The first day of school established a pattern that worked nicely for Adric for the first few weeks. As soon as he arrived, he met up with Zindel before heading to class. Laurel was absent for a couple days, and when she returned, she went out of her way to ignore him. He walked to journalism with Catriona. He had lunch with Simza’s circle, where he felt welcomed and comfortable. As Zindel shared stories of his art class clay-tastrophes, Adric realized he was smiling for the first time since he’d lost his parents.
Somehow he managed to have one member of the circle in his last three classes of the day, so he was never on his own. Sure, the friendships were new, but they were a start. After school, he settled in at the gate-leg desk that had been hastily assembled in his room, with a promise of something more appropriate as soon as there was time. He spent a few hours on the day’s homework before dinner, and a few hours on catch-up work after.
“Adric, I got a call from your guidance counselor today,” Auntie Sage mentioned one evening as they were finishing up dinner. “She’s really impressed with how well you’re fitting in and catching up.”
Adric nodded, a little relieved even though he’d known there couldn’t be any complaints. “It’s going well.” His cousins went quiet, and while they weren’t staring, he could feel them listening intently.
Auntie Sage beamed at him. “I’m so happy to hear that.”
“You’re obviously working hard,” Uncle Patrick said as he plucked the napkin from his lap. “And that’s good to see, but we don’t want you to overdo it. Down time is good, too.”
Adric nodded. “Yeah. I just kind of want to get caught up. I’m getting close, so things should ease up a little soon.”
“Are you making some friends?” Auntie Sage asked, hopefully. “I know you mentioned there were some nice kids in your core block.”
He felt the smile on his face again. “Yeah. They are pretty nice. They’ve helped me out, a lot.”
“How’s your control feel?” Uncle Patrick finally asked the inevitable question.
“It’s okay,” Adric insisted, a little to quickly. “I mean, there’ve been a couple of rough moments, mostly the first day, really. Overall it’s been fine. And I’m being careful not to push it.” The last thing he wanted was for them to think he was irresponsible.
“Do you think you’re up to trying a bonding ceremony?” his uncle wanted to know.
Adric forced himself to take stock and think before answering. There was still a flash of revulsion, but it wasn’t the near panic he’d felt before. “Not… not yet,” he said quietly. “But… I think I’m getting closer.” He stared down at his hands. “Could you ask again in another week?”
“We’re not trying to push you, if you aren’t ready,” his uncle insisted. “We just want to keep you safe.”
Adric nodded, feeling like a huge disappointment. Tricia’s hand unexpectedly reached over from her spot beside him and squeezed his wrist.
“He has a good safety net at school,” his cousin assured her parents. “Simza’s circle is super strong, and they’re like the most positive people on the planet.”
“Simza’s circle?” Auntie Sage asked, her interest definitely piqued.
“My friends,” Adric explained. “There’s seven of them, and they’re all bound to each other to help with their control.”
Nate snorted. “You should let her adopt you.”
Adric’s face heated up, and he wasn’t quite sure why.
“It’s obvious she wants to,” Nate continued. “Sure, she’s as kind-hearted as they come, but I’ve seen the way she looks at you.”
“Ooooh.” Auntie Sage leaned forward in interest. “How does she look at him?”
Adric lurched to his feet. “Oh. Wow. Is that the time? I still have a ton of work to do.” He snatched his dishes off the table and headed for the dishwasher. “Talk to you later.” He bolted for his room.
Proceed to the finale in part 6.