Rhea sat alone in the artificial sand. Recess was certainly not her favourite time of day, but still she ran out quickly to bag the sand pit.
Yet she could not focus on her play and her usual artistic creations were unseen. Today was a bad day for her mother, and with her skiving reputation she could not stay at home to look after her. There was no way she was getting social services involved; they would surely take Rhea away!
She left her spot in the playground and brushed the remaining sand from her leggings with not much success. There was no point carrying on playing now, she was far too worried to properly focus.
Rhea stood up properly and faced the surrounding community, aimlessly wondering what to do with herself. Maybe she could go home now for a few minutes, just for a quick check and then return?
That’s when she spotted a rather familiar figure standing outside the town’s bookshop.
She gasped. But how? Her mother had never left the house before, at least not while she was at school!
Who knows what could happen? Gaia was certainly not in the correct frame of mind to go out independently. She could get run over! What if she bumps into one of the bad people? The social workers, the doctors?
That was it. Rhea had to go. Without a glance back, she ran down the stairs and out of the school grounds; vaguely looking in both directions (like they had been so vigorously taught to) across the road, just in time to hear a group of her classmates gather behind her, excited whispers rippling through the crowd. That too had now become a regular occurrence.
Rhea woke with a start. Where is she? I have to find her! Then reality flooded into her sleepy eyes and there she was, still on the S.S Olympus. No longer 10 years old.
She did not know why her brain had recalled that particular moment in time. It was only the first of her mother’s little ‘outings’…
Maybe it was the school environment?
* * *
The school seemed to have grown in size since the previous day. Children entered the building in pairs or small groups, and Rhea was the new girl entering alone.
It felt strange being buy herself and even making her own decisions. Back in Sunset Valley she was never told what to do, but was rather forced to care for her mother. Now in this new life, having been withdrawn from the real world for the last few years even the simple tasks outside were alien to Rhea. She and Gaia were always trapped in their own bubble, and at the time she had thought that was best.
The rumbling sound of another car sounded behind her, and there was a slam of the door.
“Rhea?” a slightly familiar voice spoke over the sound of the vehicle driving away. Rhea turned to Aella, her new neighbour.
“Aella!” she replied, trying to sound as cheerful as possible, “I didn’t know you worked here?”
“Neither did I about you. This must be your first day?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Do come in,” she said to Rhea as though the school was her own home, “I must introduce you to everyone!”
* * *
It was a summery day and the sunshine reflected softly against the lush grass, but at the height of midday the vicious heat seemed to distort everything on the horizon. Children sat happily around her, playing or tucking into their carefully packed lunches and basking in the glory of the sunlight.
Rhea’s arrival did not go unnoticed.
“Look guys, it’s our new monitor!” a young girl said in a rather clipped, posh accent. The Accolades Institute was certainly not for the naïve, so it seemed.
The girl made her way confidently towards Rhea, with an accomplice in tow. Memories of school flashed before Rhea’s scared eyes. It was supposed to be different!
“What’s your name?” the girl demanded curtly.
“I’m Rhea. Rhea Aegis. I work here n-“
“Yeah, yeah. I’m Jolene, this is Willard.” She pointed to the freckle-faced boy standing menacingly behind her. This was all Rhea needed to know who ran the playground around here.
Isla Paradiso was still very much a tourist destination with the ratio of travellers vastly outnumbering that of the actual homeowners; Rhea had expected the school to reflect this, with a small amount of traditionally raised kids. At no point had she expected the resort owners’ children to attend, she had always assumed they were sent away to the posh boarding schools.
Jolene was such a child, and it looked like the mix of these rich children of powerful parents and children of parents used to the quiet lifestyle was causing problems.
Jolene was the dictator, her little gang her willing comrades, the school their empire. They ruled harshly, and it was soon discovered that Rhea and the other lunchtime staff were no part of their routine.
It seemed that the kids would do anything to disobey the rules, and it was becoming an increasing difficulty to discipline them. It was much worse here than what she could remember of Sunset Valley, and even they hadn’t bothered trying to stop the bullying there.
Their most favourite pastime was the endless pranking, and if Jolene did not centre these on her own peers, then it was on Rhea herself.
She found herself under constant fire from the children she was supposed to help. It all became so overwhelming and her nightmares were filled with those horrible memories of her school days both past and present.
Come Friday, Rhea was ready to burst into tears. She was supposed to get away from her old life, not walk right back into it.
Pull yourself together; she would insistently tell herself, they’re just kids after all.
But she couldn’t, this whole thing was getting out of control. Rhea even doubted that Jolene knew what she was doing could cause so much hurt. If only she could make them see sense…
She stood on the deck of the S.S Olympus, wishing it would all go away.
“Please help me daddy,” she whispered into the ocean, “make them see.”
Her words were whisked up in the evening winds and carried across towards the horizon, but would be heard by no-one.
* * *
There were, however, rewards for her abysmal days at work. The small salary she received was enough to buy Rhea her very own guitar.
This opened up a whole new world to her and allowed her to forget about reality. There were no music books telling her what to play, she could just feel the music singing beneath her fingers.
Rhea’s skill increased quickly with her confidence and soon she felt herself to be good enough to play around town. There was still a lot of it she had not explored yet, and there were a couple of bucks in it for her too!
Rebecca’s Café was an arty little java hut on the second biggest island in Isla Paradiso. It was now run by a local man named Kay Caldwell but was equally as popular with the many tourists as it was with the residents.
When Rhea felt like she needed to get away from her familiar surroundings of the boat and the school this is where she would go. It was one summery Saturday afternoon when she once again bumped into her neighbour, Aella.
It was not long before Aella switched the subject of conversation to work.
“How was it? The kids are great don’t you think? So polite!”
Rhea didn’t know what to say. Was she being sarcastic? It was hard to tell.
“Er… Yes. They are,” she chose to play it safe. There was always the possibility that Aella would tell Ms Chadwick of her failures.
“Indeed. What’s her name…? Jolene, I think. She and her friends are just little darlings! They’re all in my elementary class.”
Rhea was taken aback. Surely it was not just her they held a grudge against?
“Are you ok, Rhea?”
‘Yes, I’m fine. Sorry, Aella but I really must be going,” and she walked off, leaving her pastry sitting sadly half-eaten on the table. She had to figure this out.
* * *
- This chapter was not supposed to take so long, sorry. I had accidentally downloaded a bad piece of CC so my game kept crashing!