Group Maintenance < ⚡ with Penguinator ⚡

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Original poster

The year is 2015, and the days are simple. Technology has come a long way since the years long ago, even if no one will acknowledge the progress. Gene attends a prestigious university after much convincing, letter-writing, e-mail sending, and calls made. Escaping the confining bars and disgusting society and stupidity he views in Appalachian Kentucky has been a goal since the age of 14, and upon discovering the crinkled application to a university up in Colorado there was no hesitation. How could he deny the opportunity of a lifetime, to pursue his dreams?

Technically, he didn’t know what he wanted to do yet. The suddenness of freedom was jarring in the fact that he came to several distinct realizations concerning these issues. But it was a mere blot on the beginning of a story written beautifully. The campus was a bed of beauty, tall trees hovering over the campus grounds as country stretched on for miles. He was aware of the fact that he’d left behind the city nearly an hour or two ago, and it had taken nearly one more to arrive at the entrance of campus.

The isolated haven was exceeded expectations. The cramped, blank walls and bare room he’d been expecting was- in contrast- sparsely furnished and decorated, wallpaper fresh and the flooring cleaned; the view out of his window aided to the pure joy he felt. The swelling emotion caught in his chest. This.

This was the start of something truly wonderful.

Although still confused on what path to pursue, a visit with the counselor spurs him to one decision: do what he’s best at. And so, the young man auditions for sound design- though there’s trouble. The professor of said subject is very picky when it comes to pupils and students coming in, often times classes only consisting of one single group of people. Members have become sparse and the maximum of the four to five had been met last semester.
Credentials were an aside. Personal background and views were what were judged, abilities only factoring in when all else was at fail.

At a loss for any other options, the young man tries his way into the group and is- in time- selected. But he finds more in the group than he expected. A secret world all its own, sentences uttered filled with vague references only they’d understand. The closeness was obvious, forced at first due to the restriction of having little more than two other professors, but eased into. The lavish lifestyles and backgrounds of Gene’s new “mates” is enthralling enough, but he finds himself falling deeper into mystery, crime, and the gravity of another man.

How will he get through his college years amongst people so bright and different, it extinguishes his own flames, while juggling lies, rumors, and his own personal feelings, just realized?

He just might not.


Name: Martial Hayes

Age: 18


White collar so much that Martial’s skin tone is considered a stain, his family was set on its way to becoming old money. Never needing for much, except for the right institution to raise their biological child, they sent him to the best place to respond to his creative tendencies, loose sense of direction and stubborn need to leave such institutions.

Under a lightly tan skin tone he appears slim, even edging on lanky, if only he had the height to go with it. Underneath his clothes though, skillfully though effortlessly hidden, are some abs, product of free climbing, the sport he was sticking with for the time being.
A sharp jaw, and a mole on the right side of his face (near the hairline, at eye height) are what distincts him, but due to the generally ordinary impression his overall appearance gives out, it takes time for people to put their finger on these things. His hair is straight, sable and he cuts it short, merely because he keeps getting told that he should let it grow longer, and the whole ritual suits his ego in some little way. He’s got a small tattoo of a stickman on the back of his ankle, usually mostly concealed by his shoes.

His mannerisms are somewhat condescending, in contrast with his mostly open and helpful approach, it leaves people wanting more.
5’10”, and secretly wishing he was taller.


Those who crossed paths with her might vaguely remember Jessica Hale as a walking stereotype of a nerd, seen on TV too many times to be given the time of day. Of course, on the inside, there was much more to her than that. No one noticed this though. She wasn't at all unattractive behind those glasses. When they got switched out for hipster glasses, followed by a well thought out outfit and a sufficient amount of makeup, they accented her green eyes somewhat better. Some other things that she did her best to accent are her cheekbones, cup size, and lack of better judgement. The thing that didn't even need accenting was her new attitude. It left one with the impression of a sexy schoolteacher, which was simply repugnant at first glance, but through some strange circumstance, otherwise known as the male libido, it still worked.

Garrik who stands at 6’2” comprises most dominant pair of the group, without any visible power struggle between he and Martial, or any visible power. Martial was the one around whom they all came together, and Garrik was the one who commonly spouted profanities for other’s enjoyment. More of the simple sort, he has some sort of deeper attachment to Martial, and it even spans the other way around. Their little group is a little bit more closed off than the rest of them, which stands out only because of the inevitability of engaging with the rest of the students on the isolated campus. So although all of their social reaches span further than Sound Design, they still maintain their circle a bit more religiously than the rest.


Name: Gene Owle

Age: 19


Kentucky-born and a child of the mountains, Gene would be considered by popular culture as a hick. He lives in a house behind the times in a mining town deep in the woods of Kentucky, basically screaming 'The Hills Have Eyes' and all sorts of B-horror movie tropes. Fortunate enough to have a family that liked to keep a good image, Gene learned the importance of bathing and the wrongness of incest. Thankfully.

Highschool career a mess of skipped classes and good scores, the year-long break from college was more accidentally self-inflicted and a torture for the young man. All he's wanted to do since he was 13 was get the hell outta dodge.

Now in Colorado, a far-cry from disease and stray dogs, Gene's taken the time to clean up as best he can and beg for a few hand-me-downs that weren't abominable and obviously worn. But he comes off as looking just unintentionally goth. The Cherokee blood in him doesn't run skin-deep, marked with a pale color and yellow undertones. The thick, textureless black hair he's got on him seems more "femme" than anything, long and quick to grease.

He's not something of wonder. A normal body, tops out at around 5'9'' and attempted to lift weights as to fend off the crack-head leanness that the males of his family seem to take to quite easily. Hazel eyes, pierced ears, clean nails. Average. Smells a little like "trying to hard" when he opens his mouth, but it's charming in a way of how horribly obvious it is to everyone but Gene.

Sonja is all about her "Mississippi charms" and good Southern decorum. The picture of Anglo-Saxon tropes, she's hip to the new and decent trends. Rather flat in face, Sonja has mastered having her face painted to produce the image of doe-eyed and pink lipped perfection. And it's not very perfect. One of the more open members of the group, kindness is often a prerequisite to patronization of any new members.

Andy is Sonja's long time friend and confidante. Besides the glue that molds him to the group, he is definitely a loose appendage. Andy goes to parties and talks to classmates with extended wings and an easy smile. Half-asleep though he may look, Andy's long-time attentiveness and more human connection, social awareness, adds likability to an odd form. Sharp cheekbones in a round face and heavily lidded eyes, Andy is a gangly alien in heels and Rolexes.

Sonja: Morning cocktails; twitter; pintrest board hairstyles and acrylic nails

Andy: very dirty martinis; sprained ankles and clean cuticles; old worn documents; dungbeetles


Original poster
the story thus far

The college map had long been frayed from use. Its crinkled edges of the printer paper had added to the worn look, blots of discoloration and smudges from bumps, spills, and falls dotting the detailed layout of the old college. Gripping it in sweaty palms was probably not the best idea either. Still in his mind, Gene was reeling and trying to piece together what brought him to this college. Highschool had been a drive to get through- he’d built up the an alright transcript that made him a possible candidate for a technological or dramatic field. His community service hours were filled up at basically bare minimum and he’d obtained two teacher recommendation letters. PERTs testing was what really had him shine. Brightly.


Growing up in backwoods Kentucky came in handy. The financial record of his family was nearly abominable. Doubled with the history of broken homes, strife, and evidence of the government card proving his Native American status… Letters flew in that he’d forgotten about. In the hostile environment, positivity seemed to be obfuscated. And yet, it breathed a new opportunity through its constant suppression.

Things had to be done on crazy whim- like filling out a crumpled application stuffed in a book for a place that was not a university stationed in his home. Months of back and forth. Fights with his parents. Fights with strangers who apparently backed up his parents-- it was a mess. But now he was here. Late registration though it may have been, his correspondence with the head of Fine Art had been amicable enough where the man seemed to be inclined to accept him. Even with his complex situation.

The actual college itself was isolated. Denver was already a sleepy town, the Rocky Mountains campus containing little else than what it sponsored. On-site dorms weren’t available but his scholarship had landed Gene in the Regency housing center in the cheapest unit available. It took half an hour on shuttle to get to campus, and the computer lab was open after-dark for nappers and quick sleepers at a cost. RMCAD was even sleepier, not a popular option for the majority of people looking for scholarship and degree opportunities. Gene’s presence in the Photo and Video building was didn't feel right. He was here, at a college, so far away from home among its fancy rich people who wore 45 dollar cardigans around their waists and drank 14 dollar iced coffees.

Their accents, their hair, the diversity of character and clubs. The dissonance between joy of finally being somewhere nice and normal occurred when paired with the reality that Gene may have launched himself out of the dirty water his lungs were used to.

Even now his body was stiff. His heart hammered, air being sucked in through his nostrils. It wouldn’t surprise him if some predator took him for a cornered meal.

His class may have just been that in the first place.​
The professor of the crafted Sound Design and Editing had been particular about who entered her class.
Talking with her had allowed his entering and he caught up on course work from home and once on the campus. It hadn’t been much. Understanding syllabus requirements, basic cross-hatching and demonstrating understandings of scientific concepts. Supervision had been dispensed. But now, in this red-velvet room with its close, intimate quarters, Gene felt like this was the real test. There were only four other students from what he saw. All of whom seemed to share similar expression of vexation and detached judgement. It made Gene want to slowly keel over and vomit. They couldn’t hear his heart but anxiety persisted on that crazy train of thought.

“Take a seat,”
and Gene took a seat, a rounded table set for base of operations. The room was furnished with audio equipment galore. Work stations were placed around the room of HP touchscreen desktops, an audio waver and mixer in the near back. Doors branched out into seperate “audio labs”, much like recording booths. Gene’s wandering eyes took him around a little ways before snapping to the sudden entrance of another student.

The cat-eyed frames and smoothie clutched in one hand matched the soft click of heels. “Sorry I’m late, my alarm’s a bust.” Gene didn’t know who this girl was but she definitely smelled like alcohol and southern-style collard greens. It was a nice introduction, however. She was the only one that seemed to actually smile at him upon first glance due to previously speaking with him at the campus supply store. The professor [thankfully] didn’t force introductions, only opening up discussion about the first masterworks of visual monotony transformed by beautiful sound design and construction. Gene’s notebook sat on his lap as he stayed silent, smiling, and serene with firebombs and quakes of nerves erupting inside of his body.

Class passed. Hours of serenity crackling with a doomed mind.
The assignment was to work together on breaking down individual sounds used in the Jazz Singer, known as the first talking film, and come up with ways that it could be improved upon if it were to be remade with sound technology that appeared a mere decade or two later. One group effort, one paper discussion. Seeing no other way out of the situation, Gene approached the gathered group with a weight on his legs and sweating armpits.

“-- with conformity as some sort of social osmosis. And she decides to send me to guidance because she’s ‘concerned about how I’m feeling’, like! I wrote an essay about social observations, what else does she expect?” There was one young man currently talking with a bag slung over his shoulder, who spotted the sudden silence due to the encroaching figure that was Gene Owle.

It was judgement day. The young man slid his eyes over to the woman that had smiled at Gene that day. She took a dry sip of her smoothie and directed looks to the other girl present, then the two figures that neatly finished off the quintet.

Sweat beaded on the back of Gene’s neck but he smiled. The girl’s gaze returned to him and she smiled again- something about it seemed cooled. “I remember you. You’re the guy that was looking for that Intro. textbook. Welcome to the class ‘n all that. I’m Sonja, since no one else seems in the mood to open their mouths.” Her tone was breezy and pointed towards the others behind her as Gene replied with a measured, “Nice to meet you”.

Clearly it was their turn to respond. The man talking before introduced himself as Andy but seemed cautious of the reactions the other three would have.
☁ -- penguinator
Alerts kept popping up on the silver iPhone 5s, as Jessica scrolled through her Instagram account for the countless time, pretending not to attentively count the hearts she received on her latest picture. She tuned out Garrick’s zestful portrayal of some poor sod’s forced abstinence;

"... seven months of that shit, only to be dumped on his ass, if it was me I’d...", and it was tuned out again, stretching her legs under the mahogany table, and popping her neck. She sent a brief glance at Martial, who was sitting opposite her. Their eyes met, and maintained contact for a number of seconds before her attention was once again diverted to the task of endless scrolling. Jessica could see that he was as fascinated with Garrick’s impressions on this particular sob story as much as she was. She saw within her peripheral vision that Martial was contently flipping his Zippo lighter from one side to the other, letting it fall flat down and then repeating with ritual precision. She pressed the button on top of the device, effectively turning it into a mirror, after a one finger swipe in a fruitless effort to make the screen more reflective, before proceeding to check her makeup and look for traces of circles under her eyes. The click of the door made her look up, her eyes lingering when they didn’t spot the expected image of the professor, or Sonja, who she knew would be fashionably late in an unfashionable place. They followed the stray through the room, waiting for the moment in which it will realize it is in the wrong place, only to watch it getting comfortable at their table.

Martial noticed Jessica’s neck wasn’t craned toward her phone, and reflexively paused to inspect it, turning around to follow her line of sight. The blank that had been filling up his brain, releasing it of all pressure, and allowing all remaining power to be concentrated in the slow falls of the lighter, started flowing out as this new person began to occupy it. Everything suggested that this was a new student, late submission, out of place. As the lecture started, almost completely ignoring this change, he took out a notebook and got ready to write down the occasional couple of words and abbreviations, as the teacher seemed to like this, and it gave him another opportunity to drift off, or communicate with Garrick, who was sitting next to him, through unprepossessing scribbles.

"Symbolically, the struggle of a singer to let his voice out. The work is filled with dynamic transition: lento, accelerando, presto...", the professor said in a single breath, "and fermata." picking it up again with a significant movement of her hand, marking the stop.

Being in such a small group made it hard to communicate, so when the pressing ban on chatting was lifted, Garrick casually pointed out:
"There’s a new student."
It was only a little while before he approached them, a comfortable pause ensuing as Martial thought about how black his hair was before he proceeded to quickly scan his appearance and make quick judgments. He looked like he was forcefully injected into a high school drama, faced by the eternal „who do I sit with in the cafeteria“ dilemma, and martial found it all comical, same as all scenes in life that embody such cliches. The first time his father took him to play catch he kept dropping the ball on purpose. But nobody could deny that these situations don’t make their subjects at least a little bit endearing. Their humbling character is rather humanizing.

“I remember you. You’re the guy that was looking for that Intro. textbook. Welcome to the class ‘n all that. I’m Sonja, since no one else seems in the mood to open their mouths.”
“Nice to meet you”
"A new face", Garrick exclaimed.
"Just ignore it, it’ll probably go away.", Jessica answered, manicured nails already making tapping sounds against the phone’s screen.
Martial looked at Jessica with a small curve of his brow and the beginnings of an apologetic smile which turned welcoming when he pointed it at the newcomer.
„You’re being an ass, Jess. I’m Martial.“
„Garrick.“ Followed the introduction and a wave from the guy slung back in his chair, arms crossed, his build classified as athletic, his face leaning over the boarder of attractiveness, framed by blue eyes, a short, well groomed beard and hair color that closely resembled blond. His height also wasn’t something to be ignored.

It was practically tangible. Gene felt the sweat curling on his body; somewhere it dripped but he refused to show his discomfort. They all knew each other. The class didn't have anyone else in it. He'd glanced at the roster the professor had and it was already cut it half for preservation of paper purposes. Drums were pounding in his head but the serenity never cracked. He was a casual guy, a cool guy, and his mind processed quickly the names and faces of the people that opened their mouths. The attitude towards him seemed pitiful or dismissive. That was okay. He was new here. He didn't belong among them, was the first thought, and this would probably have to be a time-worn inclusion or something to prove his worth. Maybe even humanity. <Just ignore it>-- that's what the girl had said. It. Was he that- an it?

How long had he been thinking the smile stuck on his face minutes could have passed and they were waiting or did they not care maybe they didn't maybe they wanted him to make a fucking fool--

"At least there aren't a lot of names to remember, in my case." Careful enunciation. Enough where it wasn't professional, but self-taught, sitting and staring at Youtube videos and repeating over and over what conventional 'normalcy' sounded like.

Sonja caught on quick and exchanged a quick glance with Andy. Sheep in a patchwork frock, that's what this was. She would have felt pity if it wasn't so funny. Andy leaned forward with his friendliness and Gene caught the social cue to shake his hand as the man stepped to the forefront. Laughter. "Ah, true! Advantage you, huh-- what was it, you said?"

"Oh, I uh. I didn't." Stupid. "It's Gene." Technically. "Not short for anything, just that."

„Gene. Okay. Cool! My name's Andy."

As always with introductions, there was an air of lingering strangeness. No one knew him, and Gene didn’t know anyone. Names were personal but only glances. There could be meanings in such words but that doesn't qualify much in who it is someone touches, smiles at. The classroom was cold and Gene let his two fingers hook in his pocket. Sonja smiled as she sipped and watched something frightened glance for an exit. Urges were animalistic and she could tell that the fight of flight instinct was being battled in the new comer's head. Andy persisted in the inevitable niceties. "Where do you stay?
"Oh, uh, I'm in the… Regency. Little apartment." Gene's ears were buzzing. The intonation was off.

"The Nest?" The buzzing grew louder. He had a feeling he should know what that meant and his smile widened. He tried not to look at the door. Could this be over now "I stay there, too. Hey, we're going to catch lunch--" no one had decided on that "and when that's over, I'll head back with you to the shuttles. Sound good?"

No, it doesn't sound good, and Sonja wanted to communicate this as some sort of broadband signal as her eyes situated on Andy's lower back in the effort not to appear obvious to Gene- who was behind him- that she definitely did not like the sound of that. There was a big gap between "new person" and "coming to lunch", a gap they hadn't really had to deal with. This was a chancy major fusion that was exclusive only and extremely specific. They already knew each other. They had formed lunch after class, at various places depending on the prevailing palette passion of that week, and that's what they did not this kid no one really knew and who she felt herself beginning to anger at for not denying the offer.

No, he stood there, sheep in his frock, as if he swallowed a bug and its life was flashing before his eyes. The smile dangerously dimmed. "I have my own..."

"Nonsense! Come with us. Table's big enough for six. We need to discuss our project anyways, right? Group work."

the story continues...


Original poster
Jessica rolled her eyes at Andy, and proceeded to scroll pretending that a smaller amount of her attention was directed at the interaction. Her finger stopped only when invitations to lunch had left someone’s mouth. She and Andy were polar opposites, both magnetic, but through entirely different qualities. Where he greeted with open arms, she maintained an air of exclusivity. Giving prominence to her denunciation were parted lips in disapproving confusion, directed at Sonja, who was already busy subtly drilling a hole in the man’s back, and redirected to Garrick, who shrugged and offered a corner smile, more amused by her annoyance than worried about a guest at lunch.

„It sounds like Andy wants to occupy the table. Should we eat outside?“ She asked, knowing it was a bold move on her part, since she hadn’t stopped to properly check if the remaining two were actually entertaining the prospect. Dismissing the lost lamb was one thing, but compromising her spot at lunch would be entirely another.

’That guy can be so annoyingly rash.’ Martial thought, very clear on the fact that calling Andy’s mind a strategist’s would be the equivalent of calling an old Greek woman quiet. Having to spend so much time with the new guy would be constricting, and Andy made penetrating an inner circle seem too easy. The lack of challenge might make the whole unique experience their group provided too unstimulating.
"Andy, haven’t you got to see the shrink or something?" Martial asked, mock layered in sarcasm made obvious, finding his earlier story appropriate for use in pointing out his blunder.

"We’ve all got to go outside, if he’s gonna take a lunch box with him. I haven’t seen one of those in ages. It would cause such culture shock in the cafeteria, the shrink wouldn’t have time to see to Andy." Garrick said, a laugh followed by a glance at Jessica. He wanted to see if she could tell that his acceptance of the new guy had everything to do with her disapproval of the notion.

"Actually, I think I saw one in there. The Asian kid from Com Systems brought one.“ Martial recalled.

"I heard it was for her boyfriend. Think it’s an Asian thing.“ Jess added with a glance at Martial, eyes returning to screen in the next moment.

"I wouldn’t mind it if you made me one of those Jess", Garrick grinned, leaning forward and resting his crossed arms on the table.

"Ha. Ha. Ha. Why don’t you make me one, puppy eyes?“ She could see the expression in her peripheral vision, forgetting the next few sentences as soon as she'd read them due to the distraction.

"That’s not how it goes. You’re supposed to make me food arranged into interesting shapes, I’m supposed to tell you you worked hard, giving you a great sense of fulfillment.“ He explained with the employment of appropriate hand gestures which cut through the air emphasizing each part of the process.

She took her eyes off the screen to look into his eyes and earnestly laugh at him.

"I see you’ve researched this quite a lot. Or did it just happen to be in one of those hentais you watch?“

"Maybe the new guy could make us all lunch boxes? What do you say?“ Martial asked Gene jokingly, diverting the focus back to him. He had a light smile on his face, amused by the simple minded banter, but glad that he managed to cut it short since it was about to take a dangerous dive into Garrick’s dim waters of perversion.
He could clearly see signs of discomfort. The positioning of his hands, the unsteady direction of his gaze, the frailty of his expression. Maybe it would have been more merciful to release him. But now that it had come down to it, Martial didn’t want to.
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Sonja's first instinct was to gawk at Jessica. Usually her subtle rejections were more rejection-y, had a syrup undertone that carried thick with it disapproval. Not this 'should we eat outside' business. Why ask questions that did not say, mean, or lead to the answer of No? Everyone seemed way too open to this guy for her liking. There was only room for one reformed southerner in this lot. It was going to be her. With practiced ease, Sonja projected her air of crackling coldness to make everyone feel how annoyed she was with them all. Every single number. Andy was purposely ignoring her now and she went to the phone in her hands with a glare pinned on the screen. It warmed her soul when Martial spoke.

A snort and Andy turned halfway to direct a joking grin Martial's way. Something teetered to anger but he seemed to think better of it and, instead, settled for rolling his eyes. "Guidance is hardly what I call 'shrink'. I wonder if they even have degrees. But the point is-- no. I do not, I'm sure you're glad to know." Although he had a skill for brushing off feelings, there was something bothersome about being one of the only people in the group that seemed open to a fresh face. Not many even had the strength to approach their lot; the demands and complexities of their characters were hard to juggle for someone who didn't function on elasticity as a key characteristic. Even now, Gene was absorbing things and remembering the moment.

But for the moment everyone seemed to be in their own interpersonal communications.

The jest and lilts were overcasts for differences in the group. Gene was pinned by obligation of Andy, who seemed bent on having him become a part of their lunch now that the idea had been faced with rejection. He felt like he was before a jury, seeing a back-and-forth that told so much more than he knew. Jargon comprised of glances and minute wrinkles. Things were blaring in his head that there was an exit right there, everyone was too self-absorbed to give a damn. The only risk was Andy giving chase and subsequent embarrassment, maybe even scrutiny from a fleeing tail move being taken. Gene didn't have to make that decision though. While his mind had sufficiently zoned the moment he heard 'Asian kid', the question came in after seconds trickled by.

Eyes snapping to- Martial? Was his name?- there was a lopsided grin that quirked on the edge of Gene's lips, licked wet from nerves. "Heh. Maybe when I have more time."

Andy took this as confirmation enough. Martial was in. Garrick was spiteful. And he was bored. "Alright, to lunch then! You can eat your lunch at our table." Sonja rolled her eyes but stood to assist with the effort of gathering bags and notebooks, hovering to Jessica's side to bond in mutual dislike for what was going to be an annoying afternoon watching this kid watch them munch salads.


Original poster
"This can't last." Jessica sighed softly, and speaking only to Sonja. She looked up from the table to glance at Gene before throwing her pencil into her bag, feeling especially sluggish, digging around for its case appearing as a chore.
Garrick got up and gave Gene a quick once over, showing him a vaguely friendly snicker, his opinion forming around the fidgety movements and dark look. Gene looked like a misfit, automatically categorized and filed under him. It gave Garrick a sense of comfort.
Martial spoke, not noticing the malcontent accumulating in pockets around the room, mostly because he didn't care to, and as a need was pressing up the back of his brain, casting away less imminent thoughts. With a small snicker he said, "Just so you know, I'm trying out this healthy thing now."

Jessica quickly thought of a playful retort, but Garrick laughed before she started, and loudly, sliding his chair in its place without lifting it off the ground. "Yeeeah, give up red meat for leaves and you'll turn into a fossil." He poked Martial's ribs, quickly sliding out of the way of a counterattack.
"I'm going out for a smoke, you go ahead." Martial disposed a comment.
"While we're on the topic of health." Jessica added, and then wondered if her tone had an unplanned harshness to it, or if it only sounded like that in her head. She played it off with a smile and a raised eyebrow for smooth transition, which didn't last as she passed by Gene. "He smells weird, doesn't he?" She directed the question at Sonja, fine tuning the likelihood of Gene hearing it.
In the meantime, Martial had grabbed his lighter from where he had left it on the table, it making a loud thump as it fell side down against the wood before getting picked up. He made for the door, not paying any extra attention to the new guy, and reached it in time to open it for the girls. As he crossed glances with Jessica, he was the picture of friendliness, deciding to put behind them the fight that they had had the previous day. There was no reason to drag the trivial matter on any further, and he also didn't want the newcomer to get the impression that something was off with them and get spooked, which seemed like a genuine likelihood, one could deduct from a superficial glance. Martial wasn't at all concerned with how welcomed he'd feel, but he did stir an unusual curiosity. He was completely out of place.

Garrick almost volunteered to follow Martial, but then his stomach revolted with hollow stabbings and a soundless wail, and Martial was already out the door. "I'm in the mood for something unhealthy." He walked up to Andy and slung an arm around his shoulders. "Good thing I've got you, huh?" He said with an exhale and a good-natured grin to go with it.
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Original poster
Jessica's sureness was only halfway shared. Sonja didn't like the feeling. Martial and Andy liked the idea of strays. Garrik was on board with anything that might irk whoever he particularly had in mind. It was fun. But these things mattered-- she didn't understand how no one had been educated on the concept of closed groups. This realization made her head hurt, responding to the unspoken with a roll of her eyes as she busied with finding a thin tissue to dab at her face with. Annoying. Two contrasting bodies bound together shouldn't have been much, but loud personalities in two quiet people had made their stance amongst friends apparent. The new thing though- he didn't catch on, because he was too occupied trying not to look occupied. Sonja could practically smell his try-hard.

Times like these made him wish he had the kind of surly, big-boss attitude the people in his family were prone to. Gene detested "hick culture" but there were moments were acting particularly white trash could come in handy. Set a staple. The kind of brazen behavior that people could respect, even if it was annoying and showed remarkable stupidity. Everyone moved and said little and much and this experience had quickly become overwhelming. Gene managed to keep his head up. Adopting a better stance immediately weighed by embarrassment. Sonja's eye flickered to him "discreetly" and she murmured something agreeable, giggled. Something deep inside his gut burned. He eyed their bags and shoes- there were hours spent online looking at the unattainable. He didn't think it would hurt more in person, but Gene was wrong about much. He didn't think the campus would be so big, the people in this class so powerful.

In the back of his mind, Gene wondered if he should invest in some scent pouches. There was no choice but to follow. He was hungry like a wolf; food wasn't the main goal, and animals traveled in packs. Goldrush culture and forced cannibalism came to mind. But he wouldn't act like that. Would he? His pace was relaxed behind the almost split in factions amongst the singular group. Andy's good-natured but firm shrugging loosened Garrick's hold, softened with narrowed eyes and veneers. "Like pig's fat." The coy quality made Sonja cringe.

"Um, ew!"
"Don't smudge up like you didn't grow up on fried skins."
Sonja's eyebrows quirked in mild irritation at a familiar and well-rehearsed argument. "I'm not Southern dirt."
"OH, so I am? Don't you step on my Georgia generosities."
Sonja's snort was quiet and rude. Andy had half a mind to trip her, but he was wearing new shoes, and she had just done her nails, so instead he bumped Garrick. "Tug her hair for me when you get the chance."

Gene absorbed. The weather was nice outside, but he smelled a storm brewing. No one seemed aware of it. Maybe it was the dirt in him. The rain often brought nutrients, didn't they? He's going to grow into this- something strong, with all of the potential he was full of. Practically bursting with it. But no one else smelled it. Sometimes he wondered if the scent of money clouded all aspects of the mind. Yet he did yearn for that ignorance.


Original poster
Martial went through the halls not seeing the faces that passed by him, probably familiar, but in his vision, blank. He was greeted, and he responded void of interest. Finally at the nearest exit, he reached into his pockets, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and the lighter. A natural flow of movements concentrated in a number of moments, and he was inhaling to the sound of burning paper. As the smoke left his lungs he felt his muscles relax, his eyes lazily following the gray trail swirling into the bright background. As it did, and the compress of need loosened its grip, his sights opened up.

Tall trees branched out in a planned setting, making the glass and steel nestled into the scenery blend unaffectedly. His gaze rested on an eye stabbing spot where the forest had been cut into, announcing impending construction. It reminded him of a humid night (it was almost cliché)of sneaking past construction equipment, and the unnerving gush of adrenaline that hit him each time Jessica’s voice insisted on getting out of there.
He stubbed the cigarette against the wall, having only finished half, dropped it and blew out the last breath of smoke as he walked back into the building.

“Sonja baby, can I pull your hair?” Garrick asked in a mock tone, knowing better than to get involved in their quarrels. When he did, it was going to be careful, weasel like stoking of the fire. He turned to the newcomer instead, the main attraction of the morning. “So where are you from exactly? Maybe you’re one of their many relatives.” The comment slipped his lips, unstoppable, his compulsions getting the better of him, harboring in their consequences no regret, as usual.
Jessica fought the compulsion to take her phone out. She could almost feel the buzz of a notification at the tips of her fingers. She attacked her nail polish instead. “I’ll tell you about Martial’s u-“ She scoffed at Garrick’s comment, irritated by the interruption, when she had finally made up her mind about talking about their argument. Upon some consideration it may have been for the better, but she wasn’t about to consider it when she was busy sending Garrick a condescending look. His response was a puck of the lips and a soft kissing sound that made her skin crawl. She gave Sonja a quick glance and remained silent, pretending to forget what she was about to say. Whenever she shared information about their relationship she felt as if Sonja’s image of her was changing. Worse notions came to mind – that image may have always been painted with all of Jess’ insecurities. She listened to the voices behind them without turning their way, the fixed position of her head a clue to where her attention was directed.
The arts studios were situated in the old building, which meant one could draw an architectural parallel between its hallways and those of schools and hospitals, despite renovations. Jessica was silently jealous of the tall windows the upper floors had compared to what she would call ‘prison anatomy’ of the stuffy ground floor rooms.


Original poster
They must do this a lot. It wasn't like he'd been exposed to the group for long but there was this feeling that this wasn't atypical. There was something light in that Andy's grin, and the lewdness of Garrick's character, a practiced detachment. They stepped around small obstacles and avoided curves in halls without breaking a pace in the rhythm of conversation. Gene could get lost in the pattern. There dynamics were sheet music. Gene could never fully grasp all of what it meant and you didn't need eyes to listen to Vivaldia and hear it was good-- but there was an appreciation to be gained, a raw, ugly quality to dots on paper when analyzing a masterpiece. A garish melody, entirely self-absorbed within each others ebbs and flows. It was still beautiful. Gene felt that little piece of envy cut deeper; a music sheet cluttered with extra elements could ruin such a perfect mess.

ma n y relatives"

Gene blinked and fixed his eyes from space to the reality of Garrick. The background sharpened; he could see Sonja's scoff and increasingly annoyed look, fat lips puckered to steady a silence. Andy's mid-guffaw. Jessica's aversion. Something smelled like burning. Cheap cigarettes. Or maybe the pricey ones that rich kids brought without knowing they were getting conned. Gene pushed a stray hair back behind his ear as they faced oncoming breeze. It felt like his head was the only one producing wisps. There came a point to which he had to make a decision if it was proper to lie or not. There was absolutely no way they would find out. No one had his records. No one knew his address. it would be that easy.

The wind told him otherwise.

Sonja and Andy possessed a scary sharpness. Southern Frequency. A detector of bullshit. There were only so many Southern countries that produced as deep a twang as his own when it came out. They would and could call him out. So was it worth it? But who would want to be associated with some fidgeting hillbilly freak? Too pale, too ignorant, a walking prop from the Wrong Turn movie franchise. Gene felt like he had been quiet for too long, but it must have been a beat. Rest, rest, then the music begins again.

"I lived in Appalachia territory. Not super--"

"Appalachia?" Sonja picked her nails. "The mountain range? Must've been pretty eastward."

"Yeah." Gene fiddled with his hair again. Andy was getting out money for his lunch. "Pretty eastward." The breeze was going again. Gene suddenly missed the verbal abuse from home. This passive-aggression, quiet river scrutiny made his skin itch. He felt like taking a massive raincheck. Sonja seemed unimpressed with his fidgeting and cleared her throat quietly, dismissing him, introducing herself.
"So, I heard that the restaurant has a new kale and spinach salad side. I might get it."

"ew." Andy grimaced. They shared another tense look.


Original poster
Jessica ignored Andy entirely, growing weary of their bickering as thoughts of food intensified. She only reminded Sonja of her inability to stomach kale and went on to talk about radicchio in a number of pleasing combinations, getting lost in sustenance inspired ramblings.
She would always get antsy before it was time to eat, getting reminded of her hunger by the closeness of the cafeteria, or restaurant, as she and most of the other, mostly older students, called it. 'Cafeteria' had such a third rate ring to it, associated with plastic utensils and gobs of slop packed with cholesterol. At some point she had accepted and dealt with the fact that she would be spending most of her life hungry. That being said, nothing could stop that spike in her mood whenever she walked the halls which encompassed the cafeteria.

One of the hallways had glass walls, allowing natural light in from the outside, aside from the triangular windows on the ceiling, although some of the blinds were down in various degrees, as the sunlight did tend to make the room too hot at a certain time during the day. The use of bronze detailing gave the room the right mix of modern with a natural blend matching the view outside and giving off the feel of a restaurant. The seats next to the fully windowed corridor were always the most popular, and almost always taken, so they were lucky to find a table fairly close to it.

Jessica darted straight for the window displaying various salad options, along with actual meals, the items in the window being there only for display, and all aesthetically appealing, although she would never try some of the things they served, no matter how healthy they were or how beautifully they had been arranged. She ordered her salad, and allowed herself some thin slices of meat and a piquant sauce to go with it. The food was placed on thick white plates and bowls, some of which had the college's logo printed on them unobtrusively. Seniors would often steal those as a sort of memento, this having become a tradition which particularly annoyed the faculty.

Garrick had shut off on the salad conversation, the reaction almost organic.
"Are you going to sign up for any of the teams?" Garrick asked Andy, and the newcomer by extension, mainly because he hadn't avoided making eye contact that insinuated interest, rather than there being any. In either case, he doubted that he'd be getting a positive answer from either of them, but thought that he might as well ask. Maybe at least the mountain child had some inherent thirst for adrenaline in him, despite appearances.
When they reached the cafeteria, he went to occupy the table they had spotted while it was still opportunely available, as he was used to that action falling to him, with Jess running straight for the food as she did, and the rest usually following. Martial tended to be the only one to stay and place signs of their occupation on a table with him, which Garrick appreciated, being slightly annoyed that the role of getting a good spot fell to him, mostly because he was the one who ate the most out of the group, and felt that that was supposed to give him a right of primacy in the cafeteria line.

Martial had taken his time getting there, and they all, except for Gene, had trays full off food in front of them when he placed his belted leather backpack in his seat and proceeded to fish his wallet out of it. He was pleased to see that they had managed to get a good spot, and commented on it before going off to eye the offer of the day. He opted for beef cutlets with a side of avocado salad, and got back to the table. His seat was across from Gene, Andy, and coincidentally Jess, who didn't like being on that side of the table, but made the intrusion she had decided to ignore for the remainder of the day somewhat easier to lose sight of in her peripheral vision. Martial exchanged glances with Garrick, who nodded towards Jessica.

"Her family are fantastic caterers, and still all she eats is lettuce."
Jess let her expression warp into a stubborn grimace, very briefly, and made a snub gesture, but didn't think much of the teasing. Garrick often tried to make her have more filling meals, which she found insightful and endearing, as well as downright annoying.

"I take it you're enjoying that?" Martial stated and nodded towards Garrick's plate, the onset of a grin on his face.

"Mmmh." - the pleased hum appeared to be the only response he would give, and Martial finally turned his attention back to the quiet entity sitting across from him.

His meek behavior unsurprisingly didn't pique any interest in Martial. He didn't think that trying to get someone to speak up and say something was an efficient use of his time. The initial bit of surprise that came with him when he sat down at their table in the studio was almost gone, and now Martial was left with the image of a passing phenomena. The initial spark of curiosity Gene had caused in him may have been a simple misconception.
He looked like he would do anything for a teaspoon of approval. Dissing him would be easy, a 180° turn would result in shriveling to the point of disappearance. He would undoubtedly end writing a request for a transfer and joining one of the groups that accepted a larger number of students. They'd end up passing each other in the hall without so much as a greeting - he thought, evenly dictating the sequence of events with his inner voice. Then, a ping against monotony urged him to wonder, what if?

A quick smile went Gene's way. "Relax, we aren't going to eat you."

"We aren't?" Garrick asked with somewhat wildly amused glimmer in his eyes.
Martial merely laughed and turned his smile back at Gene.

"So where are you from?"
"Appalachia, pretty eastward." Garrick filled him in.
"Oh." In a couple of seconds pictures of mountain ranges and boar men streamed through, all packed in flannel and armed to the teeth. "What are you doing here?" It was a drop condescending, by accident, but an undeniable slip of sincerity.


Original poster
Wow. This seems excessive.

Gene was immediately launched into a series of spluttering thoughts, all linking back to the primary trigger of surprise. How the hell did anyone call this a cafeteria? A cafeteria implied something like monotony. Silver and green, or silver and blue. Not all chrome and bronze. It's as if he'd stepped into a set from some furniture catalog. And then the audacity! Everyone went to 'healthy choices', Andy parting for Pasta Palace to get himself a "low-fat alternative choice," which included little wait-time and a free side of jello due to the focus on Carnivore Caravan. Mega Mondays allowed for double servings and more painful alliteration. Sonja found herself in the same line as Jessica to receive her leafy delights. It was absolutely boggling. Gene wanted to ask them all of what they were doing and use the little bus money he'd brought to purchase a meal to last him a week through tupperware servings! This was utterly ridiculous.

There wasn't a misplaced expression or displaced crease to show the rush of thoughts. The eyes drank in and a face, features already marked with a certain alien quality, stayed spick and spam. Gene murmured for a response to the question before advancing on a seat in the shaft of sunlight (inwardly, more inwardly past the agitation of rich people and their rich things, he felt the burn on his hair and the sweat start to build. He hadn't thinned out his hair in ages. It was so thick and heavy. He wanted to cut it all off-- would they notice the dull color in the new light, notice the pinprick of pores opening, sweat glands responding to the intensity, because predators smell bodily reactions after all). He cafeteria seat cushioned the curve of his ass and he was perpendicularly placed to Garrick, getting out his lunchbox and refraining shaking his head.

Sonja's return was marked by a make-up session with Andy. There were no words actually exchanged; the two shimmied up to the table with proper shoulder and hip juts and pops. Andy's lankiness did nothing to stop him from nearing skeletal while there was a smooth practice with his female companion. People milled about. Some gave the two looks but at this point, they seemed absorbed in whatever beat had been constructed out of an accident. So weird. Gene's eyes darted quickly to the food he was surrounded by. Greens, greens, greens-- those expensive ones at that. The second-hand shop he'd went to never had fresh vegetables. Wilting petals and too wet, always wet, stems. A film that covered their sharpness. Kale, beets and mushrooms. Difficult, weather-sensitive trades and they brought it and stabbed it, but there was no kill they'd made. Why be so triumphant to eat a nothing-meal? Low low low but they all seemed to hold themselves high. It almost prompted an eye roll.

"My suggestion add grits to the menu has succeeded in its 3rd official rejection to date, you know." Sonja's lip quirked at Andy's pride of failure.
"Might as well throw out that follow-up letters on krill and butter-based dishes." She stabbed her tomato slowly, relishing how its skin puckered to her power before breaking in full. "You're corrupting the campus with concoctions."

The two shared a snicker. Gene wondered if they knew that gentrification existed and big budget grocery stores were readily available for them if they had specific tastes. But! Like many things: wasn't the place; wasn't the time; wasn't the people; wasn't the mood.

Gene held his tongue.
Then he didn't.

A pause, eyebrows raised. "Uh--" They were back at each other, with their inside life, private memories (he was never going to be a part of it​)​ and jokes. Then the stinger. Originally, Gene'd felt glad of Garrick's intervention, but now he was mounted and pinned and held under the gaze of an analyzing person who didn't know what life- MAYBE- had. Eating pieces of sesame chicken that had fallen from his sandwich, the freshie sipped water to chase down the food and fight back his anxiety. He answered truthfully. "I wanted to come. It was an opportunity I saw, and I don't get a lot of those. Plus," he sipped his water again, continuing more dryly, "if I so happen to crash and burn, there are a lot of bars ready and willing and I'm good at drinks. Or I become a stripper. Either way, they're... Around here." A motion to signal the hugeness of here.

Andy's plate jumped as he wheezed and held the table. His absorption rates stunted severely at stripper Gene.
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