darted back to the table, and returned with a card in her hand. The card had a blue dot in the upper left corner, and a red dot in the upper right.

It also had letters on it.

”You're in Mrs. Todd's class,” the lady told her. “Can you tell me the colors of the dots, hun?” She asked, as she pointed to one.

Andrea rattled off the colors, feeling belittled.

”Good. In a few minutes, a woman in a pink blouse will be taking you to the library,” she pointed. “Just look for the door that has that pattern next to it, and you'll know you're in the right place, okay?”

”Uh-huh,” Andrea nodded, beginning to feel a bit dazed. She shuffled off toward what looked like a group of other kinders, standing at the other end of the table. She looked around more, her pupil flitting from head to head, backpack to backpack. She was hoping the calico was in her grade, but either she wasn't, or she had already been taken to the kinder hall.

Andrea felt alone.

4X+Y Chapter 01 - I'm Sorry (Part 1)

LemmyNiscuit

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