Story By: ZaRaye Ridley
Hopeful thinking or alternate reality? This story envisions what it might be like to return to school entirely, post-pandemic.
It’s funny how something you’re used to can seem so foreign to you.
I stare up at the huge Welcome Back Students banner hanging proudly above me. We’re finally back. I look around at the students bustling around me like ants.
Being in quarantine has made me feel very lonely. Being an only child only made it worse. It feels amazing being able to come back to school. Seeing my friends, meeting my new teachers. Now I don’t have to stare bored at my computer screen while my teachers go on and on about something mind-numbing like probability; or ancient cities.
“Sky!” I turn at the sound of my name. “Jade!”, I exclaim hugging one of my best friends tightly. It feels like I haven’t seen her in a million years, even though I facetimed her last night before going to bed. I study her. “I can’t believe you actually dyed your hair.”, I say shaking my head. Her hair used to be jet black hair is now an electric blue. She beams at me, “I’m a new me.”, she says with a shrug. I roll my eyes and hug her again.
“Have you seen Kira and Gabrielle yet?’, she asks as we make our way down the crowded hallway. It’s like trying to walk through a wall. Why does there have to be a thousand kids here? “Gabrielle didn’t tell you? Her mom is homeschooling her. She believes the virus is still going around.”, I say sorrowful. Jade gapes at me. “What? Gabrielle is the glue of our group.”, She says as a somber expression clouds her face. “I know. It won’t be the same without her.”, I say with a sigh.
“Are those my beautiful friends over there?!” Jade and I laugh in unison when we hear Kira’s singsong voice. She runs over excitedly. Her braids flying around her head.
“I missed my babies.”, she gushes bearhugging us. “We missed you too Kira.”, I say struggling to breath. This girl can hug! She steps back and gives us onceovers. “What did you do to Jade you imposter?”, she jokes winking at Jade. Jade laughs and hugs Kira again.
“Did Gabrielle tell you she was being homeschooled?”, I ask as we make our way down the hallway again. Kira groans loudly. “I hate her mom.”, she mumbles. Jade playfully slaps Kira’s arm. “It just won’t be the same without her.”, Kira says shaking her head. It seems like this year was all about getting used to something new.
“A lot of people are still the same aggravating fools they were last year.”, Kira grumbles later that day at lunch. Jade giggles. “I see the chefs didn’t study any cookbooks during quarantine.”, I say examining the grey lump on my lunch tray. “Is that even Salisbury steak?”, Jade asks looking at it in disgust. “Salisbury steak?!”, Kira exclaims incredulous. I chuckle. “What did you think it was Kira?”, I ask rolling my eyes. She shrugs. “It looks like something a dog chewed for a long time.”, she says eyeing my lunch tray. My stomach does somersaults.
“Thanks for the visual Kira.”, I say pushing my tray away. She smiles sheepishly at me. “So, how are y’all liking our day back?”, Jade asks with an eager smile dancing on her lips. “I wish we were still doing online school. I don’t have the urge to slap people for pushing me in the hallway.”, Kira says glaring at a guy as he walks by our lunch table. He gives her a confused frown. She sticks her tongue out at him and he shakes his head. “Childish much?”, I say with a chuckle. She shrugs. “He pushed me on my way to Geometry.”
“I wish we had classes together.”, Jade says putting her arm around my shoulders. “At least we have lunch.”, I say gesturing around the cafeteria. “Last year school year was cut short because of that coronavirus crap. We made so many memories back then. Remember when we used to get in trouble in theater all the time?”, Kira says with a huge grin. “Mr. Knight hated us.”, I say with a laugh. Jade nods in agreement. “Do y’all think we’ll have fun this year?”, she whispers thoughtfully. We all sit quietly for a few seconds. “If no new virus pops out and announces itself, then I think we’ll be alright.”, Kira says laughing like she heard the funniest joke in the world.
“Don’t speak anything into existence Kira!”, I scold glaring at her. She rolls her dark brown eyes. “You’re such a scaredy cat Sky.”, she mumbles.
This is my second year back at my school, but it feels like the first time again. Half of the people in my new classes, I didn’t even see last year! My teachers are surprisingly cool. It seems like everyone’s trying to be nicer too. It’s almost as if they realized what they missed last year and want to make it up this year. I feel the same way. I didn’t appreciate going to school until I was stuck at my computer… Hopefully no one heard Kira’s earlier comment about a new virus. If we lose another school year to another virus, I’m moving to Mars where hopefully there are no known viruses.
I can build my own society there. Maybe the Martians will keep me company.
“What are you smiling about Sky?”, Jade says snapping me out of my daydream. I shrug. “Just thinking about moving to Mars.”
Jade and Kira stare at me like I grew another head. I let out a loud laugh. “I think this year will be crazier than last year.”, Kira says eyeing me suspiciously. “I agree.”, Jade says scooting away from me.
“This year will be better now that I’m here.” We all pause. Did I just hear Gabrielle? Or do I miss her so much that I’m becoming delusional? We all look up and see Gabrielle grinning down at us.
“You sneaky rat!”, Kira yells jumping up and hugging her tightly. Gabrielle laughs. “I had to prank y’all.”, she says hugging me, then Jade. She sits next to Kira. “I hate you girl. I thought we lost you.”, Jade says feigning a sob. “Why do us like that Gabrielle?”, I pout.
“I had to make sure you girls would miss me. By the way, it’s really hard avoiding y’all. I swear I saw y’all everywhere today.”, She says wide eyed. We all laugh.
Now that Gabrielle’s here, it feels like this year will be complete.