It was with great sorrow that Anna trudged back to school the first day following her suspension. She got up early that rainy morning, visiting Oinky and Baby Lion in the barn and tearfully explaining that she would be absent again for a while.
Oinky and Baby Lion hadn’t the slightest clue what Anna was going on about as she blinked back water, but they figured it was very important, and so solemnly insisted on cuddling their friend to make her feel better. They were caught off-guard when Anna wrenched herself away from them, earnestly saying her goodbyes, and departed back towards the main house. Oinky rounded on Baby Lion, certain that whatever had just occurred was his fault. But it took one look from the drooping lion to remind Oinky that her friend was just as much affected by this as she was.
When Anna arrived at school, she moved to take her usual seat next to Bartholomew, who regarded her with something like shock.
“What is it?” Anna asked, perking up somewhat at the sight of her friend. “Bartholomew, are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Anna,” Bartholomew bemoaned. “I just didn’t expect to see you again, that’s all.”
“Why?” Anna blinked. “Suspensions are just a few days.”
“Yes, well, Maxine said that you had switched schools and were never coming back,” Bartholomew explained.
“I did not,” Anna huffed. “I’m perfectly happy being miserable at this school, thank you very much.”
“That’s what I said,” Bartholomew shrugged. “And then everyone called me a liar and I got in trouble for causing a ruckus.”
“But you didn’t cause the ruckus,” Anna pointed out, puzzled.
“Ruckuses seem to find me anyway,” Bartholomew drooped. “Without you, things have been awful, Anna. So awful I forgot the Very Important Thing I had to tell you.”
At first Anna’s fight or flight instincts were activated, as her first thought was of the Very Important Visitor who had come by her farm. But then reason came knocking and Anna remembered that Things were very different from Visitors which meant she had no reason to be alarmed.
“Oh, dear,” Anna told Bartholomew. “Can you try to remember what you’ve forgotten?”
“I’m trying right now,” Jake frowned, looking somewhat offended. “Can’t you see me thinking?”
“I can now,” Anna mediated hastily, although Jake did not look any more pensive than usual.
“Anna,” Mrs. Martinez smiled at the young girl as she passed out the worksheets for today. “It’s so nice to see you!”
“It’s nice to see you, Mrs. Martinez,” Anna turned to her teacher and smiled widely. “Although I am utterly and completely crushed to be back here, I have no hard feelings towards you or your presence.”
“Crushed?” Mrs. Martinez laughed nervously. “Why, I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“You’re right, it’s worse,” Anna furrowed her brow. “Maybe ‘devastated’ would be a better word.”
“Well, maybe you’ll feel better once you start the assignment,” Mrs. Martinez lied, handing Anna a worksheet and moving on awkwardly.
Anna did not feel better once she started the assignment. In fact, she felt worse. The numbers and names seemed to jump off the paper, doing a little tap dance and swimming around Anna’s head the more she tried to focus. Try as she might, Anna couldn’t stop her thoughts from wandering back to Oinky, and Baby Lion, and all the things she’d rather be doing than this practice test for the practice test they’d be taking this month, which, itself, was also a practice test for a state-mandated larger test which tested the ability of the students to take tests.
By the time Anna emerged from the classroom at the end of the day, she was dizzy, stunned by the depths of boring and soul-crushing data points she’d been exposed to over the course of the lesson. She was so shaken that she staggered right into Maxine Marks, who paused her livestream long enough to say “Hey!” and call Anna a nasty name. Anna said nothing, merely fumbling on until she reached the front of the school for dismissal.
Outside, Anna paused, taking in the fresh air with deep, shaking breaths. “I’m okay,” she told herself. “I am perfectly okay.”
The fresh air did wonders for the little girl, and soon she was starting to feel like herself. Rejuvenated and ready to begin the day anew, Anna straightened her back, and then her overalls, and began to march home…
…only for a breathless Bartholomew to emerge from the school frantically, wheezing.
“Anna!” Bartholomew cried. “You’ll never believe it!”
“I’m not half bad at believing things,” Anna informed Bartholomew. “But shoot.”
“I’ve remembered my Very Important Thing,” Bartholomew told her. “It’s Jake! I’ve heard he’s joined the Ghosts.”
“Oh, wonderful,” Anna was so pleased to hear her customer had been found. She just had a single question. “Who are the Ghosts?”
Next: Jake’s Story!