Loathe as she was to leave behind Oinky so soon, it was that time of day when Anna was forced to pack up her things and take up temporary residence at Steppe Hills , a moderately sized, somewhat dingy building located in downtown Weary Winds. Steppe Hills hosted the area’s Elementary and High Schools, an odd administrative choice that was frequently challenged but never changed.
Though Anna prided herself on her sunny outlook, she found herself afflicted with an unavoidable distaste for the place. This was not the fault of her teacher, whom Anna adored immensely. While Ms. Guadeloupe Martinez, was very kind and extremely interesting, she hardly ever had the chance to actually teach the class.
You see, all the parents of Weary Winds were very determined that someday their children escape the town of Weary Winds, and were therefore adamant that Steppe Hills offered the best education possible. Unfortunately, Steppe Hills found that in order to support their mission of education, they required the recognition made possible through high standardized testing scores. In order to increase the likelihood of a stellar performance on said exams, an education executive had the brilliant idea to shower the children with as many tests as possible. Eventually, the test-taking and preparation became so expansive that the school was forced to set aside their original mission of education for a new, revised curriculum intended to teach test-taking.
Anna didn’t much care for test-taking. She found it tedious and terrible and her mind wandered frequently during any form of multiple choice. This disappointed Ms. Martinez greatly, for she felt Anna was extremely gifted and talented and wished her scores reflected that. In stark contrast, several of the children who scored well seemed to be a ways off from their full potential. Two of these such children, interestingly enough, had their own connection to Anna.
The first, Maxine Marks, was a well-liked, well-off young girl with an affinity for the digital. Unlike Anna, who hadn’t owned a mobile device since she’d dropped hers in the ocean two and a half months ago, Maxine was a social media sensation with well over fifty followers (for an elementary schooler, a veritable million). Something about Anna rubbed Maxine the wrong way- most likely her complete lack of regard for Maxine’s celebrity- and Anna was content to let Maxine dislike her. Maxine wasn’t a bully, although occasionally she was somewhat cruel to the other child connected to Anna.
Bartholomew Benson was a pale, skinny thing of a lad who had an unfortunate proclivity for picking his nose. Oft-teased by his peers, Bartholomew’s singular ally was Anna, who thought the common distaste for him so ludicrous she made it her business to spend time with him whenever possible. She’d invited him to the Acres on multiple occasions but he’d declined, citing allergies and an extreme fear of pigs.
Much as she did on the rolling hills she called home, Anna tackled the hallways of Steppe Hills in a systematic, whimsical fashion. As it happened, it was currently the space between lunch and english class, wherein Anna and a reluctant Bartholomew extended their break via a detour through the high school. During this brief journey, Anna would make it a point to say hello to each and every high schooler who frequented the Acres; She would wave and smile to everyone from Jerry the farmhand to Jake Jackson, an older boy who picked up eggs for his family every Saturday.
However, as Anna and Bartholomew rounded the corner this dreary Monday, Anna was shocked to see that Jake was not standing by his locker as usual. With something of a jolt, she recalled for the first time that he had not been by to pick up his eggs last Saturday. Inwardly, the little girl scolded herself… something was wrong with her friend and she hadn’t even noticed it! Excusing herself from a confused Bartholomew, Anna marched over to the nearest teacher.
“Excuse me,” Anna asked earnestly. “Have you seen Jake Jackson?”
“No, I have not,” the teacher tilted her head. “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
“Yes,” Anna agreed, heading back to Bartholomew with a humorless look on her small face. To the little farmer, this seemed very bad… very bad indeed.
“Excuse me, Bartholomew,” Anna told her friend with much seriousness. “I will not be returning to class with you.”
“What?” Bartholomew blinked. “Why?”
“I have to find a friend,” Anna said simply, and marched away.
Next: Suspension of Disbelief