The atmosphere in the classroom was more restless than usually. The day every student in the class had been dreading for a while had arrived.
At the beginning of the semester, the principal had announced a new experimental course for the seniors where they would learn skills needed in the future, such as taxation and caring about finances, taking care of house, relationships, and childcare. Especially the last few topics hadn't excited many of the boys but most of the girls weren't thrilled either.
The course had gone past surprisingly quickly, and it had been informative too. The course had been formed to fit the students’ interests and needs from most parts, so they had focused on many things they had considered important. But now they had reached the last topic: childcare. On a few extremely awkward lessons they had talked about pregnancy and what would have to be considered with it. Their teacher had tried to cheer up the class by telling about "an exciting project" they'd do to finish the course. Everyone worried what it would mean.
Miss Cassidy walked in carrying a baby doll and the whole class fell silent. Students turned back to face the teacher after talking with their friends over the desks.
"Good morning darlings," the teacher chirped and got few hesitant mumbles as a reply. It didn't bother her at all since she continued with her usual positive voice: "As you all know, today we will talk more about childcare. Mrs Milton has already told you how babies are made, and past few weeks we’ve talked about pregnancy time and the baby’s birth. And now we will start exploring what will happen after the baby comes home." Miss Cassidy didn't pay attention to the awkwardness in her classroom. Half of the students tried to wiggle out of their chairs and escape. She was too excited to notice.
"Since childcare is best learnt by doing instead of reading it from books, we will carry this out as a small project. Does everyone have a pair? Yes? Excellent."
Everyone glanced at the person sitting next to them to see who they’d be working with like they hadn’t been sitting next to the same person for the past few months. Sarah also quickly looked at the boy next to her. Would she really have to be paired with Castiel? Sitting next to him had been difficult enough. He replied with few words when absolutely necessary and came late to class most of the time. They only sat next to each other because the seats had been randomly picked at the beginning of the course. Sarah was sure Castiel would’ve skipped the course entirely if he could have. He always looked like he'd rather be anywhere else.
Melinda raised her hand on the third row: “What kind of project is this, teacher?”
"Wait a second and I will tell you,” Miss Cassidy smiled and put the doll on the table so she could clap her hands excitedly. “In this project, every pair will take care of a baby doll. You will act like it is a real baby and do basically anything you'd do with a baby with it," she explained, and a wave of objections erupted in the class.
“We don’t know how to do that!”
“Do we really have to think they’re real babies?”
“Can we pick our pairs?”
“I have a phobia of dolls!”
"Come on, come on, calm down. No need to panic. You will do this project with the person sitting next to you. I'll give you proper instructions of course but first let’s get everyone a baby. Martha, you can meet me after class if you feel uncomfortable with the situation."
Miss Cassidy left the classroom and the room filled with loud chatter. Boys were shocked about the idea of having to play family with a girl, and those who sat next to another boy looked even more uncomfortable. Girls were slightly more enthusiastic but only those who liked their partner. Mercedes sat next to Victoria and stared intensely at the front row and Castiel’s back. She had been glad to get a seat next to her friend, but she wasn’t happy about it anymore. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity to work with Castiel and spend time with him.
Sarah glanced at Castiel again, but this time he caught her in the act. Sarah turned her eyes away quickly after meeting Castiel’s dark grey eyes and tried her best to look like she focused on reading her notebook.
"Did you want to say something?" Castiel asked.
"No, not really," Sarah mumbled. "I hope you're okay with being my partner..."
"I don't have any other choice, do I?"
" I guess not."
Most of their talks during the course had been just as extensive as this one. Sarah had little hope for this project changing that.
Soon Miss Cassidy returned with a big bag full of baby dolls. “Here are your babies everyone,” she said happily. “I hope you like them. First, we thought we would have you work with flour bags, but we decided this would be more authentic and fun. Treat them well so they can be used by other courses as well. You get the chance to be the first testers of this method. The other groups won’t sadly get dolls but have to just study this in theory.”
“Is this the reason we still don’t have new volleyball nets? Those look expensive as hell.” Alexa asked. The school’s volleyball team had complained about the shoddy quality of the nets for a while, but the school never had “enough funds” to buy new ones.
Miss Cassidy cleared her throat and looked a bit embarrassed. “No, of course not…” she said but it was hard to believe. “Just remember that if you see beans and rice in the cafeteria more often than usual, it has nothing to do with this.”
She then started walking around class giving out one for each pair to avoid further questions. Castiel and Sarah’s doll wore a blue romper.
"Nice, I've always wanted a boy," Castiel said drily.
After everyone had their doll, Miss Cassidy talked again, beaming with excitement.
"Every pair has a baby now. Your first task as a parent is to give your child a name." Talking started again when everyone tried to figure out a nice name for their new plastic kid.
"Uhh, well." Sarah looked at the doll. It looked quite realistic, apart from the lifeless eyes that stared at the ceiling. How...cute. "How about Richard?" she suggested the first name that came to mind.
"Richard? Couldn't have picked a posher name?" Castiel asked.
"Well how about you suggest a better one then," Sarah muttered.
"I think Dick would be a nice name," Castiel grinned.
"Ew, absolutely not."
"What? It’s a nickname for Richards and a traditional Dutch name as well. You aren’t thinking about something else yourself, are you?" Castiel sneered and Sarah blushed lightly.
"N-no. I just don't think it's a good name."
"What would be a good name then?"
"I don’t know. Tim?"
"Tim? A big drop from Richard."
"What does it matter? We aren't deciding the doll's future here."
"Oh wow, hopefully the boy doesn't inherit his mother’s snarky personality. He might be difficult during his teenage years."
Sarah didn't bother to comment. Castiel was just making fun of her.
“Sarah and Castiel…Have you already decided the name for your baby boy?” Miss Cassidy chirped and came to them with a notebook in her hand. She walked around collecting the names of the pairs and their baby.
“Yeah, Tim,” Castiel announced.
“Oh, a nice name. Excellent, excellent,” Miss Cassidy said and continued onward to the next pair.
“I hope you’re happy,” Castiel whispered, leaning unnecessarily close to Sarah’s ear.
“V-very,” she replied trying not to blush from this sudden closeness. Castiel chuckled. What an innocent little lamb.
Before the class ended, Miss Cassidy gave the students some general information on how to take care of a baby and how the project itself would be carried out. The project would last two weeks, and they would have to bring the babies to school and basically everywhere with them, exactly like with normal baby, unless they got a babysitter. They'd also have to keep a journal and write down their thoughts about the project and parenthood.
When they were getting ready to leave Castiel packed his bag and said: "You can take it first."
"What? Why?" Sarah asked but picked up the doll anyway.
"Isn't it better for the child to first create a deep bond with his mother before we start to toss it between two places?" Castiel threw his bag over his shoulder. A chain on his jeans clanged against the desk.
"You know, I'd be happy if you took this a little bit more seriously."
"Oh, I do. I'm very serious about the deep relationship between a fake baby and his fake mother."
"Jesus Christ," Sarah muttered. This wouldn't be easy.
"Hey, woah. Watch your mouth. You don't want to teach bad words to our little Tim, do you?"
"I definitely don't. I don't want him to end up like his father," Sarah said, grabbed her bag and with Tim safely in her arms, walked out of the classroom. "You can have him tomorrow then," she added at the door.
Castiel watched her go and smirked a bit. He could've had worse luck with his pair. He didn't know Sarah at all even though they had been sitting next to each other this entire semester. She was normally very quiet but clearly knew how to talk back which was great. It would’ve been boring if she had zero attitude.
“So, you are Sarah’s pair?” asked Leon who had walked to his friend. Behind him followed Amanda, who said a quick “Hi” to Castiel before walking out with her doll to catch up with her friends. They were a contrasting couple based on appearance, and to Castiel it still sometimes felt odd to see them together. Amanda had almost black hair and brown eyes and Leon’s hair was close to white and his eyes were blue. But that was one of the only things they were opposites at. Otherwise they were a perfect match and Castiel was happy about his friend’s happiness.
“Yeah. Could’ve been worse,” Castiel said.
“Sarah seems nice. From what I’ve seen she’s a bit shy. Don’t be too mean to her.”
“Who? Me? I’d never do such a thing…”
They headed outside. Girls from their class had gathered into small groups with their babies.
“We named her Willow.”
“That’s such a pretty name. Our baby is called Arthur.”
“Ours is Max.”
“This is a stupid project,” Castiel snorted.
“It could be fun,” Leon said. He didn’t particularly mind it but mainly because he had been lucky enough to be paired with his girlfriend. Doing this with a stranger would’ve been more difficult and awkward.
“I doubt it. What fun could carrying around a stupid doll be?” Leon chose to stay quiet. Castiel had clearly made up his mind and it wouldn’t change easily.