Summer had passed in a blissful series of events that went as followed: Bunnyburrow for a week to see her family before she returned to Central City. Then, everyday but Sunday, she would wake up at 7AM to make it to her 9AM to 5PM internship. After eight hours of mindless pencil-pushing and catering coffees to unappreciative higher-ups, she returned to her aunt’s house for a quick microwave dinner and then jetted off to her tutoring gig from 7PM until 10PM. Then, as one last final hurrah to the warm and carefree days, she returned to Bunnyburrow again for a week to see her family.
“Ugh, you poor, little thing!” Clawhauser crooned, casting sympathetic eyes on her. He had one paw against his cheek and the other tapping a pencil (that looked abnormally small between such large fingers) against his wooden desk (which was also dwarfed by the cheetah’s sheer size).
“I know,” Judy groaned, slumping into her seat. “If I have to sharpen one more pencil, something awful is going to happen to someone. At this point, school is good. I love school. Nobody’s a bigger proponent of education than me!”
Ben laughed and finally set the pencil down, relieving Judy of the constant sound of it clicking against wood. “I wouldn’t speak so soon if I were you!” He singsonged. “Your sophomore year hasn’t even started yet.”
She scoffed, smiling and rolling her eyes good-naturedly. “Oh, please. Nobody remembers sophomore year! You don’t.” Her eyes flit around the room, landing on one of her classmates. “I’ll bet he doesn’t. I’ll be fine.”
As Ben returned her grin with a small one of his own, he shrugged. “You never know, Judy.”
The corners of her lips fell a little and she opened her mouth to reply, but before the addressed bunny could dignify his comment with a response, the bell rang. Judy snapped her mouth shut, sat up straight, and folded her hands together so that they rested on the desk in front of her. Roll was taken, syllabi were passed around, and many attempts were made not to fall asleep (and it was only the first day. Ugh).
She repeated this routine three more times, then went to lunch.
“Juju!” A high voice shrilled from across the cafeteria, and “Juju” laughed at her friend, who was waving her tiny paw in the air despite the fact that that made absolutely no difference due to the arctic shrew’s small stature. Bounding over with her packed lunch in hand, Judy seated herself in the maroon, vinyl booth. “Ben’ll be here in a second, he’s checking if there are any donut fundraisers going on.” Fru Fru rolled her eyes, shooting Judy a you-know-how-he-is sort of look. Sure enough, a tower of boxes entered through the double-doors of the lunchroom, the hulking linebacker balancing the stack in his arms while a gaggle of other students circled him and chattered animatedly.
By the time the cheetah reached his two best friends, he’d managed to talk away his fans. In his arms he carried two boxes of Giant Donuts, which he opened as he sat. Leaning in, he inhaled and sighed gratuitously. Judy laughed when his face lifted from the box, chocolate glaze stuck to the tip of his nose.
She sighed, eyes sparkling and filled with warmth as she spoke affectionately, “I missed you guys so much.”
When Ben spoke, his voice was muffled and bits of donut and sprinkles sprayed out of his mouth. “I’d miss us too if I worked my tail off the way you did!” Fru Fru shrieked, flinching to her side to avoid the carnage.
“What’d you do, Judy?” Their tiny companion asked. Her paws fiddled with the zipper of her lunchbox before peeling the container open. A feast sprang out from the inside, definitely an arrangement by their house chef.
“Too much, if you ask me,” Clawhauser answered for her. Judy laughed, shaking her head at him.
Fru Fru, however, wasn’t actually paying attention. “Want to know what I did?” She asked absent-mindedly, spreading some butter on a roll that was no bigger than a breath mint.
Judy and Ben exchanged mirthful glances, used to Fru Fru’s antics. They both knew the shrew had only asked about Judy’s summer so that she could segue into her own. Still, they humored her. “I heard you visited family?” the bunny offered eagerly. “Sahara Square? Kinda hot for an arctic shrew, isn’t it?”
“Ooooooh!” Fru Fru wagged her butter knife in the air, clearly disgruntled about something. “Let me just tell you what happened–”
But just as she was beginning her story, the cafeteria doors slammed open. A wolf leapt in backwards, looking absolutely gleeful. A trio of weasels did the same, gesturing wildly at whatever was in front of them before falling over each other in a huge fit of laughter.
The center of attention? Nick Wilde.
“Mm, that’s a bad boy and a half if I’ve ever seen one,” Ben hummed appreciatively, even taking the donut out of his mouth.
The “bad boy and a half” was walking in the middle of the group, and contrary to the cacophony and commotion surrounding him, he was calm and collected, striding casually with a lopsided grin that bordered on a smirk. Paired with his straight posture, paws in his pocket, and half-lidded eyes– which were coolly watching his friends reenact whatever scheme they’d just gotten up to– he looked the picture of contented smugness.
These were the school delinquents, of which Nick was their poster boy.
“Isn’t he just a cutie?” Ben chirped.
Shrugging a single shoulder, Judy turned her violet gaze back to the cheetah. “I’ve heard… interesting things about him.”
“Doesn’t mean he can’t be cute,” Fru Fru chimed in. “Doesn’t everybody love a guy whose a little mysterious?” She waggled her eyebrows suggestively and shimmied her shoulders. Ben laughed at the movement and Fru Fru continued the charade by winking at him– Judy was pretty sure she just saw a few sprinkles fly out of Ben’s nose as he guffawed.
“Hmm,” was her thoughtless reply as she rolled a steamed carrot around her tray with a fork. As far as she was concerned, Nick had nothing to do with her. Their paths would never cross, and that was fine with her. She was on track to graduate as valedictorian of her class, and he was, well…
What was he?
A delinquent. And she knew a lot about delinquents.
“You’re not going to eat just donuts for lunch, are you?” Judy poked at Ben in an effort to change the topic. She looked at him with concern. “You’ll be starving by dinner! And you have practice after class!”
“Please, mother,” he scoffed, looking at her from over the chocolate glaze and sprinkles. “The whole notion of designated times to eat is ridiculous. If I get hungry, I’ll eat. Easy as pie!” Brown eyes blinked, then widened. “Pie. That sounds pretty good, actually.” But the bell rang as if reading his mind, and he sighed. “See you in math. I’ve got English with Clawthorne next. Ugh.”
Giggling, Judy waved bye to him, taking her own time to pack her belongings. Fru Fru bid her farewell before scurrying to get to her chemistry class for first dibs on seating.
Two more periods passed until she was reunited with Ben in their university-level Calculus class. When she entered the room, her heart dropped– every seat around her best friend was filled with people who were eager to get to know the school’s favorite linebacker.
“Judy!” Ben yelled out, waving her to the seat diagonally in front of him. He’d placed his backpack in the seat, something she hadn’t noticed earlier (although she should have, considering his backpack was completely covered with buttons and pins from various concerts– especially Gazelle’s concerts). Smiling gratefully at him, Judy dropped her stack of textbooks onto the table, rightfully claiming the desk as her own.
For the next several minutes, she was pulled into the fuss surrounding Ben.
Brenda turned to her immediately, pointing at her. “I thought I saw you at the front desk of Sealmens!” She snapped her fingers, nodding her head vigorously. “How was that? Did you have fun taking messages and buying lunch for snobs?” The expression on the aardvark’s face was teasing.
“It was… fine,” Judy allowed, shrugging casually but eyes still bright and eager despite her half-hearted answer. “Definitely a good experience.”
“I’ll bet. You’ll be recruited right out of high school graduation, Hopps,” McHorn’s voice boomed. “And here I am, just tryna get into the ZPD Summer High School Academy.”
Everybody else chimed in with their hopes and dreams as well, and how easy Judy had it. “Guys,” she flushed, sinking into her seat. Laughter crowded her, and she found that she didn’t mind the joking at her expense if it meant everybody was happy.
That was the thing about high school. She’d watched movies in middle and elementary school, and the reoccurring trope was always the singularly popular group of kids. Everybody knew who they were, and everybody wanted to be them. So Judy had expected exactly that, walking in on the first day of her freshman year ready to fly under the radar, concerned only with making friends she loved and grades she loved.
But it turned out that no, high school was a lot more forgiving. Each clique had a member that every student had heard of, but nobody’s company was particularly sought after. So of the socialites, there was Fru Fru and Leodore. The athletes loved Clawhauser and McHorn. The carefree souls included Yax. And the delinquents, well, that was Nick and Duke.
Judy had found her way into the intellectuals group, her main competition for valedictorian being Bellwether, but there was an unspoken agreement that Judy was nicer and better-liked (“She’s just so… conniving. It always feels like she’s scheming something whenever I talk to her!” Fru Fru had once voiced). They all knew of each other; sometimes they were even friends (as was the case for her and Ben and Fru Fru). But for the most part, each hierarchy functioned on its own and did its own thing. Not that each social structure didn’t fill its own stereotypes, like she would never expect Yax or Nick to walk into her college-level Calculus–
But the bell rang mid-thought, and sure enough, Nick Wilde did just that. Strolled in a second later, that is, looking as though he didn’t have a care in the world.
He took a minute to survey the seating arrangement. His and Judy’s eyes met, but he looked away swiftly.
There was an empty seat right in front of the teacher, and Judy prayed that Nick would pick that seat, even though she knew it wasn’t conducive to cheating. But it wasn’t like a seat on the edge was anymore conducive to cheating, either, since that was easier accessibility for the teacher, so why would he pick the seat behind her? And maybe, since the seat by the teacher was too easy to get caught cheating, the teacher wouldn’t suspect him of cheating, and he knew that and would choose that seat and–
Right, ok, she was just confusing herself now. For now, she would focus all her strength on sending the signal that no, you can’t sit by me.
Of course, she was finding that the fox was just so full of surprises, because he took the seat behind her. Next to Ben. Who looked at Judy from the corner of his eyes and grinned, waggling his eyebrows.
She ignored him, choosing instead to berate her narrow-mindedness. It was wrong of her to make assumptions about Nick when she didn’t even know him. Not to mention, from the way he carried himself in the cafeteria, he seemed a lot more mature than the rest of his friends. And anyways, this was university-level Calculus. He was obviously here for a reason. He must’ve been more than she’d thought he was, and she immediately felt ashamed of herself for labelling him as irresponsible and a cheater just because–
“Hey, Carrots, do you have a pencil I could borrow?”
He’d tapped on her shoulder, which wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he’d pulled on her ears. He’d literally tugged! on her ears!
Ok, fine, it was only one ear. But really? And what was with that nickname? “Carrots”? Slowly, she took a breath in and out once, withdrawing a pen from her school bag and handing it to him over her shoulder. She realized too late that it was her favorite carrot-recording pen and had half a mind to yank it back from him.
But alas, his grip tightened on the orange pen. “Thanks,” he whispered, the utensil sliding from her fingers as he took it. “I owe ya one. And don’t worry, I won’t cheat off you. It’s a little hard from behind anyways.”
Her nose twitched. She could tell he’d been smiling as he’d said that, and it made her want to bristle, but she contained her outrage. How had he read her like an open book? A wave of irritation washed over her, followed by guilt.
Give him a chance. She was being unfair, and she knew it. So she laughed quietly at his joke, just a short and small haha. The rest of the class passed without any interruptions, and when the dismissal bell rang, Clawhauser waved goodbye to her as he headed to the field and she headed to the buses.