Three weeks of honors pre-calculus have passed before Allison notices the careful pencil ticks already made next to the problems they’re given in class. She checks the front of the book and finds it assigned, of course, only to the desk number she occupies, and dated to last year. Their home copies are a few editions older - mostly the same material rearranged a bit - but these have shiny, slick covers and still smell like ink. Whoever’s writing in this book started this year, sitting here in her desk two periods earlier.
She works the problems as neatly as she can in her notebook with her shaking hands, the fine tremors that seem to come to her when she’s only training in fits and spurts. The official word from her father is that they’re no longer in the hunting business. She’s surprised he’d even agreed to let her come back; they’d lingered in Paris so long that she returned to school two days late for junior year and two whole months behind on the finer points of Beacon Hills gossip. Everyone but Lydia teases her for her careless Franglais and constant cravings for foods definitely not found in the BHH cafeteria. At the new apartment, her schoolwork and takeout keep her occupied only a little of the time, and sometimes her hands ache for the bow enough to warrant a trip out of the center of town. It’s just enough to keep her from losing the feel of the draw, the strength in her hands that it requires. Still, she shakes, remembering when she’d put archery down for the first time as well as when she’d only just picked it up.
They’re five minutes before the bell and discussing the night’s assignment when she gets the idea, sifting through her bag for the small sticky notes she keeps for studying or labeling her food in the fridge. Her dad can keep his grubby hands off her lo mein. ‘Don’t write in the book!!’ she pens carefully on the bright pink pad, sticking the sheet near the problems for the next lesson where Third Period Vandal will be more likely to see. One more exclamation point, a little bolder and more straight, goes down as an afterthought, and she smiles to herself as she opens the desk to tuck the book inside. She can try erasing some of the pencil smudges the next time they have a substitute; there seem to be a lot of them around lately.
Over the weekend, it slips Allison’s mind. Nothing is ever quiet for very long in Beacon Hills, and what had seemed like Derek’s problem becomes a 'pack’ problem in the space of one night. Her involvement is, at least, more subtle than her dad’s. Most of her homework is finished in a Monday morning cram session preceding a crash so epic she’s late to class, still drowsy and grey-faced. Four people ask if she’s alright, including Scott (who has every reason to believe her lost sleep is over her mother) and Jackson (who she barely sees these days, considering the shaky ground between him and Lydia that no one wants to tread on). By the time she makes it to fifth period, she can barely hold her eyes open through the lecture, and she misses her face by a mere inch when she turns the page to find the problems her brain is lagging too hard to comprehend.
Beneath her neat black ink on aqua paper is a message in the same thick silver-grey as the marks next to the odd-numbered questions: It’s a pencil.
There’s a smiley face after it. Line line curve. No embellishment.
The marks beside their assignment, though, are more decorative than they’ve been. Swirling spirals, tiny daisies, and bubble letters (BH, mainly) litter the page. Allison smiles weakly, forgetting to frown, and sets her pen to her notebook. She might as well at least try to get some of this into her brain before she finds somewhere to nap through study hall. It can’t hurt.
By Wednesday, the smudgy grey dots are back instead, blah and annoying to Allison’s less foggy mind. The lime green pad comes out this time, and she scribbles out a second, more emphatic recommendation that they not write in the book. She bites at her lip when she sticks the first corner down, ready to slide her thumb along and secure it. The bell rings and people start to shuffle out. No one is paying attention when she crumples her post-it into a tiny ball and pens a new one – What happened to your drawings? She has to abandon the book on top of the desk to get out before the last stragglers and risk being noticed by her teacher – God help them, they all want to express how much they still pity her – but the note stands. The first draft goes sailing into the bin beside the cafeteria doors as she passes on her way to the art room, always empty minus the overachievers and actual artists when there’s no class being held.
Life gets…interesting, to say the least, as the semester barrels forward, constantly toppling them all. Disappearances, bodies, alphas – it’s enough to make her wish she could listen to her father’s hypocrisy and just keep out. Lydia is stressed to the point of near madness, making Allison ache in the wounds of the year behind them. The wolves are all on edge with the threat of the unknown enemy and on the run with the threat of the known. Even Stiles knows she’s just as deeply invested as ever, but it doesn’t seem to soothe his nerves about Scott’s safety and the ignorance of his father. Things are a mess.
School is, for the most part, predictable. There are incidents, of course, and she’s never been more pleased about her meager mechanical knowledge than when Ethan and Aiden lose their collective shit, but class is quiet on nearly all fronts otherwise. French tests her patience more than ever now and English reminds her vividly of her mother’s brief stint filling in. Pre-calc, the section of her schedule that she’d been worried about when she selected it, has become a haven. Scott, Stiles, and the others don’t seem to bother with honors courses, especially now; Lydia takes AP Calculus. Her hour of math is blessedly werewolf and druid-free and peaceful, the neat logic of it all settling her and her textbook lifting her spirits.
The doodles, at her request, return, although the Vandal makes sure to let her know that they 'can’t draw for shit’ and would prefer blue sticky notes, if possible. She does, in fact, have a fresh pad of aqua that doesn’t look good on the stark white and red of her favorite Chinese place’s boxes. It becomes entirely dedicated to notes for her friendly, rule-breaking textbook partner. For a while, most of what she writes is weak discouragement (can’t you leave papers?) or suggestions for the doodles (more flowers! I hate daisies!). The roses she gets in return are lackluster, but before long they taper off and leave her with smaller flowers on long stems, almost familiar but not quite. The bubble letters move from bland school spirit into what appear to be initials, ones that she can’t place and a few she might, like Lydia’s. Memorably, she finds an AA once, mildly panicked before she remembers Alex Ackerman and Andrea Accerbi, both in her year. Her heart still pounds, thinking of the friendly face of a foe, of being seen as a prize to be won through blood and death.
Some pairs of letters start to appear more often than others - mostly the double A, DM, and DH. She catches herself mentally scanning the junior class and what she knows of the sophomores, searching. Doug Handler is second line on the lacrosse team, a guy she knows only in passing thanks to Lydia’s mission to introduce her to every boy that wasn’t Scott for a week or so in her first semester here. She has no idea if he runs in the same circles as Alex or Andrea, who are a dancer and and a yearbook club member respectively. DM, though, can’t be anyone but Danny Mahealani. She’s sure of it, after nights spent falling asleep muttering names to herself. Alex and Doug are both cute enough guys, she guesses – maybe that explains it. She doesn’t ask about them, because the Vandal hasn’t asked about who she is, after all.
Her curiosity is growing, though, and she leaves more and more of her notes, sometimes two or three to a page. It devolves into doodling on her end, too – French phrases in careful script, indie pop lyrics, occasionally the fleur de lis that she still can’t quite manage, always too round or too sharp or slightly lumpy. There are always cheeky notes about her aversion to drawing and her cutesy penmanship, occasionally her music taste. She switches out to full-size notes so that they’ll have more room to write back, though she often wonders why they don’t just use their own or write directly on the page. When the notes from the previous days vanish, it’s never Allison’s doing, always leaving her to wonder why. There are only two periods of honors pre-calc; no one else will see these books until next year. Even then, they’re all innocent notes. She hasn’t so much as said she had a shitty fucking day when asked about it.
The Vandal starts to flirt. Not in the clumsy, almost goofy way that Stiles and Scott have; not in the belligerent way that Isaac has, always sharpening her own tongue. It’s blatant in a way that speaks to clear confidence, but teasing. She warms when the music recommendations on the newest note are all slow jams of the Sex Playlist sort, even as she jokingly recommends the Oil Spill song from Bob’s Burgers in return. Nothing about her life right now is playful in this way. There’s no time. But class is somewhere she has to be, and more and more she finds herself building playlists from the songs in the more serious notes. They pound in her ears while she studies the map of the city, whisper to her when she fires her bow into targets, into trees. Her fleur de lis improves by a leap when she draws it repeatedly after her 'abstract’ painting in art is finished, sneaking glances at the tree Lydia can’t get the way she wants it no many how times she tries, either. She wants to put her best foot forward in the few square inches of simple communication she’s afforded.
Allison’s maybe a few days from saying to hell with it and sneaking the seating chart from the teacher’s desk when a knock comes on the door during fifth period. She doesn’t even look up, at first, busy with her rendering of various emojis – the Vandal’s asked about her favorites. When she hears the guest beckoned in with, “Yes, Mr. Mahealani?” she gives herself a minor case of whiplash. Danny’s delivering a disc, explaining to the teacher the steps for installing a program he’ll probably end up having to teach her to use anyway, smiling politely. His dimples don’t show, though, and that tells the tale. She knows after years of watching herself fake a smile in the mirror.
He catches her eye when he looks up – catches her staring, is more like – and grins for real, waving minutely as he keeps talking quietly at the head of the class. He looks away again as soon as she’s acknowledged him, though, and after another moment he’s out the door. She swallows, considering the handwriting of today’s message left for her. It could be a boy. Sure. Danny doesn’t like girls, though. He wouldn’t smile if he saw that she was in his seat, would he? Maybe the flirting is all a joke, after all. Maybe she’s lonely since what she did, what she had to do, with Scott. She even catches herself flirting back with Isaac, despite the unease it gives her. Maybe Allison is imagining things.
“Danny!” she calls in study hall afterward, receiving an almost violent shush from the librarian as she hunts down the top of his head over his laptop’s back. “Hey.” She’s breathless, more from jitters than her hurry, and he quirks an eyebrow at her in surprise. They don’t really talk much anymore; he’s Lydia’s friend more than hers, and Lydia has not much time for friends who aren’t tangled in lycanthropy politics. Danny’s boyfriend aside, he’s not a part of things.
“What’s up?” he asks her, to the point, gaze settling back to his screen. “Is your tablet acting up again?”
Allison coughs, throaty noise that can’t pass for a laugh, and pushes past her burning cheeks and churning stomach. “About pre-calculus…”
“I was just being friendly. Didn’t need you for anything. I’m safe for now.”
“You take it third period, though, don’t you? Is Doug in that class? Just wondering.”
He hesitates, tapping one finger against his space bar like she’d tap a pen to her lip, thinking. “Handler? Nah, he’s never been in any of my honors classes. I think he’s more into history. I see him in music, though, if you’re…interested, or-”
“No, no no no,” Allison denies quickly. “That’s fine. Really, it’s nothing.”
There’s a definite bubble of awkwardness surrounding them now, one that doesn’t pop when Danny nods. “Whatever. You know, it’s funny, though.”
She’s queasy. “It is?”
“Yeah. When I saw you, I was expecting Jackson, before I remembered it was another class. We switched a few days in, let me sit further back so I’d stop getting a glare on all my screens. Kinda weird that you have his seat.”
Queasy isn’t that accurate, after all. There’s a wash of ice through her veins, from head to toe and back, chasing itself with the speed of her fluttering heartbeat. “Weird,” she agrees, voice thin, nodding compulsively. “Thanks, though. About Doug. I have to go now, though. Have….fun,” she finishes, regretting every word but the first as she retreats. She catches Danny shaking his head at her before he turns back to his work and melts against the lockers once she’s out of view. Jesus. It’s like she could aim true in the middle of an all-out war but not control her tongue (or her face, she’s reminded, the expressions she hadn’t been thinking of at all) in the briefest moments of social pressure.
Avoid everyone until school’s out. Simple plan in theory, not so much in practice. Dodging Lydia is especially hard, the last person she wants to share her wide eyes and nervous demeanor with at the moment. They share last period, so she skips it – it’s not like she hasn’t before. Stiles she runs into twice, but he’s so preoccupied that she ducks him both times without him really realizing at all. She makes it to her car safely, touching her arms to the over-warm metal to rest her head against as she breathes.
“You okay?” It’s the same question she’s heard a handful of times this semester, the same voice, casual and familiar. “That might work better inside the car.”
Her laugh is recognizable this time, at least, before she turns to face him. “Yeah, I guess. But my keys are in my bag, and that would take at least three seconds to fish out. Who has that kind of time these days?”
Jackson smiles, more with his eyes than his weary mouth. He’s as run ragged as the rest of them, though they don’t often cross paths in the process of it all. “Not you,” he agrees. “Lydia said you cut, so I thought-”
“You’re talking to Lydia?” Her mind offers three incredibly sharp, vivid images in succession – Lydia kissing Jackson inches from her on her first day at BHH, Aiden’s hands on Lydia’s hips, the double A doodled next to trig functions.
His nod is delayed, stops and starts again. “Sometimes. This body thing is…not good. For her. And you’re busy.”
Some of the ice in her veins melts just enough for her tensed muscles to unknit and relax against the warm glass at her back. “Thank you. We’re all trying, but we have to put business ahead of feelings, sometimes. C'est la vie.”
“I get it. What you guys did last year still sucks balls, but…” He shrugs loosely, shoulders bouncing. “There’s more bullshit than I knew. Every time I think I know it all, something else happens.”
“I’m the one with the Post-Its,” she blurts. When he doesn’t show any surprise, she flushes. “I don’t want to stand in the way of you knowing everything. I’m the one that’s been writing with you.”
Jackson clicks his tongue, his jaw even more pronounced than usual while he’s pensive, drawing her eyes for a second too long. “Okay, I knew that, but I didn’t think you knew that.”
“Well, yeah, you use apple shampoo and cinnamon toothpaste. Your desk smells like dessert even the next day.” His eyes are fixed somewhere around her left shoulder, his elbows cocked out at awkward angles. “How could I not know where you sit?”
“Not until the fourth day, though,” Allison points out slowly. “I was late. You sat somewhere else until then.”
For the first time since the day that seems a million years ago, the day he’d told her there was a 'me’ in team, Jackson looks bashful, almost chastised. The freckles on his nose stand out more when he blushes, tan flecks against pink skin. “Yeah, it’s, uh. It’s like an anchor thing. That’s what Hale calls it, anyway.”
Her understanding of anchors for werewolves is shallow at best, but she knows that she was Scott’s, before. Maybe still. “I’m your anchor?”
“Not just you,” he says defensively. “It’s a bunch of stuff, like. Danny’s cologne. Lydia’s laugh. The fake one, even, the one that she does in the cafeteria so it echoes and makes everyone think she’s having a good time. It’s not, like, a person. Like a feeling, maybe?”
“Of familiar stuff?” she guesses. “So like, the smell of your house-”
“No.” It’s clear and decisive. At least one of them is. “Not my parents or my house. Not familiar stuff. Something else.” He doesn’t look like he’s about to offer anything more, so she accepts it, smiles to let him know. “Anyway. You’ve smelled the same since you got here, except for that time McCall bought you that godawful department perfume.”
“Hey! That was sweet!” She smacks her bag into his arm, hearing her keys jingling, remembering her sticky notes. “That was a great present.”
“Uh, yeah. One that you never wore again. Awesome selection.”
She rolls her eyes at him, feeling herself begin to unwind. The last bell is ringing inside, and she knows she has to book it out of the parking lot before any of the Clue Crew come to give her any news. “I’ll talk to you later, okay? I gotta…”
“Yup, me too. I’ve got less than twenty-four hours to prepare for trashing your emoji-drawing skills.”
Allison’s still laughing when pulls out onto the road, The Vandal mix playing through her speakers. Her car feels safe, still, untainted by all of the mess of what’s going on. The seat curves to her body; the radio presets are tuned to the few stations she ever bothers with. Everything about it feels familiar. No, not familiar. Something more than familiar. More than the brand new apartment, more than the old house and its ghosts, she feels comfortable in her car. This is somewhere that she belongs.
She thinks of Jackson and turns the music up.