This was made for the School Starts challenge on the O.C. Amino, and I hope you enjoy it! The OC is Balder Holt.
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“Welcome to the Eastern Institute of Technology, Balder,” the assistant said, her smile warming in the afternoon sun filtering through arched windows. The central hallway of his dorm building, he assumed.
Rich, redwood doorframes set in regal patterned wallpaper, a stately grandfather clock, and ample seating at regular intervals. Large French doors at either end of the hallway and four rooms leading off the hallway as well. Try as he might to form an opinion on the place, he could only think of how many exits there were, and how accessible they would be.
“I understand this must all feel very new to you, but I’m always here if you have any questions.” He turned to face her instead of the doors at the other end of the hall. Her graying amber-blonde braid hung over her shoulder as she tilted her head to meet his gaze behind the sunglasses.
“A map of the building,” he said, intending to ask for one.
“Oh, it’s…” She pointed to the folder in his arms, a deep green like the school flag hanging outside. “Left pocket, first page, I believe.”
“I see.” So he would make note of the ideal escape routes and combat tactics later. Better to be prepared than caught off guard. Balder adjusted his tie for the third time that hour but felt no less stifled by it. But it was the uniform, and those were the rules of the Lead– Headmistress. Headmistress. “Let’s continue.”
“Alright then,” she chimed, straightening her posture and walking up the stairs with familiar ease. Her hand slid over the railing, fair skin over dark wood and a modest gold band on her left ring finger. He wondered what her home life was like, imagining a calm, loving family. Having picnics. Planning movie nights.
And with a short, sharp breath, he re-centered on the present.
“This is your dorm building, all boys of course, and you’ll be off to the left here,” she chirped, turning on a heel toward the left hallway. “Room 214 A. Now I know you requested first floor, but this was all quite sudden, and I’m afraid this was the best we could do.” She took out the key, bronze with a circular handle and hanging from a thin metal ring, and opened the door.
“But see, it’s right next to the stairs! This is the next best thing, and we do appreciate you being so understanding.” If anything, this was better. Not so close to the door that he could be surprised by an intruder, but close enough that he could access most main areas of the building with ease.
He stood beside her and the doorway, looking into the small room. A single twin bed, another accommodation made for him. The bed was bare save for his luggage, pre-delivered as arranged with the school, and the desk sat empty. Dark blue curtains hung over the window, parted as the sun set on the campus. A piece of broad green expanse in the midst of a bustling city on the ocean.
“And you simply must love this view, don’t you? Quite lucky! Oh, here,” she offered, holding out the key. He took it gingerly, turning it over in his hand. So small, even for a key. He’d never had a locking room before.
“Now,” she began, tapping the key in his hand, “Campus Security does have a spare for emergencies, but they’ll never use it otherwise. And if you lose your key, they’ll make you a copy for $20. You can charge that to your school account, of course.”
“Confirmed,” he replied. Her eyes widened for a moment. She was afraid? …No, surprised. Her expression softened to compassion, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes smoothing out as her smile fell. He put the key into his pocket, trying to avoid her eyes. Balder cleared his throat. “Understood, ma’am.”
“Oh, just Ellen, please.” She shook her head, her smile returning. “I’ll be your case manager, so you can call me if you need anything. You do have my number, don’t you?” He nodded once, sharply, and she let out a contented breath. “Ah, there is just one more thing I need from you, Balder.”
He drew himself up, taken aback. One more thing? He wore their uniform, held their documentation in hand, and it was his understanding that assignments would be distributed after the first day of train– classes. What could he have missed?
She held out her hand, the compassion returning to her large, hazel eyes. “Your sunglasses, please.”
“My–” His breath caught, brows furrowing. He took a step back and set the folder down on the desk. “Is this an order?”
“No, Balder.” Firm, but a tenderness to her words that stuck to him like barbs. Why did her concern hurt? “But those… They are from your time as a child soldier, are they not?” His heartbeat picked up in his chest, resonating through his limbs. “Do you think it wise to keep them, knowing what they represent to you?”
He was being asked his opinion. This was his choice. Sweat lined his palms already, but a cool stillness lodged in his chest. What was this feeling? Balder reached up for the arm of the glasses, leaving his eyes closed as he slipped the sunglasses off his face.
When he did open his eyes, he stared at the glasses in his hand. “I was not designed for this, Ellen.”
She rested her hands beneath his, cupping his fingers gently. Her skin was soft, more practiced with books than with brutality. Not like his. “No one was truly designed for anything, Balder. Every step in life is a choice, a new beginning. Should you be ready to take it.”
He felt his eyes turning to her, resting on her face for what seemed like the first time. The golden sunlight catching the silvery streaks in her hair, bronzing the brown flecks in her eyes, and adding a radiance to her. The chill left his body, and the stillness remained in its place. Perhaps this was comfort.
“And there is no shame in not being ready. Take your time,” she advised, closing his hand around the glasses. “And know you always have someone to turn to, Balder.” She moved towards the hallway, pausing before she closed the door. “Your first class is in the Franklin building at 9:00 am tomorrow, don’t forget!” She gave a light, graceful wave as she left, the door clicking shut behind her.
Several minutes passed after her short heels thumped down the stairs, and Balder remained as he was when she left. “A choice,” he breathed to himself. “I have a choice.”
He opened the shallow middle drawer of the desk, leaving the sunglasses inside. He was Balder Holt, freshman at the Eastern Institute of Technology. This was his new beginning.