Linza raced up the hallway of the administrative building and into an empty classroom, slamming the door behind her and leaning against it as if a lion had been right on her heels.
Her heart raced, her breath came in shallow gasps.
Even after Linza’s breath should have returned to normal, it didn’t. Minutes later, she still leaned against the inside of the door, hyperventilating.
Was she having a panic attack? They were common enough around finals at JSMI, but school had never gotten under her skin in this way. Leave it to her to have iron nerves through the hardest curriculum at JSMI and then fall apart because two people were being nice to her at the same time.
She hardly deserved either of them.
Then again, wouldn’t Grun say something about how she was being meaner to herself than she’d be to anyone else?
Grun, who had been so challenging and brash and irritating… and yet so calming and kind. She had so much more in common with Tanyth, they’d been quick friends, but their anxiety sent hers into an even more violent whirl.
Linza finally steadied enough to notice which classroom she’d ended up in. It was the same one as their calligraphy lesson. The ink called out to her from the cubbies on the wall, and she pulled out a sheet of paper and tried to write through what she was feeling.
Her shaky hands nearly tipped the ink pot over when she dipped her quill, but her first draft didn’t really need to be legible, anyway.
She filled the paper. Then squished more in the sides. Then turned over the back.
She covered two pieces of paper with cramped scrawl and yet still she was no closer to finding the right words.
The door groaned behind her, and Linza whirled.
It was Grun, back in his leather shorts and humming a song. He stopped short as he saw her. His eyebrow quirked, and his wry half-smile sent Linza’s stomach churning even worse.
“You don’t look happy to see me,” he said.
“No, not at all!” She forced a smile. “Just surprised! What are you doing here?”
“I was coming to practice.”
Grun laughed. “Really. What, you don’t think someone like me would actually enjoy calligraphy?”
Linza grinned wryly. “I’d be a total idiot if I thought that.”
He winked at her. “Don’t worry. I’m used to it. Comes with the ‘territory’.” He flexed and patted his chest with an open hand.
Linza snorted a laugh.
Grun stepped closer, noticing Linza’s quill and paper. “You practicing too?”
Linza gulped. “Oh, it’s nothing.”
“Oh yeah?” He sidled over. “I’m sure whatever it is, it’s already perfect several times over.”
She snatched the pieces of paper up off of the table and balled them up, even as wet ink streaked her palms. “It’s private,” she squeaked. Making a scene like that made her want to shrivel up and disappear, but it was way better than Grun seeing anything she’d written.
“Alright,” he said. “I won’t pry.” He sounded like he wanted to, though. “Lucky I caught you. I forgot to ask earlier. What do you want to do tonight?”
“I’m feeling a bit ill, actually.” If she couldn’t hide her anxiety, maybe she could play it off as food poisoning or something.
Grun’s expression was skeptical. “If you don’t want to, you can just say so. I’m a big boy. I can take it.”
“No!” Linza said. “No, it’s not that. I really do feel ill.”
“Hm. Too ill to get dinner with me?”
She nodded. She’d hardly be keeping anything down.
“Too ill for a walk on the beach?”
Linza hesitated. Grun’s steady presence was calming, and the ocean always helped clear her head… Spending more time with him was idiocy, digging herself into a deeper hole, but… suddenly, she was afraid to be alone with her thoughts.
Linza nodded. “That’d be nice.”