After class—which flew by much faster than Rose was expecting—Rose followed her fellow students to the cafeteria. Some of them broke off, deciding to eat later, she guessed. Rose was starving, though, and was anxious to try another one of Gardenia's meals. Chester and Keinan both walked beside her, their pace matching hers. Rose wondered if they could be called friends at that point, since they had willingly spent the whole day with Rose (and Mortem, but he always disappeared at the end of class, only to reappear at the beginning of the next one).
Then Rose remembered how Chester said his brother wanted him to look out for her. It was why he approached her on her first day at Gardenia, after all.
Is that why he was sitting with me? Rose thought to herself.
It made her chest tighten painfully, but not enough to warrant verbalizing how she felt. She didn't want to be a bother, though, since he and Keinan were nice enough to walk and talk with her for the whole day. If they're doing it out of obligation, I'll give them a polite way out.
She looked over at Chester and casually said, "You don't have to keep watching out for me. I think I'm getting the hang of this."
Chester glanced over at her, raising an eyebrow. "Yeah, I know."
Rose smiled at that, the tightness in her chest slowly easing. She hoped that meant they wanted to be friends. "Oh, okay."
Keinan looked up at the skylight, adjusting his backpack as he walked. "Do you think they'll have galbi today?"
"Probably not, Keinan. Maybe this Friday when it's international cuisine day."
"What's galbi?" Rose asked curiously.
"Meat," Keinan replied.
"Korean BBQ," Chester said. "Do you like Korean BBQ?"
"I don't know. I've never had it. I like meat, so probably."
Keinan placed a hand on her shoulder, nodding and giving her look of approval. "If I wasn't already your lifelong friend, I would be now."
"You both are gross," Chester said with a sniff, his nose scrunching up as if he had bit into something sour.
"Shut up, leaf-eater," Keinan retorted. "While you're munching on your rabbit food, Rose and I will be living it up BBQ style."
"And clogging your arteries."
"Entirely worth it," Keinan insisted. "Right, Rose?"
Rose nodded firmly. "If I'm taken down by a burger, then so be it."
Chester's face scrunched up with distaste even as Keinan and Rose grinned at him. The trio of first year students finally reached the cafeteria, took their seats, and ordered food. Keinan lamented on the lack of galbi on the menu, so Rose gave him a sympathetic pat on the back, while Chester remarked that it was for the best.
The look of betrayal on Keinan's face was funny for a moment, but Rose thought it would be best to change the subject. She remembered some of the boys in Sherry could easily start fighting one another at the drop of the hat. One of them even body tackled his friend through a wall!
Granted, the wall was already falling apart from deterioration, but that had to have hurt. Mother Mara said that boys would always fight like that, and Rose didn't want her new friends to do that.
"So, camping trip in our fourth year... that sounds like fun," Rose commented, thinking back to their Green class.
Chester's face twitched briefly, a dark look crossing it. "It won't be."
"Not everyone has traumatic experiences like yours," Keinan soothed his friend, instantly perking up over the lack of galbi upon seeing Chester's expression.
"Traumatic experiences?" Rose repeated, her eyebrows raised in surprise. Curious, she asked, "What happened?"
A haunted haze settled over Chester's face as he stared into the distance, his gaze no longer seeing what was around him. "My brother took me camping in the Netherlands. I made the mistake of exploring on my own. I..." he took a shaky breath, "I found a cave and went in. About halfway through, I fell down a hole into..."
Keinan patted his back then smiled gleefully at Rose. "He fell into a pile of guano. It was so deep, he sank right in. Woke up a lot of little bugs when he fell in, and they started crawling on him."
Rose blinked at that. She'd fallen asleep in her forest on numerous occasions and woke up with all sorts of things crawling on her. They never hurt her, though, so she didn't put much thought into it. Now that she thought about it, though, she realized she'd never been bitten by a bug before. Not even a mosquito.
Do dragons not taste good to bugs?
"I was stuck there for almost an hour," Chester whispered hoarsely, bowing his head. "I kept smelling it for months..."
"That was because your brother kept putting little bits of guano in your things," Keinan pointed out.
"I vowed to never go camping again as long as I lived," Chester finished, looking up abruptly with burning eyes. "Never."
"O-okay." Rose reached forward and patted Chester's other shoulder. "I'm sorry you went through that."
"I hate nature," he muttered mutinously.
"But nature loves you," Keinan said sweetly, a big smile on his face.
"Is that a butterfly on your shoulder?" Chester returned with a big fake smile, his tone laced with obviously forced cheer.
Keinan jumped, swatting at his shoulder immediately, his eyes widened with horror. Rose watched the reaction with no hidden amount of incredulity.
"He's scared of them after the—"
"We don't talk about the butterfly incident," Keinan hissed out, seething at Chester. Chester smirked, turning his nose up. Keinan's eyes narrowed and he glared at his childhood friend.
Sensing an argument coming, Rose cleared her throat. "So, do you guys have any siblings?"
They both turned towards her, Keinan still looking like a ruffled angry kitten, and Chester radiating an aura of smugness. Chester answered her first, "Only got an older brother. He's the headmaster."
"I have a few younger sisters and a little brother," Keinan said, "but I have a lot of cousins. You... grew up alone?"
"I lived in an orphanage," Rose confirmed. "I was the only one that stayed there for more than a year, though. Everyone else kind of... comes and goes."
"Any friends back home?" Chester asked.
Rose scratched her cheek, shifting her posture as she thought about his question. The children around town didn't really like to play with her, and after enough failed attempts, she simply stopped trying. Since no one else stayed at the orphanage for very long, Rose never had a chance to form any proper friendships. It didn't help that a good chunk of the children that passed through were bad boys or girls and Mother Mara kept them separated from Rose.
It also didn't help she learned at a different pace too, so even the good boys and girls didn't interact with her much outside of meals or Church.
Most of the adults around the town were nice to Rose, though. Some of the men would tell Rose about their hunting trips and offer to bring her along when she was older. There were some elderly people that invited Rose over for cookies or pies, and in exchange, she helped take care of their lawn. Sometimes they only wanted her over for the company because they missed their own grandchildren.
While they were nice, and Rose liked everyone well enough, she wasn't sure she would call them her friends. Really, the only person she would call her friend would be Mr. Whiskers.
Mr. Whiskers never called her a bad girl or made her sit in the tiny closet when she misbehaved. He didn't take away any of her meals or make her watch the bad boys and girls get punished.
He always listened to her and played with her. He didn't make her do anything she didn't want to do.
"Only Mr. Whiskers," Rose finally answered, once again missing her kitty.
"Well, you've more than doubled your friend count now," Chester said with a grin, nudging her arm.
The thought made Rose smile brightly. Keinan nodded in agreement with Chester and said, "Let's meet at this table tomorrow for breakfast, then."
"That sounds absolutely perfect," Rose responded sincerely, her eyes bright with joy.
Their dinners arrived, and the three enjoyed yet another pleasant meal together before bidding each other goodnight and heading their separate ways.
Rose made it back to her dorm by herself using Professor Nigel's orb. When she entered, the lounge was empty, prompting Rose to go straight to her room. Rose was feeling surprisingly tired after her first day of school, and she crawled into her bed with great relief. She couldn't bring herself to go to sleep so early, but she wanted to relax for a bit by herself. If she were back at the orphanage, she would have snuck off to the forest to read in peace or would have tried to find Mr. Whiskers.
She missed her kitty an awful lot, she wished he could have come with her. Professor Nigel said he would take care of him, though, so Rose took solace in that. She hated to think about her dear pet starving or being left alone. Professor Nigel seemed like a good person, and Rose felt like she could trust him when he said he would make sure Mr. Whiskers was taken care of.
She still made a mental side note to talk to Professor Nigel about Mr. Whiskers the next time she saw him.