The story so far:
Renni turned in her seat and again looked at the four freshmen. Her focus turned to the library kid. “It’s just occurred to me,” she said staring into the bright green eyes peeping over the pile of books. “I don’t know your name. I’ve seen you at the library practically every day the last six months and never got around to asking.”
The kid’s eyes lit up. At her current angle she couldn’t see his mouth from behind the books, but she knew she’d made him smile. “Thomas,” he said, his voice surprisingly deep. “My name is Thomas.”
“Nice to meet you, Thomas.”
The smug kid sighed and rolled his eyes. Renni turned to him, her smile gone from her heart but not her face. She knew how to wear a mask and to wear it well. “And the rest of you guys? I don’t remember seeing any of you in the dorms. What are your names?”
The smug kid said nothing. Instead, he stared out the window. Renni saw him roll his eyes again through the reflection. “And you?” she said. “Who are you?”
“What the hell does it matter what my name is, huh?” he didn’t even turn to look at her as he spoke.
Renni dropped her smile and as she spoke her voice grew cold, only a hint of her sweet self poking through the ice. “It matters because of the math,” she said.
The kid shook his head and sighed again. Renni wondered if his eyes ever got stuck with as many times as he rolled them back.
“Look, we’re crawling along here at about two miles an hour. As you’ve made it this far in your education, you obviously have some math skills, yes?”
He turned to her and glared. Renni’s smile returned. “Ah, what beautiful blue eyes you have.” His brow knit in confusion. “We’re still about ten miles from the transport. At our current rate of speed, that’s another five hours. We’ve done well these first three. And now that the stress level of our very generous driver has gone down a notch or two, perhaps conversation is now appropriate.” She turned to Max, spotting a slight smile on his lips. “What do you think?” she asked him.
“Be nice, Renni,” he whispered, his smile widening.
“This is nice,” she whispered back. Renni turned back to the smug kid. “Now, if you really insist on not telling me your name, perhaps we’ll have to come up with one for you. Let’s see.” She put her finger to her chin with an over-exaggerated and comical look on her face. “I just can’t get over your beautiful blues. I know, we’ll call you Frankie after ol’ blue eyes himself.”
At that, the smug kid blinked once, twice, and then burst out laughing, his whole body shaking. Renni stared, trying to control her own urge to laugh though she didn’t understand the joke. After a few minutes, the kid calmed himself long enough to bark out, “My name is Frankie!” before breaking down and laughing again. After that, everyone in the car joined him, the stress finally breaking down. Renni turned back in her seat, her face red from laughing and from her own audacity. Three months ago, before Them, she would never have spoken to someone like that. She was too nice. But with all the debates and arguments, she’d grown a bit cynical and her once solid patience had worn down when it came to her fellow classmates.
Max, his eyes still on the road and the traffic, reached out a hand and touched her thigh gently, giving her knee a soft squeeze. She looked up into his face, tears threatening her eyes as the stress of the last few months poured out in near hysterical laughter. He smiled reassuringly and she smiled, genuinely smiled, with him.
“Nice to meet you, Frankie. I’m Renaissance, Renni for short.” Renni said at last when the car quieted a little. She unbuckled and leaned between the front seats reaching out an awkward hand to him. He took it, shook it heartily, his smugness gone.
A loud explosion suddenly rocked the car onto two wheels. Renni did all she could to not end up in Max’s lap, holding onto the seats as the car fell back to all fours. Gun shots rang out. Two military jeeps raced past them. Another bomb exploded, this one closer. They all looked in horror as one of the cars ahead lifted completely off the ground, bursting into flames. It crashed down on the truck just in front of them. Two of the freshmen screamed and Thomas’ books went flying as Max swerved to avoid falling debris. Renni, still awkwardly stuck between the seats, caught a few of the books and threw them on the floor of the car. Thomas followed her lead and moved the rest of the heavy tomes to his feet.
Two shots went off near them, loud enough to make everyone in the car jump. Renni turned and fell back into her seat, stunned. She reached down, her leg suddenly cold and on fire at the same time. She touched her thigh. It felt warm and sticky. She lifted her hand to her face, her fingertips covered in blood.